Friday, July 24, 2020

Book Review by Mark D. Walker - Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo

I first learned of what is considered “one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century world literature” while reading Paul Theroux’s, “On the Plain of Snakes.” In his critique of Mexican literature, he mentions “Pedro Páramo” because, unlike many of Mexico’s bestknown authors, Rulfo wrote about rural Mexico. He mentions that the book was published in 1955 and was one of the procurers of “magical realism,” which influenced many of Latin America’s best authors.

When I told my Guatemalan wife about the book, she told me she “hated it.” Evidently, the Belgian nuns who ran her school in Guatemala made this obligatory reading in 6th grade! Oh well, obviously I got a late start finding this great piece of literature, but was not disappointed one bit.

Susan Sontag, an American writer, philosopher, teacher, filmmaker and political activist described as "one of the most influential critics of her generation,” wrote the foreword to the book. According to Sontag, Garcia Marques said that, “Pedro Páramo is a legendary book by a writer who became a legend.” 

The story is about a dying mother beseeching her son to locate his father, Pedro Páramo, whom they fled from years ago. With that, Juan Preciado sets out for Comala, a town alive with whispers and shadows - seemingly populated only by memories and hallucinations. Built on the tyranny of the Páramo family, its barren and broken-down streets echo the voices of tormented spirits sharing the secrets of the past.

Initially, the novel received a cold critical reception and only sold two thousand copies during its first four years, until it was highly acclaimed as a key influence on Latin American writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Marquez claimed that after he discovered Pedro Páramo (with Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” the most influencing reading of his early writing years), he could recite from memory long passages, until eventually he knew the whole book by heart, so much did he admire it and want to be saturated by it. 

Everyone asked Rulfo why he did not publish another book, and Sontag observed, “…as if the point of a writer’s life is to go on writing and publishing. In fact, the point of a writer’s life is to produce a great book—that is a book which will last”---and this is what Rulfo did.

Walker was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala and spent over forty years helping disadvantaged people in the developing world. He came to Phoenix as a Senior Director for Food for the Hungry, worked with other groups like Make a Wish International and was the CEO of Hagar USA, a Christian-based organization that supports survivors of human trafficking.

His book, Different Latitudes: My Life in the Peace Corps and Beyond, was recognized by the Arizona Authors Association for nonfiction and according to the Midwest Review, “. . . is more than just another travel memoir. It is an engaged and engaging story of one man’s physical and spiritual journey of self-discovery . . .”

You can learn more at 

Monday, July 20, 2020

Harriet, a Historical Fiction Film

Harriet, the 2019 movie directed by Kasi Lemmons, stars Cynthia Erivo, and tells “…the extraordinary tale of Harriet Tubman's escape from slavery and transformation into one of America's greatest heroes, whose courage, ingenuity, and tenacity freed hundreds of slaves and changed the course of history.” I quote from IMDB.

I watched the movie on HBO last night and found Harriet exciting in two ways: first I love historical fiction and second I love examples of psychic experiences that come true and have impact on people’s lives.

When she was a youth, Harriet’s slave owner clubbed her in the head, giving her a concussion. After that she fell into a trance from time to time and awoke with psychic information, that is, she knew what was going to happen before it did. This ability was well known among her family.

When she ran away, her psychic guidance led her to safety. Then she embarked on many expeditions to free others, who followed her psychic sense into the free states and escape from slavery.

Harriet described her visions as “talks with God” and trusted God and her visions completely. They empowered her in profound ways, helped her lead an army regiment, and helped change the course of history. She was truly an American Joan of Arc.

The movie is dramatic, informative, and exciting. It is well worth your time to watch and imagine what it was like to be her.

Your friend,
Toby Heathcotte

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Brief history of the written word - Part Two - by Vijaya Schartz

Last month, I spoke about the origins of writing in China, Japan, India, cuneiform writing in Mesopotamia, and hieroglyphic writing in Egypt, as well as the gradual switch from graphic representation of objects to the use of sound symbols.
Phoenician tablet

In the early 8th century BC, the Phoenicians, who traded throughout the Mediterranean basin, developed the first known alphabet. Instead of using imagery, the letters, some consonants and some vowels, were linked together to form phonetic words.

Soon, the Greek borrowed and adapted the Phoenician alphabet, and their culture flourished. 

Aramaic writing

Many other alphabets developed after that, like the Arabic alphabet in the 6th century BC. The first Proto-Hebrew alphabet developed from the early Phoenician, then they adopted the Aramaic alphabet during the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman periods (500 BC – 50 AD). 

Ancient Hebrew alphabet

In the first century AD, the Viking and Celtic tribes of northern Europe also devised the Runes. 

Runic stellae

Then much later, in the 9th century AD, St. Cyril devised the Cyrillic alphabet derived from the Greek, and used until recently in Slavic countries like Russia.

Add caption

In the 8th century AD, in China, where writing was done by hand with a brush (calligraphy) the emperor ordered some religious Buddhist texts to be carved on wood blocks, to be inked and pressed on parchment or paper, as an early form of printing. The blocks took a long time to carve, and could only be used a certain number of times before losing their sharp quality.

Some ancient cultures, like the Druids or the Polynesian and Native American tribes, had a strong oral tradition but never developed a writing system. That is why so little is known about their history today. Still, very old pictograms, drawings, and symbols carved in ancient stones, cliffs, caves, or etched over miles of Andean desert, baffle the anthropologists. This only tells us that some kind of writing communication may have existed well before what we understand today.

When the ancient Romans conquered the Greeks of antiquity, they borrowed and copied their culture, their religion, their arts, and adapted their alphabet to fit Rome’s needs, and for centuries, they thrived. Through conquest, the Romans imposed their culture and their Latin alphabet upon the defeated Frankish, Germanic, Saxon, and Breton tribes, overriding whatever local system they used at the time, and replacing it by the alphabet we are still using today in the west. 

 Of note is the fact that many countries added their own modifications to the alphabet. The French have the “oe” letter and many different types of accents. The Germans also have special characters on their keyboard that are not used by any other countries… so do the Danish and the Norwegians.

Roman writing tablet and stylus
Everywhere writing developed, it prompted a cultural revolution, the exchange of ideas and information, the first development of advanced culture, art, engineering, science, mathematics, and philosophy.

But there is much more to be told. Next month, in Part 3, we’ll talk about how writing evolved over the centuries, and how it translates in today’s society.

I write about the past and the future, as they are closely linked. My latest book is set on the Byzantium Space Station. Enjoy the read!

Akira's Choice
Byzantium Book 2 (standalone)
Find it from your favorite online store HERE

When bounty hunter Akira Karyudo accepted her assignment, something didn't add up. Why would the Galactic Trade Alliance want a young kidnapped orphan dead or alive?

She will get to the truth once she finds the boy, and the no-good SOB who snatched him from a psychiatric hospital. With her cheetah, Freckles, a genetically enhanced feline retriever, Akira sets out to flush them out of the bowels of the Byzantium space station. But when she finds her fugitives, the kidnapper is not what she expects.

Kazmo, a decorated Resistance fighter, stole his nephew from the authorities, who performed painful experiments on the boy. Stuck on Byzantium, he protects the child, but how can he shield him from the horribly dangerous conditions in the lawless sublevels of the space station?

Akira faces the worst moral dilemma of her career. Law or justice, duty or love. She can't have it both ways.

"Science fiction romance at its best. Great story, interesting characters and a great cat make this story one to read and perhaps re-read. The world creating is top notch." 5 stars on amazon

Vijaya Schartz, author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes