The Neruda Case – Chile, Mexico, Cuba, Germany, Bolivia – Roberto Ampuero

neruda case

Why a booktrail ?

A mystery set against the backdrop of the Chilean 1973 coup which paints an interesting portrait of the  poet Pablo Neruda

Story in a nutshell

Cayetano Brulé, is Cuban but lives in Valparaiso, Chile. At a dinner party one evening he comes across the poet Pablo Neruda who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, just two years previously. As they talk, Neruda provides him with a challenge – to find a man he has not seen for many many years.

He hands him a pile of Simenon’s Maigret detective novels and tells him that these will help give him all the detective skills he needs. The only important thing is that he finds this man – Neruda is dying of cancer and this is his final wish.

Cayetano finds that this mission takes him away from Chile, to Mexico, Cuba, East Germany, and Bolivia, where he meets a wide range of people and situations. On the trail for one man – Dr. Angel Bracamonte, a researcher on the medicinal properties of native plants, but Neruda does not want to find Bracamonte for his medical skills.  There are more personal reasons at stake.

Place and setting

The booktrail features the locations within Valparaiso as these are the most closely connected to Neruda and provide a fascinating view of where he spent time. La Sebastiana - http://www.fundacionneruda.org/es/la-sebastiana/informacion-visita Calle Ricardo de Ferrari 692 Neruda’s house in the city The Mauri Theatre Where he sees Alfred Hitchcok’s The Birds at a Sunday Matinee befire diving into the din of the city outside San juan de Dios hill Where Cayetano Brule has an appartment la Moneda  - http://www.gob.cl/en/guided-tours/ Salvador Allende and the political events occur from this political centre Plaza Anibal Pinto where cayetano goes to the cafe del poeta Alemania avenue where Cayetano visits the Al Baba cafe and sees the Mauri theatre
The booktrail features the locations within Valparaiso as these are the most closely connected to Neruda and provide a fascinating view of where he spent time.
La Sebastianahttp://www.fundacionneruda.org/es/la-sebastiana/informacion-visita
Calle Ricardo de Ferrari 692
Neruda’s house in the city
The Mauri Theatre
Where he sees Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds at a Sunday Matinee before diving into the din of the city outside
San juan de Dios hill
Where Cayetano Brule has an appartment
(Santiago) – la Moneda presidential Palacehttp://www.gob.cl/en/guided-tours/
Salvador Allende and the political events occur from this political centre
Plaza Anibal Pinto
Where Cayetano goes to the cafe del poeta
Alemania avenue
where Cayetano visits the Al Baba cafe

Valparaiso Chile – the home of Pablo Neruda and a key location for watching events of Chilean history unfold. From the days following the opening of the Panama Canal to the coup of Salvador Allende, this novel is a tale of one poet, Chile’s most well known and his search for secrets, during his final days in his beloved homeland.

The backdrop of the history and landscape of Chile run parallel to the story and form a large and informed picture of a country in turmoil.

In the 1970s, Cayetano, his wife, and Neruda watch the consequences of the political landscape play out right in front of their eyes –

The attempted coup came live and direct over the radio, like in the American movies, turning the country into a passive spectator

The media buzz and the fear and excitement of the people show a country on the edge where tension is the order of the day. This is a country going through some troubling times.

With each section of the book named after one of Neruda’s women, each takes the story further and explains a side to the man not seen in the western world. Pablo Neruda has three houses, the most famous of which is La Sebastiana and his poetry dots the literary landscape here giving a unique view of the man sitting in the armchair he names La Nube. A man who loves women as much as words and whose life was filled with both grandeur and meanness.

The trail from Chile to Mexico, Cuba, East Germany, and Bolivia, is one of danger , Chilean history and expat frustration. Revolution is coming and Chile is a country which will feel the full force of this drastic change. With such a thrilling backdrop, the story of Neruda and his mystery search shows a side to Chile never seen before and a poet and his life which takes centre stage.

Bookish musings

If you are interested in the poet Neruda and want to learn a little about Chilean history, this is a fine way to do it. A slow plot in parts and one which develops over the whole book but what this leaves you with is a full and immersive impression of Chile, its history, and its people.

I knew a little of Neruda having studied him for A level Spanish  and then again at university but never had I seen him like this before. Some of it fictional yes, but this still gives an interesting view of him in his own surroundings.

To me this took centre stage and the story took a back seat but this didn’t spoil the enjoyment of the book. A potted cultural, poetic and political study of Chile for despite the many locations, Chile takes centre stage, but when the history is this fascinating, this is no bad thing.

A very interesting and immersive read

Roberto Ampuero is speaking at the Taylor Institute in Oxford @TAYOxford  on May 28th and appearing at the Hay Festival on May 30th. You can follow him on twitter –@robertoampuero

http://londres.cervantes.es/en/default.shtm

https://www.hayfestival.com/p-9869-will-smith-and-roberto-ampuero.aspx

 

Mrs Hemingway – South of France, Cuba and USA – Naomi Wood

himngway

Why a booktrail?

Who was the real Ernest Hemingway? His four wives paint an interesting and contrasting picture of him and tell their side of the story not in any of his famous novels

Story in a nutshell

Ernest Hemingway was famous for writing novels and infamous for his love of women. He married four times and was either a hopeless romantic or an old fool depending on your viewpoint. Hadley was his first wife – the original Mrs Hemingway who opens the novel with her experiences and life with the legendary writer. Then each in turn, the other women in his life tell their story.

