Prohibido leer a Lewis Carroll

BOOK TITLE: Prohibido leer a Lewis Carroll
AUTHOR: Diego Arboleda
PUBLISHER: Anaya
GENRE: Children's Fantasy
READER’S NAME: Eduardo de Lamadrid
DATE: April 3, 2014

In this work by the writer Diego Arboleda and his faithful illustrator Raul Sagospe, the first responsibility of the young French governess Eugéne Chignon is to avoid at all costs that a girl named Alice learn that 83 year old Alice Liddell, the real Alice who inspired Lewis Carroll to create the literary character of Alice, is in the city of New York by invitation of Columbia University. The parents fear that the uncontainable passion of the girl for Alice in Wonderland, who dresses and combs her hair like the character, and looks for the white rabbit in her garden, will somehow ruin the homage the university is preparing for the now aged model for that book's protagonist.

The reader soon becomes aware, that in spite of that prohibition, the world in which this new Alice moves is as surrealistic as Wonderland itself. Because everything in this work is a tribute to Carroll's imagination, fantasy and surrealism.

The work begins in France with the presentation of the governess, whose most salient characteristic, apart from her red hair and her cheerful smile, is her ability to destroy everything she touches, in fact, she is so maladroit, so much all thumbs that she earns the moniker "disastress", a portmanteau word much in the spirit of Carroll. All the details are carefully sketched and even the names of those aristocrats who send the governess across the pond in order to be rid of her provoke laughter: Petulant and Arrogueth, sons of Marquise of Puntilliste, the Barons Àdroite and Àgauche...

From there on, the story proceeds through a series of curious and diverting situations, in which coincidence and nonsense reign. Ludicrous characters, as if taken from Carroll's world, continually cross paths with the governess and her tasks, provoking even more disasters. All these characters are marvelous, and they all have their own particular peculiarity: Alice and her obsession for Carroll's Alice, who even creates her own paper Wonderland in the attic; her hyper-gluttonous uncle Timothy Stilt, an incontrollable man-stork due to his eternal ravenous hunger that makes him literally climb the walls, but who is the person who best understands Alice and takes care of her; Baptiste Travagant, a naturalist who carries a giant egg everywhere in a baby carriage, his own particular Humpty Dumpty; Mr. Welrush, Alice's father, who looks like a walrus (his name sounds like walrus) but with no tusks and blunt teeth, and is the principal antagonist, the one who prohibits; and Alice Liddell and Michael Llewelyn Davies, the real life inspirations for Alice and Peter Pan, who meet for the first time in an emotive face to face encounter at the Columbia University reception. So the reader follows Eugéne Chignon as she stumbles, pushes others, obstructs, crashes, falls, and drops everything she touches. Undoubtedly, she is "a powerful magnet for chaos". Jumping from coincidence to accident, the reader proceeds in fits and starts submerged in the chaos of this book's frenetic pace, minute descriptions and suggestive scenes with historical references, some fantastic and some real. Each proper name, illustration, description, or detail that awakens the reader's sense of humor renders worship to the surrealism that is experienced, whether it be in or out of Wonderland; to fantasy, to reading, to childhood, to creation; to a non-sense that is in end coherent; to the unassailable logic of the absurd; to the wonder of not prohibiting the fantastic that is present everywhere, even in the reflection of the pupils of a pair of aged eyes.

Prohibido leer a Lewis Carroll achieves a degree of formal perfection and ludic virtuosity that was recognized by the 2012 Lazarillo Prize for Literary Creation. The story is agile, but with a playful narration that abounds, like Carroll's nonsense, with verbal games that provide rhythm to the entire work. It is not easy to "write" chaos, to make the words agile enough "to make us see" what happens at the speed of the events. Arboleda achieves this, and Sagospe, the illustrator, crowns it in images. And he does it, by interpreting not only the author, but also the reader's own images constructed from the author's precise and detailed descriptions. Arboleda is the written word; Sagospe is the visual word.

Although it may seem surprising, in 1931, the governor of the province of Hunan in China, General Ho Chien, prohibited the reading of Lewis Carroll. The incredible is closer to reality than we believe it to be, and it is perhaps upon this premise that Diego Arboleda has constructed one the funniest and most whimsical novels in recent memory.

Neither Alice's parents nor General Ho Chien knew that the more something is prohibited, the more desirable it becomes. So in the spirit of the novel, it is prohibited not to read Prohibido leer a Lewis Carroll. And not translating it into English is also prohibited.