24. Aloft

by Chang-rae Lee

I endured this one. At once it is a fine example of Chang-rae Lee's mastery of the language of the heart and a story about a boring man approaching sixty on Long Island. All told it is a ok work of fiction on a subject that didn't interest me.

23. Los Versos del Capitan

by Pablo Neruda

This is Neruda's umpteenth book of love poems. It's especially good for me because it has both the original Spanish and the English translation on the opposite page. I can read the Spanish, but miss a great deal of the layers of meaning. Neruda has been on of the world's most celebrated poets for decades. He's still wringing out the words.

While this old man's poetry can be a bit chauvinistic, and romantic in the old Spanish way, it is beautiful.

Here's one called "La Infinita":

Ves estas manos? Han medido
la tierra, han separado
los miserales y los celeales,
han hecho la laz y la guerra,
han derribado las distancias
de todos los mares y rios
y sin embargo
cuando te recorren
a ti, pequena,
grano de trigo, alondra,
no alcanzan a abarcarte,
se cansan alcanzando
las palomas gemelas
que reposan o vuelan en tu pecho,
recorren las distancias de tu piernas,
se enrollan en la luz de tu cintura.
Para mi eres tesoro mas cargado
de immensidad que el mar y sus recimos
y eres blanca y azul y extensa como
la tierra en la vendimia.
En ese territorio,
de tus pies a tu frente,
andando, andando, andando,
me pasare la vida.

In English:

The Infinite One

Do you see these hands? They have measured
the earth, the have separated
minerals and cereals,
they have made peace and war,
they have demolished the distances
of all the seas and rivers,
and yet,
when they move over you,
little one,
grain of wheat, swallow,
they can not encompass you,
they are weary seeking
the twin doves
that rest of fly in your breast,
they travel the distances of your legs,
they coil in the light of your waist.
For me you are a treasure more laden
with immensity than the sea and its branches
and you are white and blue and spacious like
the earth at vintage time.
In that territory,
from your feet to your brow,
walking, walking, walking,
I shall spend my life.

22. Winter's Tale

by Mark Helpern

This novel is about the unforgettable character Peter Lake. That’s his name because he didn’t have one. He has beaten time. Well, I think he’s beaten time but you might think that time is an entirely different thing than we thought it was. It’s magical. It’s about Winter for sure.

It’s 750 pages, but came highly recommended so I dove in. Not one page was a waste. It spans over a century in New York City, its harbor, rivers and bays, and the Hudson Valley… and an impossible and yet highly plausible town beyond the valley. In terms of time it’s a lot like the inside back page of a Mad Magazine cover where the image is one thing until you fold along the lines and go “Ahh!”

I fear that evoking thoughts of Mad Magazine might lead you to thinking this novel is not serious. Oh, it's serious. It's serious about love and belonging and adventure and awful, senseless grudges that are fun -- all those things that are proven to scoff at time.

I already loved the city… and the impossible… and messing with time, but this book runs a great distance with those feelings. It’s exceptional.

It’s a very funny, fully engaging tale full of passion, epic love, long held grudges… and a horse that can do extraordinary things. The tale begins with him running away from his stable in Brooklyn over 100 years ago. He’ll be no slave.

Then there’s Peter Lake. Did I mention him?

Helpern is a very gifted writer. If you are tired of the American novel, if you think it has had its day in the sun, pick this one up. There is little convention about it.