Saturday, October 29, 2016



In trying to decide what to read for my blog post on Argentina, how could I not choose a book called The Tango Singer? Many people are aware of the iconic dance, but outside of Argentina, less may be known about the singers whose music helped provide the atmosphere for the tango’s fiery passion.

This novel, by Tomás Eloy Martínez, follows the journey of New York University graduate student Bruno Cadogan as he struggles with his dissertation about Jorge Luis Borges’ essays on the tango’s origins. A chance meeting with an acquaintance convinces Bruno to travel to Buenos Aires to hear a tango singer named Julio Martel, who is rumored to be better than even the legendary Carlos Gardel.

Thus begins Bruno’s frustrating search for Martel, who doesn’t make regular appearances, but rather sings in inexplicable venues at random times. Bruno seems to always just miss Martel’s latest performance, and his pursuit becomes ever more frantic as he learns of Martel’s failing health.

Bruno develops another obsession shortly after his arrival in Buenos Aires – an overwhelming desire to see the aleph Jorge Luis Borges wrote about in his short story, “The Aleph.” Bruno may or may not be staying in the same boarding house in which the story was set, and one of his neighbors may or may not have a vantage point from which to see the aleph.

At this point, I felt the need to take a break from TheTango Singer in order to read “The Aleph.” Borges describes the aleph as “the only place on earth where all places are -- seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusion or blending.” When the story’s narrator finally sees the aleph, here is how he describes the experience: “I saw the teeming sea; I saw daybreak; I saw the multitudes of America; I saw a silvery cobweb in the center of a black pyramid; I saw a tattered labyrinth (it was London).”

This idea of a labyrinth is a recurring theme in The Tango Singer, which may account for the book’s labyrinthian structure. Interspersed between descriptions of Bruno’s search for Martel and his plots to see the aleph are tales of political intrigue and horror from Argentina’s past, both distant and recent. Perhaps these are the spaces Bruno's neighbor references when he says that "the shape of a labyrinth is not in the lines that form it but in the spaces between those lines."

Entering the labyrinth of this book, I was never quite certain where the story was taking me or how it was going to get me there. What is certain, however, is that I savored every step in this mystical journey.


For purposes of this blog, I try to make foods that are mentioned in the books I'm reading. That was not an option with The Tango Singer, as very few foods were even discussed. After reading this passage, in which Bruno talks about a movie he'd seen, it became even more clear that I'd have to look for vegan Argentinian recipe ideas somewhere other than this book:

"A week later, in a series at the Malba, I discovered a short from 1961 called Faena (Slaughter), which showed cattle being knocked out with hammers and then skinned alive in the slaughterhouse. I then understood the true meaning of the word barbarous and for a whole week could think of nothing else. In New York, an experience like that would have turned me into a vegetarian. In Buenos Aires it was impossible, because there was nothing to eat but beef."

On that cheery note, I decided to try my hand at making vegan empanadas, using meatless crumbles instead of ground beef. I found the recipe at The instructions for the dough mention baking powder, although that's not one of the listed ingredients. I made my dough without it and it turned out fine. I used the first filling recipe, and it was really good. Next time, I think I'll try to make dessert empanadas.


At one point in The Tango Singermany of Bruno's neighbors are forced to move to Fuerte Apache, a settlement just outside of Buenos Aires that had been created to house the poor. Bruno's landlady's response is, "I wouldn't go for love nor money. I don't know how they can take those poor children there."

In searching for an organization for this week's blog post, I found that Habitat for Humanity is helping develop stable communities for low-income residents living on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. To help people like Bruno's neighbors, my donation this week is going to Habitat for Humanity Argentina.


Sunday, October 23, 2016



When I read the description of Loving This Man, by Althea Prince, on the book's back cover, I thought it might turn out to be a romance novel. The main characters were women from an Antiguan family, and the plot seemed to revolve around their relationships with men, whether loving or exploitive.

But the book turned out to be so much more than a romance. The first half focuses on the lives of three sisters, Reevah, Sage, and Juniper Berry, living on the Caribbean island of Antigua during the 1950's and 1960's. This isn't the tourist's Antigua, where we in the U.S. go to get away from it all -- this is the Antigua where people live and work and raise their children. The characters in Loving This Man face a variety of obstacles, such as government corruption, domestic violence, disparate treatment based on skin color, and barriers that keep them from reaching their full potential. They persevere, however, in large part by drawing upon the love and strength of their family. 

In the second half of the book, Reevah's daughter Saychelle leaves Antigua to live with her great-aunt in Toronto, Canada. There, she becomes involved in the Black Power movement, while also becoming aware of the special challenges facing women, particularly black women. As she discovers, "It was impossible not to notice that Black women were second-class citizens twice: in the white world and in the Black world."

