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BOOKS LIVES IN TRANSLATION: Bilingual Writers on Identity and Creativity Edited by Isabella De Courtivron Palgrave Macmillan, $22.95, 208 pp American Wanderers An account of the joys of rootlessness in a country where home means so much. -i. v. i. 1 Reviewed by WILLIAM McKEEN Gertrude Stein nailed us when she said America was "a space filled with moving." We're restless people and no matter how far interest rates fall, some of us will never feel at home in a home.
Halfway through American Nomads, Richard Grant's book on our wandering culture, we meet a guy named Lance Grabowski. He's been drifting through the West for 30 years with no permanent home, no family, no woman for more than a few weeks at a time and he is, of course, happier than a pig in slop. Looking back on this life, he tells Grant The truck was my armchair and the country was my house. The different parts of the country were like different rooms in my house: Oh, if October, the fall colors will be coming out in upstate New York." It isn't that Lance hasn't tried living like the rest of us, with mortgages, car notes and irritating neighbors. He's just not cut out for a subdivision.
So he wears buckskin, totes i v---. Ml primitive weapons I and lives out of his truck, selling handmade jewelry and bleached buffalo AMERICAN NOMADS By Richard Grant Grove Press, $24, 31 1 pp 4 AP skulls on the swap meet circuit He doesn't understand why more women don't want to live in vans and tents and he thinks the feminist movement is a plot to make life difficult for free spirits like him. Lance isn't an isolated case. Richard Grant has found a culture of full-time wanderers, most of them in the great expanse of American West Some like long-haul truckers and carnies do so by trade. Others are wanderers by inclination.
Like Lance, they don't do the 9-to-5. These are people who don't own anything they can fit into a backpack, who look at finding the next meal as a contact sport, and who understand that a campfire isn't just a source of light and heat, but a thing of wonder and beauty. Sometimes it takes an outsider to see whafs inside us. Like fellow Brits Jonathan Raban and (for an earlier generation) Alistair Cooke, Grant has a greater appreciation for things American than most of us do. He loves our culture and history.
Perhaps ifs European envy for the yawning American horizon. "Open space invites mobility," Grant writes. He throws himself in with the itinerant culture, confessing that staying longer than a few days in his Tucson rental gives him the willies. It would be great to travel with Richard Grant but if American Nomads has a fault, ifs the lack of a strong narrative velocity. He doesn't unfurl his stories and introduce us to his fellow road warriors while we ride shotgun in his pickup.
We don't really get the sense that we're on the road with him and we miss that kind of literary intimacy. We're just thrown in Home is where the road is with his memories and our nation's jumbled history. But thaf a quibble. Grant is a great storyteller and he shifts through several centuries as he chronicles the lives of American nomads. He counters the modern-day stories (buckskinners like Lance as well as truckers, festival-hopping weekend hippies and other nomads) with frequent plunges into history with mountain men, religious pilgrims and lost conquistadors.
Grant has a special fondness for a 19th century fur trapper named Joe Walker, whose life on the road debunked the notion that the root of American rootlessness was a desire to get rich. For Walker, travel wasn't the means to an end; it was a worthy end all on its own. The Mormons were America's foremost religious pilgrims in the 19th century, and several of them concocted theories that Jesus Christ was the quintessential American nomad, arriving as he did via wooden submarine during an extended vacation from the Holy Land. Then there's the tale of Cabeza de Vaca, a displaced 16th century Spanish explorer who wandered naked, mostly through the Southwest His travels included stints living with Indian tribes, subsisting on grubs and berries and developing a disdain for the sedentary (and supposedly civilized) life he'd led for his first 40 years on Earth. Events turned him into a vagabond and he was never able to return to his old way of life.
Nomadism is a way of life, but perhaps not a life sentence. After years of curled-up sleep across a front seat, Grant admits that he fell off the wagon. Owing to a fear of deportation and the love of a long-suffering woman, he finally wed and began to put down those roots he'd heard so much about This last-page admission gives American Nomads what we can only assume is a happy ending. William McKeen is the chair of the department of journalism at the University of Florida. His latest book is Highway 61.
