This is the second trip installment of ‘books I’m reading.’ Check out the first here, with readings from Argentina and Chile.
Here, I include books about or from the regions we visited in the second half of our time in South America, including the countries of Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, and Brazil.
The first book on this stretch I actually started in the Northwest of Argentina, an Andean part of Argentina that slowly transitions culturally into more similarity with Bolivia. In the beautiful mountain town of Tilcara I got to explore the old civilizations of the Americas through “1491.” Want to hear about how socialism thrived in the Inka period? About strong tools made from fiber rather than metal? Come to know what a milpa is? Ponder how early astronomers figured out so much about time? Your mind will be blown by the innovations upon innovations of these early civilizations.
Next I picked up this amazing read from Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist, Frank Wilczek. If you’re into science, music, art, philosophy, spirituality, or have ever tried psychedelics, you will love this book. Frank says everything better than 99% of us so I’ll let him explain: “A general philosophical point, which these considerations illustrate, is that the world does not provide its own unique interpretation. The world offers many possibilities for different sensory universes, which support very different interpretations of the world’s significance. In this way our so-called Universe is already very much a multiverse.” Told you you’d like it :).
Kim MacQuarrie’s adventures through history –visiting, researching, and speaking with icons of the Andes– is an amazing read while you’re in the region… or want to transport yourself (isn’t that what books are for?). My weak information (gleaned from years of empty television news) about Pablo Escobar, the Shining Path, Charles Darwin, and dozens of other things about this part of the world were exploded in this book. This is real life but it reads like a mystery novel.
If you didn’t know much about the Shining Path, Kim MacQuarrie’s book will help you understand the context for Mario Vargas Llosa’s book “Death in the Andes.” Reading a passage in the book about two tourists on a bus through Peru was not the best thing to be reading while being two tourists on a bus to Peru (read to find out why), but alas. I can’t say I loved the book but who cares what I think – Llosa is a great writer, and this is great scene setting and fascinating narrative take on a wild and brutal period in Peruvian history.
I’ll admit I struggled to find an English translation of a Paraguayan author that was available digitally (books are backbreaking when backpacking). If you have a stable dwelling space or a library, things like that, the one that was most recommended was I, The Supreme – I’m still saving it for when I return.
For now I read this fascinating work on the worldview of a small indigenous group in the Gran Chaco in Paraguay. It’s been awhile since I read an ethnography, and though this claims not to be one, it’s close. If you’ve ever had the chance to see a piece of art or sacred dance of a culture you know nothing about you probably, naturally, interpreted it from your own point of view. This book reminds you, me, that we were doing it wrong. Unfortunately, also were tons of missionaries throughout Paraguay who tried to erase the cultural traditions of indigenous groups like the Ishir. Ticio Escobar finds the traditions that persist. The chapters on feathers and bodywork are amazing.
I’ll confess I’m only half way through Hasbún’s “Los Afectos,” because it’s only available in Spanish and I read at a snails pace in Spanish. I can tell it’s really good though! Can one of you Spanish speakers read it and motivate me to speed up with a book club discussion? The review awaits til then…
Água Viva: wow, I loved this. It’s hard to describe this book like it’s hard to describe the Atacama Desert, where I was while reading it. Maybe it’s like reading the secret diary of your most eccentric friend, the one who’s slightly needy and self-absorbed but in a way that charms you nonetheless you come over with a bottle of wine and stay with her all day feeling like a better human when you leave. Or, let’s try analogy: Walt Whitman meets Anne Carson meets Georgia O’Keefe meets René Magritte.
In case that didn’t work, here’s an excerpt: “It was a sudden sensation, but so gentle. The luminosity was smiling in the air: exactly that. It was a sigh of the world. I don’t know how to explain just as you can’t describe the dawn to a blind man. It is unutterable what happened to me in the form of feeling: I quickly need your empathy. Feel with me. It was a supreme happiness.”
If you liked that, buy the book and dedicate a few hours one weekend to it with some snacks, tea, wine, whatever. You won’t be missing anything outside.
Still up, for this last week in Brazil en route to Africa: