The Neruda Case

“Published for the first time in English, an atmospheric, brilliant novel from an internationally bestselling literary luminary.

Roberto Ampuero’s novels starring the wonderfully roguish Cayetano Brulé are an international sensation. In The Neruda Case, readers are introduced to Cayetano as he takes on his first case as a private eye. Set against the fraught political world of pre-Pinochet Chile, Castro’s Cuba, and perilous behind-the-Wall East Berlin, this mystery spans countries, cultures, and political ideas, and features one of literature’s most beloved figures—Pablo Neruda.

Cayetano meets the poet at a party in Chile in the 1970s. The dying Neruda recruits Cayetano to help him solve the last great mystery of his life. As Cayetano fumbles around his first case, finding it hard to embrace the new inspector identity foisted upon him, he begins to learn more about Neruda’s hidden agenda. Neruda sends him on a whirlwind expedition around the world, ending back in Chile, where Pinochet’s coup plays out against the final revelations of their journey.

Evocative, romantic, and full of intrigue, Ampuero’s novel is both a glimpse into the life of Pablo Neruda as death approaches and a political thriller that unfolds during the fiercely convulsive end of an era.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Elke Richelsen for the suggestion.)

Note: This novel about the poet Neruda was the book voted to be read by the club. Since a number of book club members also wanted to read Neruda’s poetry which was included in the list as well, the poetry is a slim volume, & reviewers have noted the novel is best accompanied by the poet’s work, both this novel above & the poetry are included as the monthly read. (Members can read either or both.)

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Isla Negra

Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, the International Peace Prize, & the Lenin Peace Prize, Pablo Neruda remains one of the most influential voices in world literature.

“Few writers are as integrally bound to a place as Pablo Neruda was to the landscape of Isla Negra on Chile’s coast. From his arrival there in the late 1930s to his death in 1973 [from what is suspected to be poisoning by the Chilean military dictatorship], Neruda captured Isla Negra in words fundamental to an understanding of his work. It was at Isla Negra where Neruda ‘in the company of his muse, walked alongside the source of his most lyrical inspiration, the sea...and discovered a new way of seeing, as the ocean became a living metaphor for the infinite riches of the world.’”

Neruda’s imagery with words is sublime & this slim volume will make you long to live along the coastline. Neruda has been referred to as the “greatest poet of the 20th century in any language” & is recognized as one of the 26 authors that make up the Western canon of literature along with the likes of Jane Austen, Dante, Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, & Borges among others.

Note: The book voted to be read by the club was a thriller/mystery/historical fiction novel about this poet. Since a number of book club members also wanted to read this poetry, it’s a short volume, & reviewers have noted the novel is best accompanied by the poet’s work, both this volume of poetry above & the novel are included as the monthly read. (Members can read either or both.)

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Dark Echoes of the Past

“The first novel by multiple-award-winning Chilean author Ramón Díaz Eterovic to be translated into English—a landmark event for fans of crime fiction.

Private investigator Heredia spends his days reading detective novels; commiserating with his cat, Simenon; and peering out over the Mapocho River from his Santiago apartment. The city he loves may be changing, but Heredia can’t stop chasing the ghosts of the past. This time, they’ve come to him…

Virginia Reyes’s brother, an ex–political prisoner of dictator Augusto Pinochet, was killed in an apparent robbery. Yet nothing of value was taken. The police have declared the case closed, but Virginia suspects that things aren’t quite as they appear and turns to Heredia for help. Heredia couldn’t agree more—but he can’t shake the feeling that there’s something Virginia’s not telling him.

Heredia knows this is not a simple crime. His investigation proves it. Drawn back into a world where murderers nest, secrets are to kill and die for, and Pinochet’s legacy still casts a long, dark, and very threatening shadow, it’s all Heredia can do to crawl out of it alive.”

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The Days of the Rainbow

“Nico, the son of a noted Chilean philosophy professor, witnesses his father’s arrest while he is teaching a class. Bettini, the father of Nico’s best friend, is a leftist advertising executive who has been blacklisted and is out of work after having been imprisoned and tortured by Pinochet’s police. This doesn’t stop the ministry of the interior from asking Bettini, who is the best in the business, to come up with a plan for the upcoming referendum designed to say ‘yes’ to Pinochet’s next term. But just hours after he has been approached by the right, the head of the opposition makes him the exact same offer.

What is Bettini going to do? Put his life on the line or sacrifice his political convictions? Finally he goes with the left. The next hurdle is finding a slogan that would be approved by the 16 factions that comprise the opposition and who never agree on anything. Whiskey after whiskey, an idea finally emerges.

