This is a book that I finished this morning. It's called El Demonio y la señorita Prym, which would translate to "The Demon and Miss Prym." It's by the Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, who wrote The Alchemist, among others. It was a good book, and the more I read of Coelho, the more I like him, but in a strange way.
See, my first exposure to the author was when Christa gave me a copy of The Alchemist when I graduated. I read it quickly and liked it a lot, but since I'd not really heard of the author otherwise, I assumed he might have been a bit of a one-hit wonder. Although when I came here to Costa Rica, I started to notice his books in a lot of places--and that's saying quite a lot, since one hardly ever notices books here in the first place!
Then, when I was teaching high school here, I assigned my students to read a novel of their choosing in English. Many of them chose books by Coelho, which naturally made me suspicious. But it also made me skeptical, since they told me they were actually enjoying the books; if these students--who had professed to me that they hated to read, and who told me they'd never read a whole book in their lives, let alone an English book--if THEY liked Coelho that much, then he must really be quite bad.
But I've begun to realize that he is a talented writer, and he seems to connect with his readers somehow. Maybe it's simply the clarity of what he's trying to express. Each book seems to take a larger theme and break it down nicely, using protagonists that the common reader can identify with. At the same time, though, it's frustrating to read his books at times, in the same way looking at some modern art is frustrating: you're always tempted to say, "But that's so simple, even I could do it!" But I guess that's the beauty of it: I didn't do it; Paulo Coelho did it, and he keeps doing it.
This book is the third part of a trilogy, preceded by Veronika Decides to Die and On the Banks of the River Piedra I Sat and Wept (I'm pretty sure that's what they're called... I actually read the second one in Spanish/Swedish, and I'm not sure what it's called in English). My favorite Coelho book is actually Veronika, but this one is also quite good.
As with the other two books in the series, it deals with a week in the life of a certain person. In Demon, it looks at Chantal Prym, a girl in a one-horse village, who meets a traveler from abroad. The traveler makes Chantal his messenger, and his message is "about choice": he has come to see if the world is essentially evil or good. To find out, he offers the village 10 gold bars if they'll commit a crime by murdering an innocent person. It's a fairly simple premise, but there are enough twists and thoughtful moments to keep you engaged (especially if you read the book while exercising on a stationary bike, which naturally lowers your brain's demands, anyhow).
By reading this, I've also once again confirmed that I quite enjoy reading contemporary literature in translation. Maybe it's the actual translation process, but the writing seems to shed a lot of the superfluous linguistic flare and get right to the core of what the author was trying to say... or maybe I'm just stupid. I don't know. But I do know that Stephen King is one of my favorite authors... in German. I also enjoyed Stig Larsson's book in German, and while Nick Hornby is obviously much better in English, if you've gotta read something in Swedish, then you should definitely check out High Fidelity.
The only thing that bothers me about reading novels in Spanish is the punctuation used for thoughts and dialogue. Sometimes it's a simple dash (-) preceding the words a person speaks (and mysteriously, to me at least, is the second dash that precedes the period at the end of some, but not all, of these "quotes"). Then, they have double arrows (>>), but depending on the book, it seems that these are used to sometimes indicate thoughts or continued dialogue by the same person. Finally, this book also used "normal" quotation marks ("), but they seemed to only be used when an angel or demon was talking... or maybe thinking. In any case, it's weird.
Speaking of quotes, here is my favorite quote from the book:
"Para dominar a un hombre, basta con meterle miedo en el cuerpo."
What's the point? If you see any books by Coelho, then go for it! You'll like it, or your money back!*
*Assuming Paulo Coelho would return your money if you didn't like his book.