Penguin Classics Newsletter | August / September 2008

A Mexican Red Badge of Courage

Mariano Azuela's The Underdogs is the greatest novel of the Mexican Revolution. But don't just take our word for it! Here's what others have to say:

Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, calls it "a work not only of unquestionable artistic value, but also of courage, sensitivity, and dedication by a writer of great literary and historical significance."

Carlos Fuentes, the acclaimed Mexican novelist, writes in his foreword to Sergio Waisman's new Penguin Classics translation that "Azuela, more than any other novelist of the Mexican Revolution, lifts the heavy stone of history to see what there is underneath it."

Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street, first read The Underdogs in her high school Spanish class and upon rereading it found it to be "as timely a documentary of war as ever. Darfur, Sarajevo, Baghdad, or Bogota; this is not only a novel of the Mexican Revolution, but also of our own contemporary madness, and Sergio Waisman's translation captures its full force and fervor."

And Elena Poniatowska, one of Mexico's foremost twentieth-century writers, calls it "an essential book for Mexico" and says that "Mariano Azuela's pen is a warm gun, and Sergio Waisman's translation, introduction, and notes are as vivid, well aimed, and sharp as the gunshots in the battle."

Published for Hispanic Heritage Month and in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution (1910-17), The Underdogs burns into readers' hearts and minds the political rallying cries and human death cries of the twentieth century's first revolution, much like Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage makes a literary monument out of the American Civil War. And it joins two other Mexican classics in the Penguin Classics: Rosario Castellanos's Book of Lamentations and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz's Poems, Protest, and a Dream.

Have recommendations for other Mexican or Latin American classics? Tell us about them here!


Louise Erdrich on James Welch's Native American Contemporary Classic

James Welch, a major writer of the Native American renaissance, debuts in Penguin Classics with two of his acclaimed novels, The Death of Jim Loney, with a new introduction by Jim Harrison, and Winter in the Blood, with a new introduction by Louise Erdrich.  Here's an excerpt from Erdrich's stirring introduction:

"I wanted to write the introduction to this book because Winter in the Blood was a touchstone for me when I began to write.  I was living far from the great plains, but as I am from North Dakota, and part Turtle Mountain Chippewa, I could see and feel everything that happened, on every page of Winter in the Blood.  I first read this book many times, not to find the secret of the writing, but to go home.  I knew what the title meant.  I found comfort in this book.  I thought the book had a great sense of the absurd and admired Welch's precise and funny way of looking at people.  This book first helped me to understand that I came from the place I was supposed to write about.  Reading the book now, I learned even more about good writing and the resonance of simplicity.  What astounded me after a while was that something so familiar could be made into literature.  Welch had done something nobody else had written about Indians without once getting pious, uplifting, or making you feel sorry for the Plight.  That is why, finally, I love this book so much."


Dove, Eagle, Lion: A Centennial Celebration of the Philippines' Greatest Poet

José Garcia Villa's critically acclaimed first collection of poems, Have Come Am Here, was published by Viking in 1942. One of the most original and powerful voices of Philippine literature, Villa returns to Penguin with Doveglion (after his pen name), a new and exclusive volume of his collected poems, to commemorate the centennial of his birth in August 2008. Marianne Moore praised Villa, a protégé of E. E. Cummings, for his "bravely deep poems," and with Doveglion, Villa reaches a new generation of international poetry lovers. In a recent review, the Philippine Daily Inquirer wrote, "That Villa should join Jose Rizal as the only Filipinos included in the Penguin Classics line is only fitting, but this is simply a stunning book of naked poetry and poetic thought at any time, in any place." Doveglion, edited by John Edwin Cowen, includes previously unpublished work and an introduction by award-winning poet Luis H. Francia.

  Little Red Riding Hood  

"Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité!"

Alexis de Tocqueville's historical account of the French Revolution is almost as well-known as France's motto of the era.  In Penguin Classics new translation of Toqueville's The Ancien Regime and the Revolution, Gerald Bevan retains the lucid and concise quality of the author's original French that makes this classic such a spectacular read.  Tocqueville's analysis of the causes of the doomed revolution maintains its relevance as some of us look toward the future with unflinching optimism.  The United States today, on the cusp of a less violent political transformation, provides the perfect backdrop to revisit this classic, depicting another, more hostile time, when change was in the air.


Fitzgerald the Short-Story Writer

Everyone is familiar with Jay Gatsby, Nick Carraway, and Daisy Buchanan.  But only a few have met the rest of F. Scott Fitzgerald's motley crew of disreputable but endearing characters.  From the spoiled Ardita to the peculiar Benjamin Button, Fitzgerald entertains readers with a variety of stories that encapsulate the defiant, improvisational vibe of the Twenties.  In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Jazz Age Stories the inspiration for the major motion picture starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett Patrick O'Donnell, a professor of English at Michigan State, has compiled a collection of tales that have the unmistakable swing of Fitzgerald and delightful freshness of the Jazz Age. 


The Book of Mormon Debuts in Penguin Classics

The Book of Mormon is one of the most original and revolutionary works of faith. Believers, historians, scholars, and skeptics are virtually unanimous in their opinion that the church begun by Joseph Smith in upstate New York and that later flourished at the Great Salt Lake has indelibly altered the story of Christianity, both in the United States and in the world at large. With this new Penguin Classics volume, introduced by Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp and based on the rare 1840 edition supervised by Smith himself, readers have a new opportunity to revisit all of the fascinating questions that have surrounded The Book of Mormon and have kept Mormonism in the public eye, from Mitt Romney's presidential run to the HBO television series Big Love to the growing modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which now claims more than thirteen million adherents worldwide.


Campus Classic

For each Penguin Classics Newsletter we invite a professor to share an experience of teaching with a Penguin Classic.  Trinity College professor Christopher Hager here shares his thoughts on Stephen Crane's Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.

Among works of turn-of-the-20th-century American literature, some of the most absorbing are those long novels, like Sister Carrie, that invite readers to spend dozens of hours inhabiting an intricate fictional universe.  Stephen Crane's New York stories are something rarer in the canon of American realism—lightning-fast, impressionistic experiments in literary representation—and many students find nothing more absorbing than their wide-eyed gallop through Crane's cityscape.  The Penguin Classics Maggie: A Girl of the Streets offers a selection of texts that's difficult to find in a compact edition: not just Maggie but also another novella, George's Mother, and eleven of Crane's New York sketches, including "A Dark-Brown Dog," "The Men in the Storm," and the autobiographical denouement of Crane's New York writings, "Adventures of a Novelist."  As my students read this volume, they pick up and follow thematic threads—Maggie makes an appearance in George's Mother, and many of the sketches show from different vantages the tenement life of the novellas—and detect formal differences.  In the first sketch students encounter in this edition, "The Broken-Down Van," they discover that the rhythm of Crane's syntax can be far more revealing than any paraphrase of his descriptions.  The named protagonists of the novellas yield in the sketches to "characters" that include crowds and street traffic.  Larzer Ziff's introduction offers students a lucid narrative of young Crane's frenetic writing career, helping them to think about these several short works as an unfolding literary portrait of the city.

Christopher Hager
Assistant Professor of English, Trinity College, Hartford, CT
Course: English 408, American Realism and Urban Life

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Reading the Classics from A to Z

Alan Walker, our Senior Director of Academic Marketing and Sales, gains momentum and more fans for his Penguin Classics reading marathon of one book by an author per letter of the alphabet. Check out the Penguin Classics website for Alan's latest blog entries (K-M).



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