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The Last Reader [Hardcover]

David Toscana , Asa Zatz

Price: CDN$ 30.27 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Book Description

Oct. 22 2009 THE AMERICAS
In tiny Icamole, almost deserted village in Mexico’s desert north, the librarian, Lucio, is also the village’s only reader. Though it has not rained for a year in Icamole, when Lucio’s son Remigio draws the body of a thirteen-year-old girl from his well, floodgates open on dark possibility. Strangely enamored of the dead girl’s beauty and fearing implication, Remigio turns desperately to his father. Persuading his son to bury the body, Lucio baptizes the girl Babette, after the heroine of a favorite novel. Is Lucio the keeper of too many stories? As police begin to investigate, has he lost his footing? Or do revelation and resolution lie with other characters and plots from his library? Toscana displays brilliant mastery of the novel—in all its elements—as Lucio keeps every last reader guessing.Praise for David Toscana’s earlier work“Deserves to join the ranks of the great Latin American authors Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Amado” —New York Times Book Review“Introduces American readers to a gifted writer who seems poised to inherit the postmodernist mantle of Carlos Fuentes.” —Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Texas Tech University Press (Oct. 22 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0896726649
  • ISBN-13: 978-0896726642
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 2 x 13.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,779,345 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Deserves to join the ranks of the great Latin American authors Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Jorge Amado. - New York Times Book Review Introduces American readers to a gifted writer who seems poised to inherit the postmodernist mantle of Carlos Fuentes. - Kirkus Reviews"

About the Author

Mexican novelist David Toscana describes his narrative aesthetics as “realismo desquiciado” (unrestrained realism), breaking with the Latin trend of magic realism through a prose that keeps an eye on the concrete experience of life in all its absurdity and lavish strangeness. In its original Spanish El último lector was awarded the National Colima Prize, the Prémio José Fuentes Mares, and the Antonin Artaud Prize and was also shortlisted for Latin America’s most important literary award, the Rómulo Gallegos International Novel Prize. Asa Zatz has translated more than seventy-five Spanish-language books, including works of Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez, and Mario Vargas Llosa.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Garcia Marquez meets Miguel Cervantes Feb. 16 2010
By Bluestalking Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
"Nobody else shared his interest... by the time opening day of the library came, the people were full of arguments against books: books are concerned with things that don't exist, they are lies. If I put my hands near the fire, one man said, I get burned; if I stick myself with a knife, I bleed; if I drink tequila, I get drunk; but a book does nothing to me unless you throw it in my face. Others laughed at this sally, and the matter was settled."

- from The Last Reader

In the tiny village of Icamole, Mexico it hasn't rained for a year. The locals do their best to scratch out a living, relying on water delivery from a nearby town located on a mountain ridge that seems to always stop rain from reaching Icamole. Life there is understandably difficult.

When a beautiful young girl from a nearby village is found murdered in the bottom of a young man's well he is mystified, not just at how she got there, but also by her perfect beauty. Remigio, who owns the land, is the son of Lucio the town librarian. After he retrieves the body and lays it out in a more dignified manner, he hurries to town to ask his father what to do.

Lucio, who like Don Quixote, lives his life through the books he reads, immediately refers to this young girl as Babette, comparing her to a similar character in a book he's read. He tells his son to bury her beneath his avocado tree, letting her body become one with the roots. It's a romantic notion he picked up from one of his favorite novels.

Lucio, working unpaid in a position that doesn't officially exist anymore (the officials had stopped paying him months ago), is the town's sole reader, working his way through boxes of books still arriving from who knows where. If one tiny thing about a book offends him in any way he shoves it into a hole in a door to a dark, closed up room, where, he assumes, bugs will consume the useless, unwanted books. If he loves a book, it goes on a shelf. Day after day he opens the library. And day after day no one comes for a book.

"Burning seems to him an inappropriate form of punishment, for it confers upon an inane book the utility of producing heat, the distinction of being converted into light. Hell must be that which consumes slowly, between urinations and mandibles that tenaciously disintegrate book covers, dust jackets, authors' and authoresses' photographs with the intellectual pose of the former and the wishful beauty of the latter. The bugs have to regurgitate prizes, recognitions, and, particularly, bogus praise singling out each book as a consummate model of prose style..."

The police, portrayed as somewhat bumbling, but somewhat threatening, come to Icamole in their investigation into the girl's disappearance. The town braces itself, worried who in this tiny village could possibly have done what the police presume happened, murdering this beautiful young girl. And Remigio continues to tend the avocado tree, petrified the dirt beneath it will look disturbed, standing out from the hard-packed, drought hardened landscape. And the investigation goes on.