This is a vivacious tale that examines how advertising and politics come together during the Pinochet regime. But this is also a coming-of-age story where we see through Nico’s experience what it means to grow up in a country where nothing is allowed and almost any move can feel like an earnest act of resistance.”

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My Tender Matador

“As Chile descends into chaos, two disparate souls begin ‘an odd-couple romance, in the tradition of Kiss of the Spider Woman or The Crying Game’ -Kirkus Reviews
 
It is the spring of 1986, and Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet is losing his grip on power. In one of Santiago’s many poor neighborhoods, a man known as the Queen of the Corner embroiders linens for the wealthy. A hopeless and lonely romantic, he listens to boleros to drown out the gunshots.
 
Then he meets Carlos, a young, handsome man who befriends the aging homosexual and uses his house to store mysterious boxes and hold clandestine meetings. And as the relationship between these two very different men blossoms, they find themselves caught in a revolution that could doom them both.
 
By turns funny and profoundly moving, Pedro Lemebel’s lyrical prose offers an intimate window into the mind of Pinochet himself as the world of Carlos and the Queen prepares to collide with the dictator’s own in ‘a wonderful snapshot of this period of Chile’s history . . . A touching tale of love and danger’.” 

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Ways of Going Home

“Alejandro Zambra's Ways of Going Home begins with an earthquake, seen through the eyes of an unnamed nine-year-old boy who lives in an undistinguished middleclass housing development in a suburb of Santiago, Chile. When the neighbors camp out overnight, the protagonist gets his first glimpse of Claudia, an older girl who asks him to spy on her uncle Raúl.

In the second section, the protagonist is the writer of the story begun in the first section. His father is a man of few words who claims to be apolitical but who quietly sympathized—to what degree, the author isn't sure—with the Pinochet regime. His reflections on the progress of the novel and on his own life—which is strikingly similar to the life of his novel's protagonist—expose the raw suture of fiction and reality.

Ways of Going Home switches between author and character, past and present, reflecting with melancholy and rage on the history of a nation and on a generation born too late—the generation which, as the author-narrator puts it, learned to read and write while their parents became accomplices or victims. It is the most personal novel to date from Zambra, the most important Chilean author since Roberto Bolaño.”

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A General Theory of Oblivion

Winner of the 2017 Dublin International Literary Award, winner of the English Pen Award, shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize 2016, & shortlisted for the 3% Best Translated Book Award

“The story challenges what we imagine to be the clearly drawn lines between 'hero' and 'villain' and forces a reconsideration of history and our fictions. It does what the best of literature ought to do: keep us glued to our seats, unable to break away.“ - Words Without Borders

“On the eve of Angolan independence, Ludo bricks herself into her apartment, where she will remain for the next thirty years. She lives off vegetables and pigeons, burns her furniture and books to stay alive and keeps herself busy by writing her story on the walls of her home.

As the country goes through various political upheavals from colony to socialist republic to civil war to peace and capitalism, the world outside seeps into Ludo's life through snippets on the radio, voices from next door, glimpses of someone peeing on a balcony, or a man fleeing his pursuers. A General Theory of Oblivion is a perfectly crafted, wild patchwork of a novel, playing on a love of storytelling and fable.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Leslie Tchaikovsky for the suggestion.)

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The Book of Chameleons

Winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2007

"A subtle beguiling story of shifting identities." - Kirkus

“Félix Ventura trades in an unusual commodity; he is a dealer in memories, clandestinely selling new pasts to people whose futures are secure and who lack only a good lineage to complete their lives. In this completely original murder mystery, where people are not who they seem and the briefest of connections leads to the forging of entirely new histories, a bookish albino, a beautiful woman, a mysterious foreigner, and a witty talking lizard come together to discover the truth of their lives. Set in Angola, Agualusa's tale darts from tormented past to dream-filled present with a lightness that belies the savage history of a country in which many have something to forget—and to hide. 

A brilliant American debut by one of the most lauded writers in the Portuguese-speaking world, this is a beautifully written and always surprising tale of race, truth, and the transformative power of creativity.”

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Good Morning Comrades

This slim novel was written by “one of the most important writers in the history of African literature” who has received numerous awards including the José Saramago Prize, & Grinzane Prize in addition to his inclusion as one of only 39 African writers in Africa39 as well as a the Guardian’s “Top Five African Writers”.

