Extra, Extra! (Credit, that is.)

Yes, here’s an opportunity to add extra points to your winter term grade. Read a book and write a one- to two-page review/response. I will also ask you to make a brief presentation of your book to the rest of the class (with potential follow-up questions from your classmates and me). You can earn up to 15 points, which will be added to your research paper points total. Your research paper will focus on some topic related to the history of South America, Central America, or the Caribbean. The book you choose must be related to the history of those regions. Over the past few years I have read:

  • In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez, the story of three sisters who dared to take a stand against Rafael Trujillo, the infamous dictator of the Dominican Republic. I really enjoyed this vibrant historical novel and I'd highly recommend it to you if you are at all interested (see review below).

  • The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa, an alternative take on the Trujillo dictatorship. I enjoyed the book, but there are elements that are graphically shocking and disturbing, to the point that I can't fully recommend it for high school students.

  • Isabel Allende's historical novel The House of the Spirits, a look at the political and cultural turmoil of 20th century Chile, which I also found fascinating and engaging and an excellent literary book, but less grounded in the actual history of .

If you’d like to read either In the Time of the Butterflies or The House of the Spirits, go for it! If you’d like to read another book instead, you must get my prior approval. Send me an e-mail with a link to the amazon.com description of the book you’d like to read. You may choose nonfiction or historical fiction. This project, including the review/response, will be due the day we return, Monday, January 4. Whether you choose to engage in this outside reading or not, I hope you have a fabulous holiday break!

Reviews:

external image 911GXS%2By6RL.jpgIn the Time of the Butterflies (from Publishers Weekly)
During the last days of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, three young women, members of a conservative, pious Catholic family, who had become committed to the revolutionary overthrow of the regime, were ambushed and assassinated as they drove back from visiting their jailed husbands. Thus martyred, the Mirabal sisters have become mythical figures in their country, where they are known as las mariposas (the butterflies), from their underground code names. Herself a native of the Dominican Republic, Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents) has fictionalized their story in a narrative that starts slowly but builds to a gripping intensity. Each of the girls—Patria, Minerva and Maria Terese (Mate) Mirabal—speaks in her own voice, beginning in their girlhood in the 1940s; their surviving sister, Dede, frames the narrative with her own tale of suffering and dedication to their memory. To differentiate their personalities and the ways they came to acquire revolutionary fervor, Alvarez takes the risk of describing their early lives in leisurely detail, somewhat slowing the narrative momentum. In particular, the giddy, childish diary entries of Mate, the youngest, may seem irritatingly mundane at first, but in time Mate's heroism becomes the most moving of all, as the sisters endure the arrests of their husbands, their own imprisonment and the inexorable progress of Trujillo's revenge. Alvarez captures the terrorized atmosphere of a police state, in which people live under the sword of terrible fear and atrocities cannot be acknowledged. As the sisters' energetic fervor turns to anguish, Alvarez conveys their courage and their desperation, and the full import of their tragedy.
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The House of the Spirits (from The Baltimore Sun)
In an exquisite union of structure, plot, and metaphor, Isabel Allende has written—and Magda Bogin has brilliantly translated—a saga in which unforgettably eccentric characters live a fairy-tale existence in a tragic South American country that could well be Ms. Allende's native Chile, but might just as well be a mythic nation levitating somewhere over the Andes…By turns hilarious, fantastical, portentous and grotesque, the story follows the Trueba family from the turn of the century to the present.