She also experiences the alienation that comes from living away from one's own country:  "My life had other defining moments, but none could compare to the hollow in my heart that had been made by immigration."

Loving This Man is a celebration of strong women. The characters make mistakes, certainly, but they learn from them and move forward with resolve and renewed purpose. I found myself cheering them on every step of the way.


It was clear to me as I read the book that what I ought to cook for this blog post was pepperpot and foongie. Reevah made this dish for her family every Saturday, and after Saychelle moved to Toronto, she and her great-aunt followed the same ritual. But pepperpot and foongie turned out to involve more cooking than I was prepared to do, so I decided to make "season-rice" instead, a dish that Sage made for dinner following a funeral: "She had cooked a big-big pot of Seleena's favourite food, season-rice, and had invited several friends to drop by her house." 

I used a recipe I found on a website called "The Integrationist." To veganize the recipe, I left out all the meat and added a can of black beans (drained) instead. I also substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin. It turned out pretty well!

If you're a more ambitious cook than I am and would like to try your hand at making pepperpot and foongie, I found this recipe on "The Caribbean Current." The recipe suggests that vegetarians omit the meat. If you decide to make it, let me know how it is!


My donation for Antigua and Barbuda is going to the Kiwanis Club of Wadadli Young Professionals, which has undertaken several projects to help children and young people. Some of their recent projects involved providing household items and toiletries to the Sunshine Home for Girls, and raising funds for the Kiwanis campaign to eliminate Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus. More information about the Kiwanis Club of Wadadli Young Professionals is available on their Facebook page at


Sunday, October 16, 2016



My Father's Wives, by José Eduardo Agualusa, follows the journey of Laurentina who, having been raised in Portugal by two loving parents, suddenly discovers at her mother's deathbed that the people who raised her are not her birth parents after all. Instead, she is the youngest daughter of an Angolan musician named Faustino Manso and the fifteen-year-old daughter of an Indian trader. Laurentina learns that Manso has seven wives and eighteen children in various African countries. Faustino Manso, as various characters in the book agree, "was a man who liked women." 

As fate would have it, Faustino dies just as Laurentina discovers his existence. Since she can't meet him, Laurentina sets out to meet his wives and other children in order to make a documentary film about the experience. As you might expect, along the way many truths and many lies are uncovered.  In the words of Dário, the man Laurentina believed was her father, "How many truths make up a lie?"

Running parallel to Laurentina's tale is a nonfiction story about the author's travels as he develops the book's characters and constructs the plot. Agualusa writes about his experience, for example, seeing two Mucubal women: "The taller of the women cannot have been more than sixteen years old, a narrow waist, coloured bracelets around her fine golden wrists...". Later, in a fictional portion of the book, Laurentina sees two Mucubal women: "The taller of the women cannot have been more than fifteen years old, a narrow waist, a waist I wish I could have again, coloured bracelets around her fine golden wrists." It's an interesting look into the author's creative process.

I loved the beauty of Agualusa's prose, which means that his translator, Daniel Hahn, also deserves a great deal of credit. I was occasionally confused, however, at the changes in narrator, which sometimes occurred more than once within a chapter. Overall, though, I thought this was a lovely book and I'm happy to have found it.


My Father's Wives didn't give me too many ideas for an Angolan dish to cook this week.  At one point, the author eats a plate of bean stew, but the bean stew recipes I found generally involved chicken and sausage. Instead, I decided to make an Angolan vegetable soup from a recipe on the "Culinary Adventures with Camilla" website. This website points out that Angola was formerly a Portuguese colony, and this dish combines the flavors of both countries. I skipped the fennel, but added some cabbage I had left over from last weekend's Andorran trinxat. With pearl couscous, sweet potatoes, other vegetables, and an array of spices, this soup was the perfect choice for the rainy weekend!


The people of Angola suffered the effects of war and political conflicts for much of the latter half of the twentieth century, both in their fight for independence from Portugal and in the civil war that followed. One by-product of these wars is that millions of land mines remain buried in Angola, posing a serious threat to the people there. To assist in the removal of these deadly weapons, my donation this week has gone to MAG America to support their work in Angola.


Sunday, October 9, 2016



One problem with trying to read a book from every country in the world is that not every country has authors whose works have been translated into English. When I started this project, my hope was that each book I read would (a) be written by an author who was born in the country in question, and (b) be set, at least for part of the book, in that country.

Unfortunately, that's not the case for Andorra. The author of the book I read is indeed from Andorra, but his book is set in ancient Egypt. There don't appear to have been any novels translated into English that were set in Andorra and written by an author from Andorra. So I read the same book that Ann Morgan read for her blog, "A Year of Reading the World": The Teacher of Cheops, by Albert Salvadó.