The book is less about the murdered girl, though that is a strong element, than the eccentric Lucio. His wandering mind - stuck in the fiction he reads - is really at the heart of the story. Everything else winds itself around that. The result is one of those poignant-yet-funny tales I love.

There are so many beautiful lines I could quote, some heart-rending, some laugh out loud funny. The book is filled with sticky notes with my favorite passages. Choosing which to include here is difficult, but I'll leave it with a quote near the end, in which Lucio imagines his dead wife suddenly returns to him:

"When they finally reach the front of the house, Herlinda stops short in surprise. A library? I thought you were selling goat feed. I'll explain later, Lucio says, embracing and kissing her, begins to fondle her. Many things have happened, Herlinda, and there is still a lot left for us to read.

...

He is in a hurry because he knows that a scorpion will be back any night to tear his wife from his arms, from the earth, knows that some bad day he might open another carton of books and come up with Herlinda's Death, and then there will be no way of avoiding the tragic fate assigned her by its author..."

The rest of the paragraph I won't quote. I'd rather you read it for yourself.
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful Jan. 7 2014
By Mary - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book was quite possibly the most engaging text I read in 2013. As a I result of reading this book, I purchased two other books by Toscana and have begun reading them. Remarkable writer. Experienced, believable storyteller.
3.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite corpse Dec 1 2013
By Simon Barrett - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A tale of an obsessive reader of fiction and a corpse in small-town Mexico, this love song to literature hardly lifts the spirit. It is told in a dreary continuous present. (The protagonist describes the novel form as 'the permanent present' (p114), though poetry or film would make better candidates.) No doubt it worked better in Spanish. Despite Toscana's claims through his protagonist for 'literature' as clarion truth-teller ('literature condemns' p144) the imaginary novels he evokes cannot but sound clunky because, of necessity, we are shown plot, not style. Is irony intended? It is not clear, unlike the claustrophobic nature of small-town life, which is. Best rendition: 'rivulet of manure' (p138); worst 'their deep-green color obviates such an allusion' (p142) in a tie with 'He does not realize that his effort to save lives scarcely suffices for prolonging the existence of the condemned ones, who necessarily end up loving one another, and so what was previously resignation evolves with time into tragedy.' But page 141 and pages 153-7 raise the bar (read 'em!), I think I detected a joke on p177-8, and the ending's perfect. The last page also has the last word on narrative: 'in bed there is no bad prose'. If only it was all up to that level!
5.0 out of 5 stars The Power of Stories Sept. 12 2013
By G. Morgan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This charming book is about the relationship between stories and reality. The body of a girl is found at the bottom of a village well. The background to the girl's death is interpreted for us by Lucio, the village librarian, through the medium of the books he has read. We cannot know whether his explanations truly describe what happened. Indeed, it's doubtful whether he is really in a position to know. But his storytelling shapes the narrative just as stories shape the reality we live in. In that sense, Lucio is the Ultimate Reader (which could be an alternative translation of the book's Spanish title).

We grow up with stories about the society and culture we live in. We hear and absorb stories told by our friends, by strangers, and by institutions such as news media. Some stories are deliberately crafted in order to guide and shape our perception of reality. With other stories, the influence on our perception is more by accident. The stories that have influenced us over the years affect how we perceive and interpret our own experiences and the actions of others.

Lucio weaves the story of the dead girl from various strands of village society, and from Mexico more broadly. The man who finds the body in his well does not inform the police, perhaps because he fears that he, too, would suffer the fate that another man, also innocent of the crime, later suffers in Lucio's story. The girl's mother comes to accept the girl's death because she finds Lucio's story powerful. Or perhaps she is merely another imaginary element of Lucio's story.

The language of the English translation is lyrical and light. This slim volume provides a fun afternoon of reading, and many hours of reflection on how our lives are driven by stories .
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The book's only on paper; the author had a NY Times op ed on March 5 2013 March 6 2013
By Bruce_in_LA - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I would normally only post a real book review but if I can be granted a "pass," those who come to this page may well be interested in knowing that the author published a long essay on the decline of reading in Mexico, in the NY Times on March 5, 2013. He noted that Mexico was 108th on a list of countries where people read things (other than street signs). He gives a speech to an audience of 300 14 year olds, who likes to read? One hand goes up. He asks, of five other students, why DON'T you like to read? No one, he says, could form an idea, string words together, or give a coherent answer. He wanders about during a massive teacher strike, with hundreds of people sunning themselves, and not one is reading a book. His essay is called, The Country That Stopped Reading.

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