Best of Lists, Part II

If you’ve managed to read my last post on year end best of lists then you already know of my disdain for such lists. I feel that reducing the entire year into lists is something that only functions as a marketing gimmick to help sell more of the whatever the cultural product happens to be.

Yet, there have been some outstanding books released in 2013. Rather than give you a list of some of my favorites I thought that I would share what I think of as one of the most outstanding openings that occurred in a novel that was published in the last year. It’s too easy to say what were the best books. What is decidedly more difficult and thought-provoking is to discuss what makes a novel great. One of those books is the House of Impossible Loves by Christina Lopez Barrio. The book deals with several generations of women who are doomed to go through life passing down a curse from generation to generation. The story itself is interesting enough, but what makes this novel stick out is the descriptions of the scenes. The novel is translated from the Spanish by Lisa Carter, and it is really Carter’s translation that struck me as particularly enchanting. The excerpt below is from the first page and it gives the reader a remarkable sense of where he or she is in terms of location.

The opening scene’s magic resides in its simplicity and directness. The reader can almost smell the fire smoke of autumn and feel the oily grip of the shotguns. It’s scenes like this that so successfully transport the reader in space and time. It’s scenes like this that are the mark of a great novel. Reading a novel is not a passive activity, but solicits, no, demands, the participation of the reader. An entire universe is contained in the two paragraphs above. If the novel were to end there I would still consider it one of the best pieces of literature that I’ve read over the last year. Transporting the reader in the way that the passage below successfully does is not an easy task. Upon reading these two paragraphs the reader, or this reader at least, loses himself in the folds of the fictional universe.

It’s novels like the House of Impossible Loves that give me hope for the future of the novel and for literature in general. Furthermore, it’s exquisite translations like Carter’s that allows readers from outside of Spain at certain time to gain a profound sense of what life may have been like in this fictional world. In fact, now that I’ve finished the novel I can say that the world of the novel is no longer fictional, but is as real to me as memories of my own childhood.

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