Daily Archives: December 13, 2010

Book Review: La Isla Bajo el Mar

La isla bajo el marLa isla bajo el mar by Isabel Allende

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The poignant story of Zarité, a black slave in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti) and later in New Orleans in the 18th Century.

I have read this book in the original language (Spanish), and Allende’s prose is simple and elegant, yet extremely vivid. The book is a mix of fairly detailed historical fiction and the slave Zarité’s voice, which brings an element of immediacy to the events. When she speaks for Zarité, Allende can shock us with the casual way the slave speaks of her treatment (e.g., her master extinguishing his cigar on her), and so gives us the utter helplessness of the slave.

But Allende shows us also the cost of becoming free–a fact that Haiti, in a way, has never recovered from–and, despite the inescapable disgust of slavery she creates in the reader, she also succeeds in making us see the slave owners’ point of view, in all its callousness, insensitivity, greed, and ignorance.

If I have one criticism it’s the slow pace of the book, maybe due to the detailed historical events she uses as parentheses to the story. It was sometimes a bit plodding, although it opened my eyes to the plight of the slaves at the inception of the slave trade.

Well worth the read.

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Stop it, Hollywood!

Recently Hollywood has tried to add new life to the traditional zombie movie. I imagine the zombies are all for this but they should not have a say.

Zombies shamble. They do NOT run, jump or climb, they shamble.

And that’s as it should be since running, jumping and climbing are not healthy activities for the undead. They are brittle creatures. Their skin doesn’t even stay on well. I expect that’s a result of their high protein diet since all they eat is living humans—when they can catch them.

Of course that’s Hollywood’s quandary. Back in the day when zombies were black and white and had people trapped in drafty old farmhouses survival was pretty much a fifty-fifty proposition. If you were a zombie you and your friends would try to get into the farmhouse and do lunch without getting your heads blown off by a shotgun. As we all know the zombie’s head is its control room. Blow the head off and the undead becomes a real dead. On the other side, if you were a living person inside that farmhouse you’d wield your double-barrel—The Decapitator—to repel unwanted guests and avoid having your throat ripped out by the jaws of a zombie. A little aside here: Alligators are credited with having the most powerful bite of any living creature. The zombie’s bite is even more powerful but isn’t credited due to its life status.

I digress, though that’s what asides are for. In the years since black and white farmhouses, Hollywood has given living celluloid humans all sorts of flight-or-fight technology—automatic rifles, hand grenades, flame throwers, crotch rocket motorcycles, muscle cars, mountain bikes…yes, even a pedalled bicycle can easily outdistance a shambling zombie. Thus the Hollywood dilemma: advantage, living human. Imagine you’re a member of the walking dead looking for a snack, you shamble up behind an unsuspecting farmer, desperate to stifle that moaning groaning noise your kind can’t help, you lurch toward his neck and the bleepin’ guy leaps on a tractor and trundles away to the south forty. On a tractor. That does maybe 10 mph wide open. You’d want to flop down on a rock and quit.

Movie makers recently have tried to even the score by creating zombies that are able to run…ok, they aren’t Olympic sprinters, but still…and not only run but climb fences and ladders and jump down from modest elevations. Here’s where I say “Stop it, Hollywood.” If you’re going to have running jumping zombies you’re going to have to improve their diets with some citrus, bananas, greens, whole grains—see the food pyramid. Otherwise you still have the traditional fragile zombie, let’s say a female—she attempts to run, the impact of foot upon ground drives the tibia through the skin of her lower leg and mobility is lost. She can still drag herself along the ground by her fingers, destroying her nails, but that’s really just a form of shamble. Imagine trying to climb a chain link fence and your own weight pulls your fingers off. Or you jump down from a large shipping crate and the blow of the landing drives your thigh bones up and into your control center to render you for real dead. Better off shambling.

So here’s the message, film makers: if you want us to continue to believe that zombies are real, and that we should leave a night light on, either stick to the shamble or come up with a semi-healthy creature—the partly dead, the walking half-dead, the 35% dead, whatever–something that eats right and is only partly dead and therefore able to chase us and climb our fire escapes. Please keep the involuntary moaning and groaning though.

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