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They're Cows, We're Pigs Paperback – April 27, 2001
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In 1666, 13-year-old Jean Smeeks leaves his native Flanders for Tortuga, notorious 17th-century pirate refuge. In the reeking, pitching quarters of the vessel, a woman reveals herself to him--and to him only. It is her fate that sets the novel's moral compass, for what attracts her is a renegade Tortugan community, the Brethren of the Coast--anti-colonialist buccaneers who represent, in part, the upside of lawlessness: communalism and no locked doors. The downside? Women are forbidden.
Boullosa's natural affinity, she tells us in her forward, is with "the universe of the feminine," so what is she getting at in this male-drenched, violent world? "A laboratory," she suggests, "of things feminine in absentia."
The narrative is a retelling of the historical account The Buccaneers of America, published in Belgium in 1678. Boullosa's Smeeks is reminiscent of another plucky, fictional hero of the same era, Moll Flanders; both were old beyond their years, and their status as outsiders made for compelling and insightful moral commentators.
Boullosa's perspective is shaped, as is her language and aesthetic, by the ideals and charismatic standing of such contemporary social activists and thinkers as Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Che Guevara, and Susan Sontag. This colonialist stew of massacre, mayhem, and ideals perverted by the very forces it seeks to overthrow allows Boullosa "to look into dreams destroyed in their time ... "
Carmen Boullosa, one of Mexico's most distinguished contemporary poets and novelists, has written 10 poetry collections, three plays, and eight novels. They're Cows, We're Pigs is her first to be translated into English. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
In 1666, 13-year-old Jean Smeeks of Flanders sells himself as an indentured servant to the French West Indies Company and soon finds himself a slave on the island of Tortuga in the Caribbean. Fortunately, here he is befriended first by le Negre Miel, an African slave, who instructs him in herbal medicine, and then by Pineau, the French Huguenot surgeon, from whom he learns "modern" medicine. Thus equipped, he signs on as a surgeon for a fleet of pirate ships and becomes a pirate himself. Smeeks, the narrator, presents a mock-heroic tale in which the utopian ideals of a just and honorable pirate society are blandly countered by vivid, anatomically detailed descriptions of torture, rape, and pillage. Mexican writer Boullosa is the author of ten novels and novellas as well as numerous volumes of poetry, plays, and essays. This wryly humorous, satiric, and often macabre novel, the first of Boullosa's works to appear in English translation, will please sophisticated readers.?Mary Margaret Benson, Linfield Coll. Lib., McMinnville, Ore.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
Boullosa's characterization of Smeeks is particularly sensitive. His little-boy wonder when he touches his first female breast, his comment that he always seems to notice the little details of a situation while missing the larger picture (a trait which makes him an interesting narrator), his fascination with Dr.Pineau's existential pontifications, all mark him as something apart from the other freebooters.
The book is a good one, it is interesting to think about the ideal communal society predicated on the most appalling slaughter, on the role played by the presence and absence of women - Eve in the Garden. However, I wished the book were longer. No characters beyond Smeeks are fully drawn, and the abbreviated narrative leaves many gaps which the reader is left to fill with imagination. There are strong images: the Jamaican brothel, and the monks and nuns who refuse to be used as human shields. There are weak images: the hurricane that kills dozens is not described at all. We just wake up the next day. The translation is occasionally jerky: "L'Olonnais had the injured Spaniards who remained on the path finished off after he asked them for what he wanted." (p.164). But overall it is a fun and interesting book. Boullosa has much to share.