The book centers around the character Sedum, who was born a slave, but through hard work, intelligence, and plain old luck, manages to become a free man and a valuable employee to the Egyptian pharaoh Snefru, who ruled between 2613 and 2589 B.C. Snefru was responsible for building the first pyramid with straight edges, rather than the step pyramids that were common at the time. Sedum serves for a time as teacher to Snefru's sons, Kannefer and Cheops. A catastrophe in the building of a pyramid, however, leads to a shake-up among Snefru's inner circle, and Sedum is called upon to assume a more demanding role in the pharaoh's kingdom.

This is a cautionary tale about the pitfalls one faces in a treacherous world. Sedum was smart, honest, and industrious, and even so, he always had to look over his shoulder to see what danger might be threatening.

The book's author, Albert Salvadó, is popular in Andorra for his historical novels, and The Teacher of Cheops won the Nestor Lujan Prize in 1998. I'm hoping that someday he'll write a historical novel about Andorra that will be translated into English.


I made an Andorran recipe, even though The Teacher of Cheops wasn't about Andorra. Trinxat is a fried potato and cabbage pancake that's popular in the Pyrenees. I used a recipe I found on a blog called "The Mediterranean Vegan." Since most trinxat recipes call for bacon, I chopped up a couple of slices of vegan bacon and added them to the minced garlic that was being sautéed in olive oil. This was really tasty, but it didn't fry up into cakes very well, so if I were to cook it again, I'd just fry it as a kind of hash.


This article is being posted a little later than usual this weekend because, although I have been frantically searching the Internet, I have been unable to find a nonprofit organization in Andorra to which I can send a donation. The few organizations that looked promising have websites written in Catalan, making it impossible for me to understand what they do or how to donate. I'll continue to look for a way to contribute to Andorra, and if I find anything, I'll post an update here. In the meantime...


Saturday, October 1, 2016



I was predisposed to like Anouar Benmalek's novel, The Lovers of  Algeria, as soon as I opened the book and saw that he'd dedicated it to, among others, his grandmother, who was born in the Vaud canton in Switzerland.  My grandmother was also born in the Vaud canton of Switzerland, although the similarities between the lives of Benmalek's grandmother and mine end there. As it turns out, one of the main characters in the novel is also a woman from Switzerland, Anna, who is torn from her Algerian husband, Nassreddine, and their children during Algeria's fight for independence from France. Anna returns to her native Switzerland, marries and has a son, then goes back to Algeria as a widow many years later.

When I was an English major in college, I learned that a popular theme in literature is man's inhumanity to man, and that is certainly the case in this novel. As is true in many parts of the world, most of the characters in The Lovers of Algeria are just regular people who want to go about the normal business of their daily lives. This is nearly impossible, though, since they are always caught between warring political factions. 

During the early part of Anna and Nassreddine's relationship, they were caught between the French colonizers and those who were fighting for independence from France. Later, the fight was between the Algerian government and the jihadists. Squeezed between opposing forces who are either demanding their loyalty or accusing them of being spies for the other side, all of the choices available to Anna and Nassreddine are fraught with peril. As Nassreddine comments at one point, "I've been against violence all my life, Anna. To live, that was all I asked... And it was probably too much to ask... We dreamed the wrong dreams, we took the wrong turnings. But were we entirely to blame?"

No, they were not entirely to blame, and I found myself rooting for them throughout the book. Life was never easy for them, but things were always better whenever they were together.


There were a few dishes mentioned in The Lovers of Algeria that I might have cooked for this blog, but after reading this passage, I chose calentita.

"At this moment, soaked to the skin, Nassreddine dreams of having a big slice of calentita. His mouth waters at the thought of the floury chick-pea flan with its somewhat sickly warmth."

Since flan is usually made of mostly eggs and milk, I wasn't sure I'd be able to find a vegan recipe.  I was in luck, though -- a blog called "The Teal Tadjine" provided me with all the information I needed. I used almond milk in place of regular milk, and a combination of flaxmeal and water in place of the egg.

Calentita can be served just as it is, although I liked it better spread on a slice of bread.  Also, I added extra olives slices before I ate it.


I had a harder time finding a nonprofit organization providing services in Algeria than I thought I would. I finally found Handicap International, which has projects “to enhance and broaden the access of children with disabilities to the education system in Algeria,” to facilitate “the collaboration of health professionals and people from Algerian organizations on the case-management of people with neuromuscular diseases,” and to assist in “delivering care for children with learning difficulties and mental health problems.” More information about Handicap International’s work in Algeria can be found at