Now you're talking my language Reviewed by CARLIN ROMANO For Isabelle De Courtivron, a professor of French studies at MIT, the idea of gathering essays by bilingual writers comes naturally. This French native, who came to the United States as a young giri, normally spends summers in Paris. Toward the end of each August, she writes, her Boston friends tell her, "How wonderful that you are coming home!" At the same time, her French friends exclaim, "How sad mat you are leaving home!" The welcome achievement of Lives in Translation is to bring together reflections from an array of internationally acclaimed writers among them Anita Desai, Ariel Dorfman, Eva Hoffman, Anton Shammas and Dan Stavans known for both multiple identities and their pondering of border crossings. Desai grew up in Old Delhi the daughter of an Indian father and a German mother, her linguistic world a mix of Hindi, Urdu, English and German. Her great challenge came, she recalls, on arriving in the United States: "India had prepared me for England, but not, I found, for America" Like several others in this volume, she reminds us that, second languages aside, many "Englishes" now coexist around the world: laughed at things others considered serious and they spoke at length of matters I would not think of divulging in public." Many of the lovely epiphanies in Lives in Translation capture issues of personal resonance rather than global importance.
Polish native Eva Hoffman movingly writes of how she "wanted Polish silenced" within her, "so that I could make room within myself for English." Algerian novelist Leila Sebbar morosely recalls her Francophile Algerian father, who did not keep "a single book, a single word, of his language" in their house. On the lighter side, Nancy Huston, a Canadian novelist who married the great Bulgarian-French thinker Tzetvan Todorov and has lived in Paris for decades, hilariously itemizes typical moments experienced by a longtime expatriate, such as when the French notice your handling of articles in their immortal tongue: "Excuse me, but, did you say UNE peignoir? UN baignoire? LA diapason? LE guerison? Did I hear you correctly? Well, 111 be you're an ALIEN, aren't you?" It may be that one person's "can of worms" is just another's panier de crabes (basket of crabs). But as Lives in Translation demonstrates, absorbing the world through more than one language permanently inoculates one against the notion, common to people as disparate as analytic philosophers and Pentagon planners, that one's own concepts can be instantly universalized. Yoko Tawada, the Japanese novelist who has lived in Germany for 20 years, gives one lovely instance that makes one wonder why Japanese university deans pay their faculty. In Japanese, she notes, "whatever belongs to the realm of learning (benkyo) does not belong to the realm of work (shigoto)." Yet it is Huston who draws the larger point of this edifying volume.
The acquisition of a second tongue destroys the 'naturalness' of the first," she muses. "From then on, nothing can be self-evident in any tongue; nothing belongs to you wholly and irrefutably, nothing will ever 'go without saying1 again." Cariin Roman is a book critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where this review originally appeared, ft is distributed by Knight RidderTribune Information Services. The amazing Cazique of Poyais THE LAND THAT NEVER WAS: Sir Gregor MacGregor and the Most Audacious Fraud in History By David Sinclair Da Capo Press, $23, 358 pp Reviewed by ROGER K. MILLER Sir Gregor MacGregor, the rascally subject of David Sinclair's delightful The Land That Never Was, is like a grandiose Professor Harold Hilt Everything he said or did was based on a lie. One significant difference is The Music Man's con artist never caused death or financial ruin.
MacGregors fraudulent schemes brought such fate down on hundreds of people. Actually, MacGregor had one main scheme that he tried to work over and oven the so-called country of Poyais, located in Central America, which was given to him, he said, by the King of the Mosquito Coast He styled himself His Highness Gregor, Cazique of Poyais, though he had no more right to it than to the honorific "sir" with which he had knighted himsell (Cazique is equivalent to prince, Sinclair says, "from the Spanish-American word for a native In truth, the land was as chimerical as Oz, but so skilled was MacGregor as "a fantasist deceiver, and confidence trickster" that in 1822 and 1823 he "convinced hun- dreds of people to stake their fortunes and their futures on emigrating to Poyais, and still more to invest their savings in financing the emigration." He did it through a devilishly clever and detailed con project, dazzling potential investors and emigrants with elaborate maps, guidebooks, prospectuses and other phony paperwork. He made it sound a combination tropical paradise and land of opportunity. With it he hoped to get rich off land sales and financial speculation. As so often, the public's greed favored the swindler.
Passion for financial speculation was at a fever pitch in London in the 1820s, and me newly emerging South American republics were highly desirable on the loan market When the 250 or so emigrants got to "Poyais" they did not find the developed land of milk and honey with towns, laws, civil service, army and the like that MacGregor had promised, but a swampy wilderness. Eventually, two-thirds of them lost their lives. The investors lost only their shirts. There is more, both before and after. The author constructs his book adroitly.
