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BOOK REVIEW: Spanish author's 'Enigmas' offers 14 brainy stories

Fernando Arrojo-Ramos submits 14 short stories, translated, from Spanish to English, by Olga Markof-Belaeff, for your analysis. If you're looking for a book of short stories to amuse your overloaded brain with on a Sunday afternoon, Enigmas is no...

Fernando Arrojo-Ramos submits 14 short stories, translated, from Spanish to English, by Olga Markof-Belaeff, for your analysis. If you're looking for a book of short stories to amuse your overloaded brain with on a Sunday afternoon, Enigmas is not for you.

Arrojo-Ramos' brainy tales are anything but mindless. More like studies in bizarre human behavior, some of these short stories read like the diary of a 20th century gentleman on psychotropic drugs -- demonstrated in the short story of the same names as the book -- "Enigmas."

From Ignacio's macabre tenderness toward Madame Klau in "Certain Events are Born Posthumously," to the twisted irony in a soldier's quandary in "The Last Mission," Arrojo-Ramos tells of ordinary people committing extraordinary acts.

In "The Émigré", an old man/widow/expatriate reminisces a past abundant with hard work and heartache while walking to an old friend's house for an evening of card games and conversation. Arrojo-Ramos tells this touching and poignant story while masterfully ending it on an ironic note. His writing in the following excerpt is tight, with his itemized observations thoughtful and poetic.

"He observed, he pondered. People who shout into the air with crippled lung; people who drown their sorrows in a glass of Valdepenas without pausing to consider that their troubles are stronger than wine; good people who don't even have a place to drop dead; workers making vile wages, architects of nothing; country people; stupid or crafty, lodges in sordid hostels, who had left villages and rural tasks to try their luck in the big city; and many more."

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Arrojo-Ramos' writing style has been compared to that of the prolific and versatile C.S. Lewis. While they both sometimes read like masculine diaries, Arrojo-Ramos lacks the clarity and artful stream of consciousness of Lewis.

In these stories of varied human behavior, the reader may imagine the narrator is a stage actor delivering dry lines for an audience of pipe-smoking, tweed jacket-wearing college professors who nod slightly and emit knowing 'ahs' after each reading.

If given the chance and read while the reader is alert and accessible, this book of short stories can be enjoyed by anyone with a desire to probe, contemplate and perhaps even question their own darkest places.

"Enigmas" was published posthumously. Fernando Arrojo-Ramos was an emeritus professor Spanish at Oberlin College, Ohio, where he also directed its comparative literature program for several years.

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