"Good Morning Comrades is a charming novel, subtle in its examination of the political difficulties of a small, poorly known African nation. Well recommended." -Damian Kelleher

“Luanda, Angola, 1990. Ndalu is a normal twelve-year old boy in an extraordinary time and place. Like his friends, he enjoys laughing at his teachers, avoiding homework and telling tall tales. But Ndalu's teachers are Cuban, his homework assignments include writing essays on the role of the workers and peasants, and the tall tales he and his friends tell are about a criminal gang called Empty Crate which specializes in attacking schools. Ndalu is mystified by the family servant, Comrade Antonio, who thinks that Angola worked better when it was a colony of Portugal, and by his Aunt Dada, who lives in Portugal and doesn't know what a ration card is. In a charming voice that is completely original, Good Morning Comrades tells the story of a group of friends who create a perfect childhood in a revolutionary socialist country fighting a bitter war. But the world is changing around these children, and like all childhood's Ndalu's cannot last. An internationally acclaimed novel, already published in half a dozen countries, Good Morning Comrades is an unforgettable work of fiction.”

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Granma Nineteen and the Soviet's Secret

Shortlisted for the São Paulo Prize for Literature - Best Book of the Year & longlisted for the Best Translated Book Awards

Written by “one of the most important writers in the history of African literature” who has received numerous awards including the José Saramago Prize, & Grinzane Prize in addition to his inclusion as one of only 39 African writers in Africa39 as well as a the Guardian’s “Top Five African Writers” list.

“Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret is one of those rare charming novels full of spirit, humor and the craziness of politics, and power’s effect on its victims. It’s not often that a gem like this can be delivered through the voice of a young boy in such a whimsical way.” - Best Translated Book Awards

”By the beaches of Luanda, the Soviets are building a grand mausoleum in honour of the Comrade President. Granmas are whispering: houses, they say, will be dexploded, and everyone will have to leave. With the help of his friends Charlita and Pi (whom everyone calls 3.14), and with assistance from Dr. Rafael KnockKnock, the Comrade Gas Jockey, the amorous Gudafterov, crazy Sea Foam, and a ghost, our young hero must decide exactly how much trouble he’s willing to face to keep his Granma safe in Bishop’s Beach.

Energetic and colourful, impish and playful, Granma Nineteen and the Soviet’s Secret is a charming coming-of-age story from the next rising star in African literature.”

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Transparent City

A Vanity Fair “Hot Type” book, A Globe and Mail best book of 2018, a Lit Hub favorite book of the year, a World Literature Today notable translation, & winner of the José Saramago Prize

“Darkly pretty...peppered with poetry...These disparate stories are woven into a beautiful narrative that touches on government corruption, the privatization of water, the dangers of extracting oil for wealth, and the bastardization of religion for profit.. The novel reads like a love song to a tortured, desperately messed-up city that is undergoing remarkable transformations." - Publishers Weekly

“In a crumbling apartment block in the Angolan city of Luanda, families work, laugh, scheme, and get by. In the middle of it all is the melancholic Odonato, nostalgic for the country of his youth and searching for his lost son. As his hope drains away and as the city outside his doors changes beyond all recognition, Odonato’s flesh becomes transparent and his body increasingly weightless. A captivating blend of magical realism, scathing political satire, tender comedy, and literary experimentation, Transparent City offers a gripping and joyful portrait of urban Africa quite unlike any before yet published in English, and places Ondjaki, indisputably, among the continent’s most accomplished writers.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Carol Weldon for the suggestion.)

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Day of the Oprichnik

“One of The Telegraph's Best Fiction Books 2011

Moscow, 2028. A cold, snowy morning.

Andrei Danilovich Komiaga is fast asleep. A scream, a moan, and a death rattle slowly pull him out of his drunken stupor—but wait, that's just his ring tone. And so begins another day in the life of an oprichnik, one of the czar's most trusted courtiers—and one of the country's most feared men.

Welcome to the new New Russia, where futuristic technology and the draconian codes of Ivan the Terrible are in perfect synergy. Corporal punishment is back, as is a divine monarch, but these days everyone gets information from high-tech news bubbles, and the elite get high on hallucinogenic, genetically modified fish.

Over the course of one day, Andrei Komiaga will bear witness to—and participate in—brutal executions; extravagant parties; meetings with ballerinas, soothsayers, and even the czarina. He will rape and pillage, and he will be moved to tears by the sweetly sung songs of his homeland. He will consume an arsenal of drugs and denounce threats to his great nation's morals. And he will fall in love—perhaps even with a number of his colleagues.

