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The Snake and the Condor Paperback – June 26, 2015
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Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
About the Author
Robert Southam graduated from Oxford and has since worked as an actor, director, university teacher and film-maker in England and on the Continent. The Snake and the Condor is his second novel.
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Robert Southam‘s The Snake & The Condor is a modern day take on Shakespeare’s timeless classic Romeo and Juliet. However, the book isn’t just about the forbidden love between two people, but rather about how their love changed lives against the backdrop of a politically unstable Latin American regime with an intriguing and innovative twist.
I was surprised when I started reading that it was actually focused on a man who goes looking for another man by the name of Father Lorencio, to ask him what happened to a man named Mawi. As this man gets is getting closer and closer to meeting with Father Lorencio, the narrator describes the country around him in telling detail. He provides engaging descriptions of poverty, with houses made out of cardboard and an abundance of thieving children. The narrator arrives to Father Lorencio’s, where he is greeted and proceeds to share a meal with a group of people while Lorencio tells the story of Mawi.
Through Father Lorencio’s story, I was transported into the perspective of a shoe shiner in Santiago, Chile. Mawi, a Mapuche, is part of a group of people who were forced off their land and murdered by a faction of the Chilean government. One day, Mawi is shining the shoes of a wealthy man, when a beautiful woman catches his attention. The man, Franco Reyes, whose shoes Mawi is cleaning, happens to be her father. Captivated by Julieta’s beauty, Mawi ends up following them home, making the excuse that the man didn’t pay for his service. However, once Mawi arrives at the house and speaks with the father, he is kicked out and reported to the authorities.
Like Romeo, Mawi only wants to get a closer look at a beautiful woman at the risk of his well-being and, in Mawi’s case, that means getting arrested and possibly beaten. Julieta, like Shakespeare’s Juliet is being forced to marry someone who will bring important connections to her family, someone she does not love–an army officer named Adolfo Cortez. Her father tells her that he plans on reporting the shoe shiner peasant to the authorities prompting Julieta, to warn him. Like her Shakespearean counterpart, she sends her maid, to give her love a note and a key. This is the start of Mawi and Julieta’s relationship, following the template of the Shakespeare play.
From the very first time Mawi saw Julieta to the very end of the novel, I was so invested in their forbidden relationship that my heart was pounding. The whole time they were running away from the authorities and when Julieta runs away from her controlling father to be with Mawi, I was riveted. The author embodies this story with the great energy of the original tale and then some. But the bonus here, is the fresh way the author informs his readers about how corrupt the Chilean government is, and also how war and hate influences the views that people have about one another.
I began the book with a hesitancy, thinking here we go- one more retelling of the Romeo and Juliet saga- but as the book was ending, I felt sorry to be finished! I loved the symbolism of The Snake and The Condor. The snake, symbolizing the controlling Chilean government and the Condor, symbolizing Mawi and Julieta. Sometimes love has more than an influence between two people, but it can also deeply change the people that are around it. I loved how Southam used a love story in order to shine a light on the political issues in such third-world countries that don’t get that much attention. The story wasn’t just about the forbidden love between two people, but about how love has the power to change the world.