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Posts Tagged ‘Latin America’

41EjOxKJC8LBecause my wife and I work as cross-cultural missional servants in Colombia, I was immediately responsive when a dear reading friend recommended this novel, set as it is in our adoptive South American country. It felt a little bit like the reading version of a blind date.

Yet, truth be told, ‘missionary fiction’ is not a genre that guarantees to quicken the pulse. Often it is wooden, moralistic, and—at times—condescending.

Against such modest expectations, I’m pleasantly surprised by this worthy read. I found Flying Blind to be something of a page-turner.

The story moves along quickly and well. The characters are developed in a way that rings true to certain missionary profiles that persist in spite of all efforts not to caricature because certain kinds of people do indeed end up in this work. Usually, they have a soft heart that’s worth discovering, as do most of the missionary folk who populate Dave Jackson’s pages.

In short, I enjoyed the book and became somewhat wound up in the romantic thread that holds it together.

Yet I have two concerns to register, one historical and the other … well … deeply felt even if I fail to find the right word to describe it.

First, Colombia is (one hopes) finding its way to the end of fifty years of civil war, five decades that have themselves been nourished by persistent political violence since even before this nation and its founders found their way free from Spain’s self-serving yoke. In this context, Colombia’s Army has not often played the protective and positive role that is assigned to it in this novel, even though the author does make a concession to reality in the form of some basic indifference and incompetence on the part of Colombia’s men in uniform. It seems to me that the more positive view of the ‘official’ armed forces in North America (here there are many armed forces) has been mapped onto the very different context in which Jackson sets his story.

Call it a quibble. But reader beware.

My second objection goes deeper. The Spanish that appears in this novel is, well, atrocious. Now it would be unfair to expect a Chicago-based English-speaking author to speak or write Spanish of any kind, let alone to attain a high standard at the craft. But how much would it take for a book like this (and, alas, so many others) to be submitted to the careful eye of a fully bilingual editor before it is allowed the light of day?

The correct answer is: ‘Not much’. Treating people’s language well, even when we do not know them, even when the space we assign to them is the pages of a missionary-themed novel, is one of the ways we respect them. Or fail to.

It simply needs to be done. Lest this seem an unfair criticism, turn it on its head and imagine we find ourselves reading a Latin American novelist’s work in which everybody from the USA speaks really bad English. Ugly, no?

But let me talk myself down from the ledge, at least long enough to reiterate that I thoroughly enjoyed Dave Jackson’s Flying Blind and, with some other reviewers, find it easy to imagine a sequel. One where everybody speaks his or her language well.

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This exceptionally planned and executed visual introduction to the Colombia surpasses any other coffee-table book about a nation or region that I’ve seen.

51ebrfdjyzl-_sx362_bo1204203200_-2Its 333 pages and high-quality paper stock make it an admirably heavy work, a full five pounds in the lifting.

Best of all, its exquisitely photographed images communicate the beauty and stunningly regionalized diversity of this South American nation. The prose does not pander to the reader, but introduces him or her to just enough context to form a helpful setting to the photography, which dominates.

A well-written (in Spanish) ‘Prologue’ and ‘Presentation’ give way to a presentation of one of the signature characteristics of the country: ‘Territorio de Contrastes’ (A Territory of Contrasts). The rest of the work leads the reader across the major regions of this vast country: ‘Altiplano Cundiboyacense y Santanderes’, ‘Region Caribe’, ‘Antioquia y Región Cafeteria’, ‘Pacífico’, ‘Sur Andino’, ‘Alto Magdalena’, ‘Orinoquía’, and finally ‘Amazonía’. (more…)

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Rarely does an anthology of original documents of historical value mingled with insightful interpretative essays come together as a coherent work. Steven Palmer and Iván Molina, against those odds, have put the ball in the back of the net with just such a book. (more…)

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Conveniently located off the ring road that encircles San José’s urban chaos and snuggled up next to the landmark Law Faculty (Facultad de Derecho) of the University of Costa Rica, the Hotel Ave del Paraíso is a jewel that is easily overlooked.

The Adamski family has converted a sprawling old home with its attending jumble of buildings into a boutique hotel that can only be called enchanting. A superb pricing policy makes this my hotel for business and pleasure when in San José.

Each room is expansive and distinct. High ceilings, an old home’s surprises, and attention lavished upon the engaging ceramic floors make the Ave del Paraíso worthy of many repeat performances.

A passable breakfast in the Costa Rican style comes with the room. Restaurants, the large San Pedro Mall, and the University are all within walking distance. Taxis are easily available just outside the gate. The only downside I’ve experienced is that traffic noise on the circunvalación begins at the crack of dawn. Turn up the ceiling fan and you might not notice.

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Some years back, while living in Costa Rica, I found the Hotel Grano de Oro a fine place to take guests for a nice dinner. During a recent business trip, I decided to stay for a night at this constantly improving establishment, whose only deficit is its rather seedy location on the east side of the country’s capital city. I hasten to add that security around the hotel itself is top-rate and so the neighborhood should not be considered a show-stopper.

An elegant new dining room and a set of new rooms has added to the Grano de Oro’s charm since I knew it as a dinner guest. The price was right and I was upgraded to a superb, beautifully appointed deluxe room.

This hotel and the Hotel Ave del Paraíso, across town, now become my two favorites for business travel to Costa Rica’s Central Plateau, especially when the alternatives are so often the familiar chains that are the rather colorless bread and butter of business travel in less exotic places.

Staff was friendly and attentive, the restaurant and room service fare were respectable, but the charm of the property itself is the real winner here.

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When the principal airline of the tiny Central American country of El Salvador some years ago began acquiring and organizing the assets of carriers from Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Peru, it was a boon for air travelers in the region.

I have flown Grupo Taca (as the airline is now known) many times with only positive experiences to report. A gradually increasing number of North American destinations makes this airline comfortably accessible from the United States and Canada.

Grupo Taca’s superb lounge in Lima, Peru’s airport is not to be missed. Now that long-delayed improvements at Costa Rica’s Juan Santamaría International Airport have passed from the ill-fated hands of Alterra Partners to the Houston Airport System, one dares to hope for improvements in the small lounge facilities there. Taca’s flagship hub in San Salvador has always been more than adequate and anchors the three-hub operation up and down the Americas.

There are now many air carriers serving Costa Rica and the region. North American-based travelers ought not overlook the considerable advantages offered by less-known airlines like Grupo Taca and Panama’s excellent COPA Airlines, with its über-convenient Hub of the Americas and handy cooperative agreements with OnePass and Continental Airlines.

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García Márquez did not win the Nobel Prize for Literature and become Colombia’s favorite son by accident. This book, among his best, anchors his reputation as one of Latin America’s greatest novelists. (more…)

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