does not describe me fully
it is where to start

Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Week with Two Queens

Okay, neither wore a real crown and one would probably be insulted at being included in the other’s company. But I had such a good time with each in the last week that I wanted to share them with you.

First Queen: the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz. Celia has been gone now for seven years. It’s only that every time I hear her unique voice she sounds as alive as ever. She was exiled from Cuba after Castro came to power. She subsequently came to the attention of the world beyond Latin America during her 1970s Fania All-Stars tours with other artists of the salsa genre. The thing about Celia was that her outrageous wigs and flamboyant costumes were absolutely unnecessary given her resplendent voice. They just made us appreciate her uniqueness even more.

Here she is, probably already in her 70s, surrounded by young people in Miami Beach who can’t help but dance to her music. The song is “La Vida Es un Carnaval” (tr. Life Is a Carnival). In it, she says, “There is no need to cry. Life is a carnival, and it’s better to live singing … your pain will leave while singing ….” It’s a song I will listen to if I am feeling sad, and it usually brings a smile to my face.

Second Queen: Teresa Mendoza, heroine of The Queen of the South, written by Arturo Pérez-Reverte. This respected Spanish writer whose fiction and nonfiction have been translated widely is also a former investigative journalist. La Reina del Sur was given to me by a family member who did not inform me that it was a novel. For the first 80 pages, I thought I was reading Pérez-Reverte’s exposé of the drug trafficking trade in México and Spain as seen through the eyes of Teresa Mendoza, a moll who later became head of the biggest drug smuggling operation in the western Mediterranean. I thought she was such a fascinating woman that I wanted to see what else had been written about her so I went on the internet. That was when I discovered that the gripping tale I was reading was actually a novel; a thriller, a type of novel I rarely read.

According to the customer reviews on Amazon, the novel is excellent even in translation, which I had wondered about because of the pervasive use of Mexican and Spanish slang. Perhaps what makes this such an interesting read is that Pérez-Reverte, availing himself of the tools of journalism, did extensive background research which is reflected in the novel’s feel of authenticity. If you want a novel you can escape into and also learn a great deal, The Queen of the South (La Reina del Sur) is it.


Mayowa said...

Ah Celia's great fun...a larger than life character so to speak.

Mr. Perez Reverte's research must be incredible to get past the ol fiction/non fiction detector.

Sun Singer said...

I really do need to avoid stopping by your blog when you put up posts about tantalizing books that end up having to add to my TBR list. :-)


Judith Mercado said...

Mayowa, glad you appreciate Celia. And my detector probably would have kicked in eventually ... maybe.

Malcolm,I'm looking at my own TBR teetering pile.

Thank you for stopping by.

A Cuban In London said...

This post is so great that I don't know where to begin. I saw Celia only once in my life, at the Barbican, here in London in '99. And I was swept off my feet by her amazing voice. You're right, she didn't need the wig, but hey, those were the times! For really colourful Cuban singers, look up La Lupe. Now, there's a heroine of mine. My favourite cover version of "Fever" is by her.

And thanks for introducing me to a writer with whose work I was not familiar. I will be looking out for that book.

Greetings from London.