Tuesday, July 27, 2010

book review: The Last War by Ana Menendez

The Last War: A Novel (P.S.)
The backstory: I've read and adored Ana Menendez's essays in Vogue in the past, but I had not read her novels. I had the intention of reading her novels since college, when I worked in a bookstore and got an ARC of In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd, which I moved an embarrassing number of times without ever reading it. I was thrilled to participate in this TLC tour for her latest novel, The Last War. 


The basics: The Last War is the story of Flash, a photojournalist married to a war reporter. The two have lived in wartorn areas throughout their marriage. This passage from early in the novel beautifully encapsulates both Menendez's writing and the characters:
"We were the war junkies: Eros and Chaos, endlessly drawn to the ragged margins where other people hated and died. It was as if we believed constant movement would deliver us finally from the disappointments of ordinary life." (pg. 2)
My thoughts: I loved this novel. I was captivated as much by the writing of Menendez as I was to Flash. I simultaneously felt the urge to devour this short novel in one sitting and savor it's wisdom for days. It helped that I would sit and reread powerful passages like this one several times before moving on: "It happens that certain people, like certain stories, linger deeper in the mind, sometimes lying still and hidden in a place inaccessible even to the warp of memory. When they suddenly surface, in a gesture, a sound, we may recognize them not as part of our own history, but almost as a shared memory that transcends even the boundaries of experience." (pg. 76).

Menendez is gifted at brief characterization that is powerful: "She was the American-born daughter of a British father and a Spanish mother--steeped from birth in the fluid identity that creates travelers and writers." Perhaps that particular characterization resonates so deeply with me because I am both a traveler and a writer  impassioned enough to name my blog (and to some extent myself) nomad reader.

Although dialogue was somewhat sparse, as the events in this novel occurred in places where our narrator did not speak the language, when the dialogue appeared, it flowed effortlessly into the narrative and provided some welcome humor:
"It's not like in the books," I said.
"That's the typical response of a non-reader," Alexandra said. "What do you know what's it's like in books?"
 I grimaced. "I hate when you get snotty. I actually read quite a bit."
"You're snotty. The whole lot of you. People think they're so complex and deep, impossible to figure out. In fact, if you read anything at all, you'd see a whole army of hacks have figured you out better than you ever could yourself." (pg. 98) 
The verdict: This novel is full of passages I love both as stand alone quotations and meaningful observation about life in the eyes of these characters. I love this line almost as much out of context as in it: "But it's always happy in the beginning--the great truism of love and revolution." (pg. 37).  I highly recommend it to fans of literary fiction, multicultural fiction, and travel memoirs.


Rating: 4.5 stars
Length: 225 pages 
Publication date: July 1, 2010
Source: Harper Perennial, via TLC Book Tours

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6 comments:

  1. Great review, I really loved this book as well. I love all the quotes you used!

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  2. Wow, glad you loved this one so much. I'm adding it to my TBR list right now.

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  3. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention. I'll have to check it out.

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  4. Oh wow, I haven't heard of this book before but it sounds really powerful and I now I want to read it! Thanks for turning me onto it!

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  5. This sounds great...I'm adding it to my list!

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  6. That last quote about love and revolution ... how true it is. That will stick with me for a long time.

    I'm glad that this author was such a pleasure to read, especially since you carted her other book around all those years. :) Thanks for being a part of the tour!

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!