Thursday, December 15, 2011

Best of 2011 Countdown: #10

Top 10 Time!


Timeless Mexico
Hugo Brehme, Susan Toomey Frost
UT Press

Hugo Brehme (German born) worked in Mexico from 1905 until his death in 1954.  [Was he falsely accused of killing his wife, then went to prison where he created a library, then escaped by digging a tunnel through the wall and crawling through sewage, and end up in Mexico?  Whoops, wrong story.  Continue.] He created an idyllic vision of Mexico that influenced photography, film, and literature for a hundred years (specifically Manuel Alvares Bravo and Gabriel Figueroa).  Brehme began printing and distributing his images on postcards (collectible postcards) and these became so popular that when tourists would visit and didn’t happen upon a group of Mexican men in sombreros holding swords, just like the photograph of Pancho Villa's horsemen, they would think…huh…this must not be the real place.
Brehme was famous for photographing everything from the Mexican Revolution, to architecture, to people, to beautiful landscapes (landscapes are what he loved to photograph the most). The photographs in this book are wide ranging and absolutely gorgeous. It is my favorite book on the University of Texas Press fall list, and any photography lover will want this. [I love to take pictures of my cat!]
Susan Toomey Frost, who has collected Brehme's photography for many years, provides an illuminating introduction to his life and work. She also describes his practice of printing and distributing his photographs as collectible postcards.


The Buddha in the Attic
Julie Otsuka

I wrote about The Buddha in the Attic several weeks back, right before the announcement of the National Book Awards, as it was a well-deserved finalist for that prize.  Julie Otsuka has managed to capture the stories of a whole generation of Japanese women in an amazingly short 120 page novella.  This book is a marvel.

Starting at the turn of the century and continuing to the advent of World War II, Otsuka tells the story of the women who came to the United States as mail-order brides for Japanese-American men.  They were promised bankers, lawyers, doctors, and universally, a better life.  These were widowed women, poor women, trampy women (Gianna), plain women, smart women, dumb women, girls, old maids--the whole range of female citizenry in the Empire.  And they were sold a bill of goods.  Upon arrival, they discovered that their husbands were miners, laborers, farmers, pickers.  Still, they persevered and built strong foundations for their children.

Julie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic succeeds in accomplishing what few novels even attempt--telling a story about a group of people without narrowing to specific characters.  Nonetheless, at the end the reader has an appreciation for individual struggles, and a further appreciation for this talented writer.  I really believe that this book is one that everyone should read.

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