Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Pleasures of Reading, Viewing, and Listening in 2012, pt.6: Rebecca Ore

Nicaragua and Alexandria 
by Rebecca Ore 
Jinotega, Nicaragua

What I've been reading has been a number of books on Nicaragua and Mexico.

Since I've never been to Mexico, I don't know for sure, but Mexico doesn't seem like here. Everything in Nicaragua, at least where I live, is both personal and slightly formal. Mexico seems maybe more raucous (, more photographs of dead bodies, less of Pedro X. Molina's cool cynicism about the current political situation. Mexican make films like Machete and help with films like And Pancho Villa as Himself; Nicaraguans make films like La Yuma and help the Spanish make films like Sandino.

The other thing I'm currently reading, at Liz Hand's recommendation, is Lawrence Durrell's Alexandrian Quartet. A friend said that there are two ways to be an expatriate: assimilate and try to be part of the local culture from the inside (as much as anyone can -- and the online expat friends I have tend to do this: one in Japan, two in the UK who came from other English-speaking countries, and an Ecuadoran man in California. Other expats have social lives strictly with other expats. I meet them in airport lounges and we chat briefly, exchange email addresses, and that's it.

Durrell's main characters are not Arab Egyptian Muslims -- and Alexandria is like a foreign city within Egypt. His people are Copts, Jews, English men, and exotic women. One has died in the first volume.

Trieste must have been like this; London is probably like this now; and New York had a whole community of artists who were more international than not, citizens in spirit of many countries, regardless of what their passports say, plus the more typical immigrant communities who came to the US to become Americans.

What Alexandria has, in the novel and in its real life, is its depth of history combined with connections to a real founder, real characters in the past living their lives, the roots in the Ptolomaic line, the place where Mark Anthony and Cleopatra twisted sex, ambition, and death together. Durrell's characters continue that tradition. The language quivers at the brim of too lush, end of that fashion, and what was next in fiction was a drier and more understated style.

The exotic Alexandrians are closer to the various upper middle class Nicaraguans who scattered from Russia to the US to Sweden, and who are married to people from yet different countries, or to women who conceal for years that they speak English better than their husbands. Durrell's women are intelligent but victims, and the sex is an emotional force in the book, but not directly on camera. Almost everyone is a writer or artist, or in some position with government except for the much cuckolded banker husband of one of the main female characters.

I haven't finished reading it yet, but this Alexandria is nothing like the expat world in Nicaragua with its range of libertarians, right wingers, and various people who are trying to pull off lives they couldn't make cohere in the US, and I suspect that some of the polish was in Durrell's mind, but there's a sense of loss for what his Alexandria was: a city wandering in time, not really attached to any particular country, its most famous poet a Greek, its most famous citizen a Roman, its novelist a British man born in India.

All we have in Jinotega are an Azerbaijani vet on her second Nicaraguan husband; a German married into a poor branch of the Pellas family; a handful of retired Americans; and one Nicaraguan family with kin in Sweden, the US, and Guatemala, who've lived in Russia and Cuba. Beyond that is the Chinese family who are Catholic and Chinese-speaking, and completely Nicaragua except that we all call their store the Chinese store.

But some days, I wouldn't be surprised if we all woke up to find our computers hacked and Nahuatl language programs installed, and everyone with that one Spanish great-grandfather in the otherwise indigenous families all dressed again in the traditional clothes, only machine-woven, and all of them talking on cell phones, though I suspect that's my romance and not theirs.

Rebecca Ore's fiction burst upon the world in 1988 with the publication of her celebrated Becoming Alien trilogy, the first two novels of which were nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award. Since then she’s published a great deal of short fiction and numerous novels, including Gaia’s Toys, Time’s ChildOutlaw School, Slow Funeral, the short fiction collection, Alien Bootlegger, and from Aqueduct Press, Alien Bootlegger and Centuries Ago and Very Fast, a collection of linked short stories that was a finalist for both the Philip K. Dick and the Lambda Awards. Aqueduct Press has also published her latest novel, Time and Robbery, and is in the process of releasing numerous titles in her backlist in e-book editions.

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