Thursday, April 05, 2007

Guilty Literary Pleasure

Arturo Peréz-Reverte is a Colombian author who now lives and teaches in Madrid. He writes beautiful stuff. My favorite book of his is The Queen of the South about a young girl from Culiacon who ends up as a coke smuggler in Spain. It is at the same time packed with action but also with humanity. I have a great fondness for both Spain and Mexico so that was a natural. Throw in some beautiful citations of the narco-corridas that are sung along the border and you have a perfect recipe for entrancing a minstrel.

He has also written a series (it's been out in Spain for about twelve years, but has only been being released in English one book a year for the last three years) about Captain Alatriste. Set during the thirty years war at the beginning of the seventeenth century it is Dumas quality swashbuckling beauty. I received my copy (pre-ordered of course) of the latest release (the first being Captain Alatriste and Purity of the Blood called The Sun over Breda. Our narrator, Inigo Balboa, 15 years old now, and serving as a page to the noble Alatriste gives a grunt's eye view of the "glory of war." I recieved the book on Tuesday afternoon and it's finished now. Part of that is because they are short novels (260 pages), but also because once begun it's hard to put down.

One of the things about Peréz-Reverte that sets him apart when he writes books like this is that there is an almost total absence of the formulaic approach that one finds in writers like Bernard Cornwell (whose Sharpe novels made much better BBC television than books, and I say that with full disclosure that I own every single one of them, and end up with the DVD box set more often than I curl up with the books). With a Captain Alatriste novel, you never know where the ride will take you.

I was listening to the talking heads prattle on and on about how the British sailors and marines disgraced themselves by not fighting before their capture, and further disgraced themselves by not resisting their captivity. Then I realized that the shitheel spouting that particular shit was retired Air Force. An entire fucking service of Rear Echelon Mother Fuckers. (REMF's in grunt speak)

The best response I can muster comes from Inigo Balboa in The Sun over Breda. This young man has been searching through a town that has just fallen, scrounging food for his master and finds a terribly wounded Englishman. When he reports this to Alatriste and says "We must help him." Alatriste slits the Englishman's throat. When Inigo questions what kind of help that might be Alatriste says "When the moment comes, pray to God that someone will do the same for you."

Then this bit of terrible beauty:

There, alone, standing before that corpse, I began to look at the world in a very different way. I knew myself to be in possession of a terrible truth that until that instant I had intuited only in Captain Alatriste's glaucous gaze: He who kills from afar knows nothing about the act of killing. He who kills from afar derives no lesson from life or from death; he neither risks nor stains his hands with blood, nor hears the breathing of his adversary, nor reads the fear, courage, or indiffernce in his eyes. He who kills from afar tests neither his arm, his heart, nor his conscience, nor does he create ghosts that will later haunt him every single night for the rest of his life. He who kills from afar is a knave who commends to others the dirty and terrible task that is his own. He who kills from afar is worse than other men, because he does not know anger, loathing, and vengance, the terrible passion of flesh and blood as they meet steel, but he is equally innocent of pity and remorse. For that reason, he who kills from afar does not know what he has lost.

I recommend all of Aurturo Peré-Reverte's novels. Especially the Captain Alatriste series. Especially for all you REMF's out there, you need to know how the grunts feel about you.



Anonymous Ralph Hitchens said...

On the whole I agree with your sideswipe about Bernard Cornwell, but I do think he was refreshingly out of character in his three-volume series about an English Thane who honorably serves on both sides during King Alfred's war against the Danes. The Pale Horseman, The Last Kingdom, and Lord of the North. Actually haven't read the third one yet, but the first two were exceptional.

10:46 AM  
Blogger badtux said...

You left out an A. As in, REAMF -- Rear Echelon Asshole Mother Fuckers. The first four letters of which describe the effects of their actions upon grunts.

But that's my own unique contribution to the vernacular :-).

- Badtux the not-REAMF Penguin

6:51 PM  
Blogger Rez Dog said...

Well said. In combat, proximity is truth.

7:55 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

i'm a total geek for swashbucklers and, in the best case, swashbuckling historical fiction. i have all the hornblowers, all the jack aubreys, a full set of dumas. in part, it is because i feel more at home in those times than i do today. when things like personal courage and skill could truly carry the day. i am in awe of the men who sailed the wooden ships into battle, and the frontier rangers who, with muzzle loaders, roamed the wild rockies and plateaus of the colorado. when self sufficiency and an independant lifestyle were not veiwed as abberational or paranoid.

8:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arturo Perez Reverte is not Colombian, he is Spanish (born in Cartagena, Murcia, Spain in 1951) and he doesn't teach in MAdrid, he writes novels and articles.

9:15 AM  

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