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Category Archive for 'Chile'

Addressing a “hypocritical reader, my double, my brother,” a former revolutionary from Chile is telling her story to a someone who may be part of a truth commission investigating events that occurred in Santiago in the 1970s, a man who has traced her from Chile to a hospice in Stockholm. Lorena has consented to being interviewed, though she has little hope that the writer will be accurate in conveying what she wants to say, fearing that he will reduce her story to a “moral adventure tale.” She is old and dying, and she has a long history, however, and as she begins her story, we see her back in the years just before the death of President Salvador Allende (in 1973). She is a young woman and a new, unmarried mother. When a university friend visits her after the birth of her baby and takes her to a political demonstration in Santiago, she soon finds herself “caught up in something big, an enormous collective body.” She eventually becomes an active participant with this group, the Red Ax. Readers will empathize with Lorena, recognizing some of the turning points in which she may have made the wrong decisions, and, at the same time, understanding the pressures which have led to her decisions. As she tries to protect her interests on both sides of the political spectrum, Lorena eventually finds herself admitting, “I’m the one I want to erase from my life.”

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Cayetano Brule, an unemployed Cuban who is living in Valparaiso with his well-connected Chilean wife, escapes the tedium of a cocktail party one evening by disappearing into the library of the estate where the party is being held. Appropriating a wing chair, he begins to muse, perhaps even doze, until he hears footsteps behind him and meets Pablo Neruda who is also escaping. Neruda is dying, and he has a task for Cayetano – to locate Dr. Angel Bracamonte, whom he has not seen for thirty years. Though the doctor has been researching local plants used in native cancer treatments, Neruda wants to see him for other reasons, personal ones. Cayetano’s task takes him to Mexico, Cuba, East Germany, and Bolivia. While the search is on, author Roberto Ampuero also reveals the political situation in Chile from 1971 – 1973, with the main characters, including Neruda, being supporters of Marxist president Salvador Allende. The situation becomes tense as the two plots overlap. “Machismo” takes on new meaning as the book builds to its climax in revolution.

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An early novel written in 1989 and found among the papers of Roberto Bolano after his premature death in 2003, The Third Reich, is an odd but often mesmerizing story of obsession—specifically with the playing of a war game based on the actions taken by the German Reich during World War II. Udo Berger, the German national champion of this highly competitive and addictive game, is a young man, barely out of his teens, when he and his lover, the gorgeous but shallow Ingeborg, take a vacation to the Costa Brava, where Udo used to vacation as a child. Shortly after their arrival, they meet Charly, a mechanic, and Hanna, fellow Germans also on vacation, who are staying at a hotel nearby. Their meeting seems fortuitous for Inge, since Charly and Hanna are out for a good time, with non-stop drinking and partying, and Udo would rather stay in his room. He has demanded a five foot table so he can set up a game, The Third Reich, where he pores over strategy while trying to write an article for publication in a magazine for those addicted as he is. Ultimately, the novel takes on some of the themes and, certainly, the tone of the German Faust legend, in which an academic sold his soul for unlimited knowledge and pleasure.

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I was stymied by this short book at first, and even after completing it, I was not sure exactly what I had read, though I recognized that humor and dark irony were at the root of much of the novel. It was not until I had spent considerable time looking up the story of the author’s own life and the historical events in Chile with which he had been involved that the full impact of this novel became clear. How anyone who suffered so much could retain any semblance of humor, no matter how dark, is an amazing tribute to the human spirit. Ultimately, I found this one of the most interesting novels I have read in a long time, but it is complex, in part because of its brevity, and in part because there is no introduction which provides the background which many non-Chilean readers, such as myself, may want or need to appreciate this book fully. (Brief background material is presented is in the review.)

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Throughout these stories, the reader becomes hypnotized by the succession of Bolano’s images, by the lives he depicts (including his own in the two essays), and by the metaphysical suggestions and possible symbols of his stories, despite the fact that Bolano does not make grand pronouncements or create a formal, organized, and ultimately hopeful view of life as other authors do. There is no coherence to our lives, he seems to say: chaos rules. Although artists of all kinds try to make some sense of life, Bolano suggests that their visions may not be accurate since they have no way of knowing or conveying the whole story, the big picture, the inner secrets of life. He himself avoids such suggestions of order in life. Vibrant and imaginative, Bolano’s stories seduce the reader into and coming back to them again and again looking for answers or explanations that often remain tantalizingly out of reach.

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