Vladimir Sorokin, the man described by Keith Gessen (in The New York Review of Books) as "[the] only real prose writer, and resident genius" of late-Soviet fiction, has imagined a near future both too disturbing to contemplate and too realistic to dismiss. But like all of his best work, Sorokin's new novel explodes with invention and dark humor. A startling, relentless portrait of a troubled and troubling empire, Day of the Oprichnik is at once a richly imagined vision of the future and a razor-sharp diagnosis of a country in crisis.”

(A special thank you to book club member, Andi McCraine for the suggestion.)

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Hard to be a God

“An enjoyable, exciting, and gratifying novel.”  —New York Times

“A thoroughly good book . . . robust, imaginative, satisfying.”  - Ursula K. Le Guin

“Don Rumata has been sent from Earth to the medieval kingdom of Arkanar with instructions to observe and to save what he can. Masquerading as an arrogant nobleman, a dueler, and a brawler, he is never defeated, but yet he can never kill. With his doubt and compassion, and his deep love for a local girl named Kira, Rumata wants to save the kingdom from the machinations of Don Reba, the first minister to the king. But given his orders, what role can he play? This long overdue translation will reintroduce one of the most profound Soviet-era novels to an eager audience. ”

Note: This translation by Olena Bormashenko is the one we recommend. Other versions are English translations of a bad German translation.

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The House of the Dead

“In January 1850, Dostoyevsky was sent to a remote Siberian prison camp for his part in a political conspiracy. The four years he spent there, startlingly re-created in The House of the Dead, were the most agonizing of his life. In this fictionalized account, he recounts his soul-destroying incarceration through the cool, detached tones of his narrator, Aleksandr Petrovich Goryanchikov: the daily battle for survival, the wooden plank beds, the cabbage soup swimming with cockroaches, his strange ‘family’ of boastful, ugly, cruel convicts. Yet The House of the Dead is far more than a work of documentary realism: it is also a powerful novel of redemption, describing one man’s spiritual and moral death and the miracle of his gradual reawakening.”

Note: This Penguin Classics translation by David McDuff is the one we recommend. Other translations are often considered poor (e.g., where “the house of the dead” was translated as “the dead house”…how can a house be dead?) or overhyped translators who offer oddly, stilted writing as in the case of the co-translation by Richard Pevear/Larissa Volokhonskyan who write of an “alive dead house” instead of “a house of the living dead”). Only one note to be aware of with the Penguin Classic translation—read the introduction after reading the novel because it may contain some spoilers as most Penguin Classic intros do.

(A special thank you to book club member, Sheena M. for the suggestion.)

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Night Watch

"Night Watch is an epic of extraordinary power." - Quentin Tarantino

“Brace yourself for [an adult version of] Harry Potter in Gorky Park. . . . The novel contains some captivating scenes and all kinds of marvelous, inventive detail.” -The Washington Post Book World

“An international bestseller [as] potent as a shot of vodka. . . . [A] compelling urban fantasy." -Publishers Weekly

“They are the ‘Others,’ an ancient race of supernatural beings—magicians, shape-shifters, vampires, and healers—who live among us. Human born, they must choose a side to swear allegiance to—the Dark or the Light—when they come of age.

For a millennium, these opponents have coexisted in an uneasy peace, enforced by defenders like the Night Watch, forces of the Light who guard against the Dark. But prophecy decrees that one supreme ‘Other’ will arise to spark a cataclysmic war.

Anton Gorodetsky, an untested mid-level Light magician with the Night Watch, discovers a cursed young woman—an Other of tremendous potential unallied with either side—who can shift the balance of power. With the battle lines between Light and Dark drawn, the magician must move carefully, for one wrong step could mean the beginning of annihilation.”

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One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

The novel that won Alexander Solzhenitsyn the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature "for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature."

"First published in the Soviet journal Novy Mir in 1962, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich stands as a classic of contemporary literature. The story of labor-camp inmate Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, it graphically describes his struggle to maintain his dignity in the face of communist oppression. An unforgettable portrait of the entire world of Stalin's forced work camps, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is one of the most extraordinary literary documents to have emerged from the Soviet Union and confirms Solzhenitsyn's stature as 'a literary genius whose talent matches that of Dosotevsky, Turgenev, Tolstoy'.”

Note: This translation by Harry T. Willetts is the one we recommend. This is the original, unexpurgated novel brilliantly translated by someone who worked closely with Solzhenitsyn to fully capture the power and beauty of the original Russian. This is the only English translation authorized by the Russian author. All other translations are censored versions."

