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Recommendation: Damnificados

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Damnificados is a novel published this year by JJ Amaworo Wilson.

I would never have read this book if I hadn’t met the author, a well-traveled and gentle person who now is part of the writing world of southern New Mexico.  I don’t find time to read a lot of novels, and when I come across terms like magical realism I wonder what that means.

If that’s what this book is, I’m a fan. The writing is rich, the story is lively, the characters are fascinating, the action ranges from mundane to mythic.  Though based on an actual event in Venezuela, the story soon expands the location into a city that is nowhere and everywhere – the names of the slums around the city come from many different languages, as do the names of the people.

“Damnificados” are people of the slums.  It’s an ugly world; I don’t think I’d like to see a movie of this story – too much trash – but the characters are people worth knowing, and so are the animals, who take several interesting roles in the action.  But the main character is the high abandoned tower in which a whole community is created by the desperate people who move in.  And the ground on which it is built.

The book is a delightful carnival ride of the imagination.  I’ll be looking for more by this author.

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Happy Solstice

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Winters are usually comfortable here.  We have some ten hours of sunlight on our shortest day.  This year, this solstice/Christmas week, the temperatures are even rising into the 60s, but that’s not necessary for a lovely winter day. P1000680

One of the treats of the depth of winter, for me, is the way the low southern sun shines through the bushes while I am at my desk in the morning.  I have sometimes been caught off guard looking up, thinking I’m seeing flowers on a plant, the way the white spots are distributed.  It’s a delightful trick of the morning light.

May the lovely blooms you imagine this winter flower for you in 2016.

The Warp of History

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Perhaps a better title for this reflection would be “How One’s Sense of History Gets Warped.”

The Victorian Era has always had special interest for me, long before I discovered the work of John Emerson Roberts.  As a child, I don’t think I understood the difference between “gilded” and “golden.”  When I heard people discussing the Gilded Age, I thought they spoke of a past universally esteemed better than the present.  As an era of long skirts and fine manners, I thought this must have been a splendid time, when people lived in a special golden light.  Like some ancient writers, I thought the present was flat compared to the past, an age of iron descended from an age of gold.

Currently, I cannot hear the term “Gilded Age” without thinking, if it isn’t said, “and Progressive Era.”  The period from roughly 1877 to 1920 has been labeled and marked off with this double title.  And a golden age it certainly was not.  It was an era of new ideas and inventions, but also one of urban and labor unrest and, in the United States particularly, of fear of immigrant populations.

My sense of the early 1950s was also skewed.  As I looked back on it from the sixties it seemed to have been an era of “returning to normal” after World War II.  I know now that it was not.  It was a new age of consumer goods and suburbs.  Cars and gas were now available and roads were rapidly being expanded.  Factories that had been geared up for war materials were converted to producing consumer goods.  It was also a time of great conformity.  People knew more about people who lived in other places, but that did not lead to appreciation of diversity.  Radio and soon television produced images of the right way to live, the “typical” family, and all the things that family should acquire.

As for a “return to normal” it slowly dawned on me that there had never been a “normal.”  Before World War II had been the Great Depression, before that the “Roaring 20’s” and Prohibition, and before that another war, the first and most disturbing, because unexpected, of the grim and ugly wars that characterized the twentieth century.  In another post I will expand on what I have learned about the cultural shock of World War I, which shattered the widely held belief in an ongoing progress of humanity and its projects, the cultural attitude which John Emerson Roberts held to as long as he was preaching.

As my confusion about “golden” and “gilded” lingered, I thought “normal” might have been back around 1899 or so.  Now I understand that every era in United States history has been one of transition from a past with difficulties toward an unknown future.  Change has been a constant feature and a great many mistakes have been made along the way.

Was it a case of inadequate education that I had these erroneous notions?  I don’t think so.  I think all children are subject to misconceptions, which the text books can’t erase easily, because the adults who write them have forgotten such possibilities.  Was I a child with too much imagination?  I don’t think there is such a thing as too much imagination.  It’s how you learn to use it that counts.  Sorting out these puzzles was an important part of my learning.