Chile

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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