The Swindler (El Buscón) by Francisco de Quevedo

 

This book took the picaresque writing style to heart and is a great example of the style. The goal of picaresque is a story is where the main character gets by on his or her wits, primarily through cons, theft, and deceit. Those elements are layered all throughout this book. The main character gets drawn in to the world through necessity, but develops an affinity for the lies, tricks, and cons. His pursuit of a lifestyle draws him deeper into the world as his cons work, fail, work, and fail. You do get to see that a life of crime is no party.

The book follows Pablos from a young age. It is broken into two parts. The first part follows him as he is sent to school by his parents. He becomes a servant for a wealthy friend and follows him through different schools, facing hunger and poverty regularly.  He gets a letter from his uncle about his parents being arrested and he returns home to collect his inheritance and decide to go to Madrid in order to distance himself from his relations. On his way, he meets a con man who introduces him to a life of thievery and cons.

Start book two. The con man welcomes him into his band of cheats. They all instruct him on different ways to con, lie, and deceive. He learns to rig dice and card games, beg and not be recognized, have dinner with others and never have to pay, and ‘collect’ items to re-sell for profit. After the band is arrested, Pablos bribes a guard and gets out. He remakes himself as a gentleman. He woos a wealthy woman but is eventually found out. He is forced to flee Madrid. He eventually marries and the move to the New World to start anew.

It is rather fascinating how he manages to get through life. You get to read about his different cons and those going on around him. You learn a lot about the thief world of the middle ages and how a person got drawn into it. You don’t particularly get to know Pablos very well, but you empathize with him somewhat. There are points you cheer for him to succeed and other times you get annoyed with the cons he runs. How he gets into trouble, gets out of it, or manages to flee is interesting to read. However, the book is rather dry. There is not a lot of action or drama. It is rather like reading a biography. Readers of today I think would find it somewhat boring. The content is somewhat interesting, but you really need to want to read it in order to finish it.

My rating:

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Lazarillo de Tormes

 

I actually had read this book before. I was a Spanish major in college and I had to do a report on this book for my Spanish literature class. Of course that time it was in Spanish. I greatly enjoyed reading it in English. It was actually better than I remember. I’m not saying its fantastic and I’ll read it all the time, but an occasional read may once a year of so it would be good for.

It is a surprisingly short read, only seven chapters long (about 60 pages). The story follows a boy named Lazaro de Tormes (Lazarillo is his nickname) as he writes a letter to “Your Honour” about his life before ending up being the town-crier for the church in Toledo, Spain. Each chapter covers a different master he served. The first is a rather evil blind beggar he is employed by to help move from city to city and to run errands. The second is a stingy priest who almost starves him to death. The third is a rather nice country squire who actually turns out to be more poor than Lazarillo himself. Lazarillo actually goes back to begging for the both of them to earn food and money. Next is another priest, not quite as bad as his previous matters, but does too much traveling for Lazarillo. The fifth master was another clergyman, this one a trickster who sold “Papal Indulgences” that would guarantee a place in heaven. Lazarillo leaves him as well. He ends up in Toledo working for a priest by leading a water mule around town and selling water.

Through each episode of his servitude, you hear the tricks and scams the masters played in order to get money. The majority of the time, Lazarillo is either denied food or given very little so his master can save money. You learn his struggle with hunger and poverty and feel for his pain. You seem him try to stay true to his faith and not become an evil person like his masters. He ends up as he wanted – a respectable citizen with some money and a home.

The book is written very simply. It is a very quick, easy read with simple vocabulary and sentence structures. There is not a whole lot of cultural information imparted, but you get a little bit of knowledge about the different classes and what is expected. The country squire Lazarillo serves actually shares the most about expectations and the reality of gentlemen during the time. There is also a lot of scheming in the church by the priests.

I wouldn’t recommend this to just anyone. It is definitely a book you would go looking for instead of just picking it up and reading it. It would be quite boring to a lot of people. I like it for its simplicity and its contribution to Spanish literature. If you are looking for an educational read, a small biography of hard times, this is the book for you.

My rating:

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Seriously Mum, Where’s that Donkey? by Alan Parks

 

I don’t know why, but I did not like this book as much as the first book of his. Mostly, it was a telling of the events of the next few years of the Parks living in Spain and raising their alpacas. You actually don’t hear a whole lot about the alpacas, they are only the focus of about two or three chapters in the book. However, life is not dull at the Olive Mill. Spanish bingo, camera crews, travelers, stray dogs, and numerous animals fill the pages here. The tightness of their finances is a prevalent theme throughout, describing their various endeavors to earn more money. Lorna goes back to teaching dance, they rent out rooms to travelers, and think of different ways to save money.

You do meet a lot of new characters. I liked learning about the different people because you got to see a variety of cultural differences and personality types. Meeting neighbors, a new alpaca breeder, and various random encounters lead to new friendships and events. They try out Spanish lessons (they don’t go well) and learn where to take the stray dogs that turn up all the time. Lorna gains a following of local women as the local Zumba instructor. They join with other alpaca breeders to show animals in the local farm shows. They attend more of the local festivals than they have done in previous years and provide descriptions.

I’m not entirely sure why, but this book just had more of a serious feel to it. The events and things that took place didn’t get the humorous light they did in the first book. Also, there were more sad events and hard times than in the first book. His writing style was the same and I liked the candid way he describes everything, however, I don’t think I will be reading this book again though.

My rating:

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Seriously Mum, What’s an Alpaca? by Alan Parks

 

I found this book for free through the Kindle store one day and it sounded amusing. I am really glad I picked it up. It is a refreshing story of a couple in their mid-years, maybe 40s or 50s, I’m not really sure, giving up their current life and relocating somewhere else to pursue a dream.

Alan and Lorna Park lived in England, but when Lorna began to experience health issues and could not continue work as a dance teacher, Alan suggested they pack up, move to Spain, and raise alpacas. They had fallen in love with the alpacas at the local park and felt they would be happy living in the country raising and breeding the animals, and there was a good bit of money to be had in the business as well. They went for it – and here is there story. It is full of hilarious humor and terrible heartache as you listen to Alan describe the first five years in their endeavor. The animals make guest appearances with little written notes at the end of a few chapters. You meet the interesting individuals they meet as they search for a home, learn about alpacas from another breeder, and meet their new neighbors. The antics and events are completely real and believable. It doesn’t feel forced or exaggerated. You feel for Lorna and Alan and the animals at their farm. You can sympathize and laugh at their predicaments, celebrations, and random happenings. I was very much amused by the animal count at the beginning of the different chapters. Through Alan you could feel their passion and love for all the animals and why they chose to do what they did. You learn a lot about country living, solar power, Spanish farmers, Spain, and particularly alpacas. The writing is smooth and it is an easy read. Since the couple is British, the references to distances, heights, and weights use the metric system, which is a little difficult for American readers. Some of their lingo is a little different too, but it’s fairly easy to understand.

I highly recommend this book to everyone. It is a great story about taking that leap of faith and pursuing a dream. It will definitely not go as planned. It will not be pretty or easy. There will be things you hadn’t even thought of which will make you rethink your decision. But at the end of the day, you stay. Why? Because you are finally happy.

My rating:

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