One-Minute Book Reviews

October 7, 2008

Drinking in a Family’s History: Tom Gjelten’s ‘Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba’ (Books I Didn’t Finish)

Filed under: History,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:44 pm
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The latest in a series of occasional posts on books I didn’t finish and why I didn’t finish them

Title: Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba: The Biography of a Cause. By Tom Gjelten. Viking, 413 pp., $27.95.

What it is: A history of the Bacardi rum family, intertwined with that of Cuba, from its founding in 1862 through Fidel Castro’s resignation and his brother Raúl’s succession in February 2008.

How much I read: About 40 pages: the preface, last chapter, acknowledgments, and other parts, including those about Ernest Hemingway and the Bay of Pigs disaster.

Why I stopped reading: Not many books about successful businesses give a rich social, historical and human context for the stories they tell. Gjelten aims to do that in Bacardi and the Long Fight for Cuba. And he succeeded in the sections I read: They were interesting and well-written and may help to nudge this book onto some “best of the year” lists. I didn’t have enough interest in rum and Cuba to spend eight or nine hours with the story, the amount of time it might take me to read 400 pages. But I’d consider giving this book as a gift to a fan of serious, thoughtful nonfiction about recent history or international affairs.

Best line in what I read: The first: “A bottle of white Bacardi rum sold in the United States bears a small logo – mysteriously, a bat – and a label that says ‘Established 1862.’ Just above the dates are the words ‘PUERTO RICAN RUM.’ There is no mention of Cuba.
“The Bacardi distillery in San Juan is the largest in the world, but the Bacardis are not from Puerto Rico. This family company for nearly a century was Cuban, cubanissima in fact – Cuban to the n th degree.”

Worst line in what I read: Gjelten says that when Fidel Castro collapsed at an outdoor rally in June 2001, the Cuban foreign minister shouted to the crowd, “¡Calma y valor!” He translates this as, “Stay calm and be brave!” Why not just “Calm and brave!”? And Gjelten ends by commenting on a Bacardi family member’s 1907 view that Cuba needed a leader “who is just and truly loves his country”: “A century later, Cuba needed that leader more than ever.” “More than ever” is a cliché that’s fine in everyday conversation but weakens the ending of a book. And the problem with most dictators isn’t that they don’t love their countries – it’s that they love them too much and value them above other things that are equally important, including human rights.

Editor: Wendy Wolf

Published: September 2008 www.amazon.com/Bacardi-Long-Fight-Cuba-Biography/dp/067001978X.

Furthermore: Gjelten is a correspondent for National Public Radio and panelist on Washington Week. He also wrote Sarajevo Daily.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

August 26, 2007

Snogging and Blogging in Bruna Surfistinha’s ‘The Scorpion’s Sweet Venom: The Diary of a Brazilian Call Girl’

Raquel Pacheco, a prostitute who worked under the name Bruna Surfistinha, blogged about her clients’ sexual performance

The Scorpion’s Sweet Venom: The Diary of a Brazilian Call Girl. By Bruna Surfistinha/Raquel Pacheco. Interviewed by Jorge Tarquini. Translated by Alison Entrekin. Bloomsbury USA, 176 pp., $14.95.

By Janice Harayda

Raquel Pacheco writes about as well as Henry James would have run a brothel. This isn’t surprising given that she was a high school dropout and unknown teenage prostitute in Brazil until she started blogging about her clients’ sexual performance.

Then all hell broke loose – hell being, in this case, a book contract, a movie deal and write-ups in newspapers like the New York Times. But the prose doesn’t exactly sizzle in this memoir of her several years as a prostitute who used the name Bruna Surfistinha (“Bruna the Little Surfer Girl”). (Writing sample: “Yay! Finally someone invited me to a swingers’ club!!!”) Pacheco, now in her early 20s. says she quit prostitution just before her 21st birthday. And her memoir reads the way your high school diary might if you’d had much more sex and kept score in Portuguese, then had your words translated it into British English, so that people kept asking you questions like, “How ’bout a wank?”

Pacheco intersperses tales of turning tricks with details of her well-off but troubled childhood, marked by bulimia, truancy and shoplifting. Partly for this reason, her book isn’t sexy enough to be erotica or single-minded enough to be pornography. Nor does it have much to offer in the way of advice. A brief section of sex tips tells you little more women’s magazines do. (Try different rooms, like the kitchen.) And the advice seems pitched to people decades behind Americans in their views on sex. “Some people think sex should be like in porn films: the guy wildly banging the girl as if he were drilling through asphalt,” she writes. Don’t they get reruns of Sex and the City in Brazil and know how mercilessly that show would have lampooned those people?

Best line: “Love is blind, deaf and mindless. But mute, never.

Worst line (tie): No. 1: “In almost three years in this business, by my count, I think I’ve had sex with more than 1,000 men. In theory it might not sound like a lot …” No. 2: “I’m a Spiritualist, because I believe that on the ‘other side’ there is everything we have here. Even hospitals.”

Caveat lector: This review was based on an advance reading copy. Some material in the finished book may differ.

Published: February 2007 (first American edition). June 2007 (paperback edition).

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

Bruna Surfistinha’s Call Girl Diary, Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews

Filed under: Uncategorized — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:07 pm
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“SAO PAOLO. She goes by the name Bruna, the Little Surfer Girl, and gives new meaning to the phrase ‘kiss and tell.’ First in a blog that quickly became the country’s most popular and now in a best-selling memoir, she has titillated Brazilians and become a national celebrity with her graphic, day-by-day accounts of life as a call girl here.

“But it is not just her canny use of the Internet that has made Bruna, whose real name is Raquel Pacheco, a cultural phenomenon … “

Larry Rohter in “She Who Controls Her Body Can Upset Her Countrymen,” the New York Times, April 27, 2006.

A review of the American edition of Pacheco’s memoir, The Scorpion’s Sweet Venom, will appear tomorrow on One-Minute Book Review.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 22, 2007

A Review of ‘The Scorpion’s Sweet Venom: The Diary of a Brazilian Call Girl’ Coming Soon to One-Minute Book Reviews

What! You want another review of one of those high-toned winners of the Pulitzer or Booker Prize or the Caldecott Medal? I haven’t reviewed enough of those for you? Have you forgotten that call girls, too, have an honored place in literature?

No, I’m not talking about the memoirs of the Mayflower Madam. I’m talking about Holly Golightly, a call girl in Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s (though you wouldn’t know it from the movie we all love, anyway). So within the next week I’m reviewing The Scorpion’s Sweet Venom: The Diary of a Brazilian Call Girl (Bloomsbury, $14.95), just out in paperback. This memoir grew out of the online diary of former teenage prostitute Rachel Pacheco, who used the stage name of Bruna Surfistinha (“Bruna the Surfer Girl”). The publisher calls this book “an international sensation” by “the Paris Hilton of Brazil.” (Now there’s a recommendation! What will the publishing industry give us next, the memoirs of the Lindsay Lohan of Uruguay?) I believe I have a duty to review this book because when you actually go to Bruna’s famous blog and try to see what the fuss is all about … it’s in Portuguese! I ask you: What good does that do American teenage boys? So check back if you can’t live without knowing more about this one. And — who knows? — if the publishing industry does give us the memoirs of the Lindsay Lohan of Uruguay, I might review that, too, if I decide that you and I need a break from all those prize-winning authors like Ian McEwan www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/08/10/.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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