Eclectic Closet Litblog, Book Reviews & Knitting Designs

A litblog dedicated to book reviews/recommendations, as well as literary and publishing news. Now enhanced with knitting designs.

BOOK REVIEW: The Butterfly Workshop by Gioconda Belli


Odair, one of the Designers of All Things and grandson of the esteemed inventor of the rainbow, dreams of creating a cross an animal which flies like a bird and has the beauty of a flower. His dream; however, breaks the one strict line that all Designers of All Things must follow: they are not allowed to mix animals and plants.

Odair is blessed with an overactive imagination and continues to dream up new ways to combine the species, an activity which causes the Ancient Wise Woman to banish Odair and his friends to the insect laboratory. “The order of the cosmos is based on harmony, on rules that are perfect in their simplicity. So that you may learn that even the smallest things are designed with wisdom and that the laws of creation should not be taken lightly, we have decided to transfer you…”

Downcast at being transferred to a division where the designers are shy and the creatures ugly, Odair protests and it is only when the Ancient Wise Woman suggests that insects can be beautiful and fun, that things begin to turn around.

The Butterfly Workshop is a delightful tale about an artist trying to find his way in the world. Children will be fascinated by the whimsical nature of Wolf Erlbruch’s illustrations and the creation of many familiar animals. However, to dismiss Gioconda Belli’s tale as purely a story for children would be a mistake.

Contained within this slender volume is a study on the difference between motivation and obsession. Odair’s pursuit of breathtaking beauty pushes him into working longer and longer hours and further into solitude. His friends and superiors try to help him: “You must be careful, Odair.” The Ancient Wise Woman admonished him. “By trying to design something perfect you might end up creating monsters. Your obsession with making life more pleasant and beautiful might, if you’re not careful, result in pain and fear for the other creatures that inhabit Nature.”

Unfortunately, Odair is not satisfied, “I can’t rest until I design something that is as beautiful as the combination of a bird and a flower.” Belli uses this simple tale to show how today’s obsession with perfection and beauty can create evil. Hard work can bring rewards but can result in unexpected and unpleasant consequences.

Belli shows readers that the simplest lessons can be found if they open their eyes and slow down to see the beauty around them. Dreams should be treasured in balance with the rest of one’s life and as Odair’s friends say, “Never again will we laugh at other people’s dreams.” A lesson worth learning, by which everyone should live.

Gioconda Belli’s novel, The Inhabited Woman, was a worldwide bestseller. Belli was politically active from a young age, involved in the Nicaraguan Revolution and occupied important positions in both the Sandinista Party and the Nicaraguan Writer’s Union. In 1993 she resigned from the Sandinista Party and now divides her time between Nicaragua and Los Angeles. She is married to Charles Castaldi, translator of The Butterfly Workshop, and has four children. Her next novel, The Scroll of Seduction, is scheduled for publication by Rayo in September 2006.

Wolf Erlbruch, the author of over a twenty-five illustrated books, is the recipient of many international prizes. The Jury of the International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) recently named Erlbruch winner of the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration, which will be awarded in September 2006 at IBBY’s congress in Beijing. Erlbruch currently lives in Wuppertal, where he is a professor of illustration at the University.

Illustrator: Wolf Erlbruch
Translated from Spanish by: Charles Castaldi

ISBN10: 1933372125
Publisher: Europa Editions
Publication Date: May 2006
Binding: Trade Paperback
Author Website:


BOOK REVIEW: Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife by Sam Savage


Firmin begins life at a disadvantage. Born the runt of the litter to an alcholic mother sheltering in the basement of an independent bookstore, Firmin begins to eat pages of books in order to survive. When Firmin realizes the books he’s digested have given him the ability to read, his love affair with literature is born. Existing through a daily diet of nourishing classics, Firmin quickly becomes an outsider existing in a no-mans land between what he is (a rat) and what he wishes to be (human). Sam Savage’s Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife can be read as a quirky little tale about the book-loving rat in all of us, or as a philosophical look at life. It is a witty novella and a powerful homage to a life lived through and around books and the enduring influence of great writers.

Firmin’s initial consumption is rather indiscriminate, one book tasting much like any other. Soon however, Firmin notices subtle flavour differences between works and as his understanding of literature develops, his need for literal consumption diminishes. Firmin reads and “lets the books center my dreams, and sometimes I dreamed myself back into the books.” Any true booklover has often wished to disappear into a book; the weak becomes strong, the housebound travels and the voiceless thunders speeches to the masses. Firmin finds relief from his outsider status by becoming the characters, “I must constantly remind myself, sometimes by means of a rap on the head, that Eisenhower is real while Oliver Twist is not.”

The name Firmin comes from the Latin Firminus meaning “firm” and is the name of several early saints, but Firmin the rat is anything but firm or saintly. He worships at and is torn between two temples; Pembroke Books and the Rialto movie theatre; knowledge and lust; sages and his “lovelies” (the ethereal actresses that parade nude through the late night movies at the Rialto).

Savage positions before the reader these two elemental aspects of humanity; the earthy nature of the body and the spiritual realm of the mind. By casting this dichotomy into the body of a conscious rat, he is able to mock our delusions and perceptions. Holding a mirror up to our souls in the character of Firmin, we question our essential selves and our understanding of reality. Should our perceptions be taken as true or, like Firmin, do we delude ourselves into believing we are other than what we are?

Both of Firmin’s temples offer an escape from reality and the pull from both is strong. By casting the theatre into the role of seducer, Savage resurrects the worry that movies will destroy books. While today it is clear that books have survived the assault of movies and television, the concern for the relevance of the great works of literature in modern society continues.

Savage holds a doctoral degree in Philosophy from Yale University so it should come as no surprise that this slim volume is full of more questions than answers. Whether Firmin, capable of consciousness and immersion into the great works of fiction, is a better mirror for humanity’s frailities because he is a rat is difficult to state. What is apparent is that Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife merits repeated readings for Savage has filled its pages with much food for thought. This gem of a book should be a treasured addition to any bibliophile’s bookshelf.

See the review posted at ReadySteadyBooks – Firmin.

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