In the first section, as the dominoes of deceit and disappointment begin to fall, we learn the breathtaking scope of Mac- He did have some small success as a soldier of fortune in the South American wars of independence, though here, too, he was constantly on the make. One of these filibustering excursions involved the "conquest" of Florida's Amelia Island (then controlled by Spain), from which he tried to squeeze money. During this time, Sinclair says, MacGregor learned a lesson valuable for his future creation of Poyais: Tell people what they wanted to believe." Armed with that, and his undoubted charm, he continued to find financial supporters for one ignominious flop after another, reminding the reader of nothing so much as the greedy modern CEO who blithely moves from disaster to disaster, plucking golden perks from each company he ruins. There are astonishing aspects to MacGregor's career above and beyond the confidence tricks themselves. One is that few people, even survivors of terrible sufferings at Poyais, blamed MacGregor, some signed an affidavit absolving him, saying he had been deceived by underlings he trusted.
Another is that MacGregor never got filthy rich off his schemes. Indeed, he need not have gone to the lengths he did arranging ships for emigrants' passage and so on to make his con work. This suggests, Sinclair says, that money was not his driving passion, but rather the fantasy of Poyais itself, which his obsession with ranks, titles, medals and uniforms proved invaluable in creating. The subtitle may overstate things in labeling it "the most audacious fraud in history" some might look to a more recent century for that but in a way it has lasted long past MacGregor's death in Caracas in 1845. Even today citations in reputable reference works overlook his career as a con man.
Roger K. Miller is a freelance writer and reviewer who lives in Milwaukee. Gregor's fabrications. Then Sinclair goes back to give us MacGregor's pre-Poyais history. It is impossible to be certain, since sources are not always directly documented, but much of the book seems to rest on the testimony of an avowed MacGregor detractor of the time.
Nevertheless, it is safe to say that MacGregor's depiction of his own background and motives departs from reality at almost every point He boasted of a brilliant, if brief, career, in the British army, in fad, he was all but cashiered. He intimated heroic exploits in the Peninsular War, in fact, he did little more than march about and generate personal disputes. i j.k. a -rv i 'V fif? p' ,3 I 1 i- iMMBirTiWftiMM iwimt AP Some things never change BESTSELLERS gator, are both haunted by their pasts. 5.
Trojan Odyssey (Clive Cussler) Dirk Pitt and his two grown children investigate oceanic mysteries off the coast of Nicaragua. 6. Odd Thomas (Dean Koontz) A short-order cook who can communicate with the dead receives a portent of catastrophe. 7. The Dark Tower: Volumes IS (Stephen King) The tale of a mysterious gunslinger, Roland Deschain, and his quest for the nexus of all space and time.
8. Bleachers (John Grisham) A former star quarterback returns to his Southern hometown after he learns that his high school coach, a local legend, has a terminal illness. 9. The Lady and the Unicom (Tracy Chevalier) The fictional story behind the creation of a famous late-15th-century tapestry series. 10.
Pompeii (Robert Harris) In A.D. 79, a young Roman engineer whose predecessor has disappeared tries to repair the great aqueduct near the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius. Nonfiction 1. Lies (And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them) (Al Franken) A satirical critique of the rhetoric of right-wing pundits and politicians. 2.
Dude, Where's My Country? (Michael Moore) The author of Stupid White Men calls for "regime change" in Washington. 3. Fhboys (James Bradley) An account of eight American airmen who were shot down and captured by the Japanese in World War II. 4. Who's Looking Out For You? (Bill O'Reilly) The host of 77ie O'Reilly Factor attacks those individuals and institutions that he believes have let down the American people.
5. Benjamin Franklin (Walter Isaacson) A biography of the scientist, inventor, writer and Revolutionary statesman. 6. Broken Musk (Sting) From life in Newcastle to life with the Police: a memoir by the rock musician and singer. 7.
A Short History of Nearly Everything (Bill Bryson) From the Big Bang to the 21st century: a guided tour of the sciences and what they ted us about the physical worid. 8. 77l Enemy Within (Michael Savage) The syndicated radio talk show host sets out to rebuff "the liberal assault on our schools, faith and military." 9. Had Enough? (James Carville with Jeff Nussbaum) The political adviser attacks Republicans and tries to inspire Democrats. 10.
A Royal Duty (Paul Burrell) A memoir by the man who served as butler to Diana, Princess of Wales. Here are bestsellers for the week ending Jan. 3, according to the New Vbr Times. Fiction 1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown) The murder of a curator at the Louvre leads to a trail of clues found in the work of Leonardo and to the discovery of a centuries-old secret society.
2. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom) An old man who died while trying to rescue a fittle girl from danger discovers that an will be explained to him in the afterlife. 3. The Big Bad Wolf (James Patterson) After joining the FBI, Alex Cross must contend with numerous brazen kidnappings and a ruthless criminal known as the Wolf. 4.
Truth or Dare (Jayne Ann Krentz) In Whispering Springs, an interior designer with a supernatural talent and her husband, a private investi i.
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