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We

“The inspiration for George Orwell’s 1984.

Yevgeny Zamyatin's We is set in an urban glass city called OneState, regulated by spies and secret police. Citizens of the tyrannical OneState wear identical clothing and are distinguished only by the number assigned to them at birth. The story follows a man called D-503, who dangerously begins to veer from the 'norms' of society after meeting I-330, a woman who defies the rules. D-503 soon finds himself caught up in a secret plan to destroy OneState and liberate the city.

The failed utopia of We has been compared to the works of H.G. Wells, George Orwell, and Aldous Huxley. It was the first novel banned by the Soviets in 1921, and was finally published in its home country over a half-century later.”

Note: This translation by Mirra Ginsburg is the one we recommend. A good second choice would be the translation from Clarence Brown. Other translations are considered poor or awkward.

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The Dragon Seller

“Dystopian science fiction meets the most beloved fantasy creatures! In a future where dragons are real and live in our homes as pets, a young dragon breeder finds the egg of a unique species and tries to raise it.

As the drought of the century hits the United States, legendary creatures appear on Earth: Dragons. Like one of the famous tv commercials says: ‘Thanks to advancements in genetic engineering, Dragons are finally out of myth, and in your local pet stores!’

From playful Outbacks to unpredictable Jade Tangs, these little dragons usually don't burn much, they love fruit and don't molest young virgins. But they are still monsters, and Jack Ports knows this very well. He sells all kinds of varieties in his Flight Garden including the most dangerous of all: the American Mustang, a species of battle dragon created by a failed experiment of the U.S. Navy.

Dumped by his fiancée before the wedding and short on cash, Jack just wants to put his life back together, but after a colleague mysteriously disappears, he finds himself with a dragon egg of unknown origins. Set on raising it, Jack discovers that the egg contains a Primus, the first dragon of a new species, whose genes hide a secret that many men are looking for. And some are willing to kill to have it."

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The Reign of Magic

“Mix the magical world of Harry Potter with the power struggles of Game of Thrones & you get a sense for The Reign of Magic.” - Anna Breitenfeld, journalist

The #1 bestseller in Germany since 2015 across multiple categories!

Nothing will be as it was.

Cities will crumble to ash. Ashen wastes will become lush and fertile.

Rulers will serve, and servants will rule.

Pentamuria, the world of five kingdoms, is in a time of change. The power of the nobles and mages is threatened. War is upon them, although they do not yet know when or with whom. Thus, the mages are gathering in their capital, Ringwall, to prepare together against any possible enemy.

At this time, the orphan boy, Nill, is found by the Druids. He possesses considerable magical skills so he is taken to Ringwall, where he is to be trained in the magical arts alongside his fellow students. Nill, who is an outsider, shows no respect for the traditions of the magical world, and challenges the ways of the mages. Soon, the mages start to ask themselves: Could this powerful boy bring the foretold end of their reign?

If yes, Nill has to be dealt with by whatever means...”

Penned by Wolf Awert, a good-humored German writer who’s spent years in Asia studying the sword & martial arts, this high fantasy novel with its unique system of magic will suck you in. What may surprise you is the author’s true name of Prof. Dr. Wolfhard Symader, an internationally recognized scientist known for his environmental knowledge, but it’s these two real life halves of the author that results in a masterpiece of a world.

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The Kiss Murder

“The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency meets Pedro Almodovar in this outrageous new series featuring an ultraglamorous sleuth

Bestsellers in Mehmet Murat Somer's home country of Turkey and set to take the world by storm, the arrival of the Hop-Çiki-Yaya (aka Turkish Delight) mysteries is cause for excitement (and lip gloss!) here in the United States.

A male computer technician by day and a cross-dressing hostess of Istanbul's most notorious nightclub by night, the unnamed heroine of The Kiss Murder is the most charming and hilarious sleuth to debut in recent memory. When Buse, one of the ‘girls’ at her club fears someone is after private letters from a former lover, she comes to her boss for help. The next day, Buse is dead and our girl must find the murderers before they find her. Fortunately, she is well armed with beauty, wit, the wardrobe of Audrey Hepburn, and expert Thai kickboxing skills.”

Featuring an irreverent & saucy drag queen, this highly entertaining & occasionally over-the-top story is the perfect read if you’re looking for something light, fun, and a little different as Charlaine Harris, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, & the Guardian all rave. (Also, it’s interesting to read about a feisty gay sub-culture in a traditionally conservative Muslim country.)

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