Told in four parts and based on real love letters and telegrams, Mrs. Hemingway reveals the explosive love triangles that wrecked each of Hemingway’s marriages.

Sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.

Place and setting

 FLORIDA - Key West Hemingway house Duval Street and Sloppy Joes CUBA San Francisco de Cuba house FRANCE South of France -Antibes Where Hadley regrets that now things are done à trois for Fife lives with them here FRANCE  - Paris Shakespeare and company  where Martha goes to buy earnest a book The Ritz Hotel -  And the legend of the daring recovery of the Ritz from the Krauts

FLORIDA – Key West
Hemingway house
Duval Street and Sloppy Joes
CUBA
San Francisco de Cuba house
FRANCE – the South – Antibes
South of France -Antibes
Where Hadley regrets that now things are done à trois for Fife lives with them here
FRANCE – Paris
Shakespeare and Company
where Martha goes to buy earnest a book
The Ritz Hotel –
And the legend of the daring recovery of the Ritz from the Krauts

From his home in Key West Florida, to their summer vacation place in Antibes France, we travel with the Hemingways as their lives play out on the world stage but hidden from the world’s eyes. With brief sejours in Cuba and Spain too during the Civil war, this is a booktrail of some very iconic locations which formed the basis of much of Hemingway’s work.

Antibes - source Wikipedia
Antibes – source Wikipedia

Antibes and Paris, France

It’s the summer of  1926 and Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley is staying with him in a villa in Antibes.

The morning is already warm and the light has turned the white cotton sheets nearly blue

At night fruit falls to the grass with a soft thunk and in the morning she finds the oranges split and stormed by ants

A vivid picture  – of something beautiful turned into something horrible so quickly – much like the Hemingway’s unravelling relationship. Yet the south of France locations shows how much the young Hemingways and their friends Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were keen to live the good life where ‘ the livin is easy’ is evoked in both the dinners they have, the sitting on the balcony and the general easy living of that era.

Paris

But behind the scenes Hadley yearns for Paris, its grey skies and the simple apartment there but then this was the place where she discovered Ernest’s affair in a letter. Suspecting it after having seen them whispering in the cathedral in Chartres, the fallout soon follows. This is also the location for a further fling – Martha the war correspondent to buy Ernest a book from the Shakespeare and Company bookstore on the left bank. The literary side of the city is alive and well.

Flag of Cuba
Flag of Cuba

Cuba and Spain

Ernest spent much of his time here and its where Mary, wife four, spends time here with him. She likens it to Pemberley where she is Elizabeth Bennett – 

When Ernest had driven up the Finca, the morning of her arrival in Cuba, she had immediately smelled hibiscus and lime. Before her was the most enormous white mansion, bright as a pebble in the Caribbean sunshine.

In Spain we visit via Martha, wife three, who worked with Ernest as a war correspondent during the Civil war. She is abused by him – he calls her a bitch and slaps her when she drives his car into a tree. But still, like the others, she stays

“Rabbit remember Spain, we need war so we can feel the force of each other. Let’s not go back to Cuba”

Spain was an exciting time in Hemingway’s life and provided his material for some of his greatest writing but it was a place of chaos in both his private and personal life.

Key West Florida - pic from Wikipedia
Key West Florida – pic from Wikipedia

Key West Florida

Ernest’s home in Key West is where we are when Fife ;s story takes up – it’s where she remembers their first kiss

“Where the shutters  are open a breeze comes into the house from the Gulf crying in the scent of tamarind, frangipani, banana.

They, especially Ernest loves his old haunt of the Sloppy Joe’s bar and is where he ‘hides out’ when the going gets tough

The Hemingway is quite a journey across the world, via the voices of four wives as they each take it in turn to take us back in place and time – to their time with Ernest and life as a mistress then as a wife.

hemingway 1923

Bookish musings

What a fascinating account of a great writer by the women who knew him best (and for the worst)

Each of the wives/mistresses in turn gave a new impression of the man and together with the jump from place to place, date and time, this created a vast and deeply interesting portrait of the man. The villa in Antibes was a holiday haven for one wife only to become a house of sin soon after. A walk on the beach in paradise when the topic of conversation was divorce, was anything but. But as one mistress became the next wife, Ernest seems to have lined them up as easy as a game of skittles – when he knocked them down the fallout was just as noisy.

I can’t help feeling sorry and relieved for Hadley  – she saw how Fife replaced her and then as we see the situation trough Fife’s eyes, I  felt karma come and kick her up the backside. Yet as Martha made her mark, I did feel sympathy for Fife….What’s going on here and how did Ernest manage to get so many women on side?

Would they really have jumped off balconies for him? Whatever the answer, this is a fascinating and only partially fictional account of one man seen through the eyes of a cycle, a merry-go- round of women.

Book Advent – day 23 – Booktrail top ten

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This year we have read some fantastic books and been to some fantastic places so here is our top ten in no particular order to inspire you to travel – via your armchair this Christmas season –

Bamburgh, Northumberland
Bamburgh, Northumberland
A journey through Cuba
A train journey through Cuba
Paris, France
The mysterious backstreets of Paris, France

 

To the dark streets of Edinburgh, Scotland
To the dark streets of Edinburgh, Scotland
The Garden of Evening Mists
The Garden of Evening Mists in Malaysia

 

experience the personal story of a small girl in Africa
experience the personal story of a small girl in Africa
Experience the cemetery of forgotten books in Barcelona
Step inside the cemetery of forgotten books in Barcelona –  in Shadow of the Wind
Explore the mystery of Keswick and it surroundings in Island of Bones
Explore the mystery of Keswick and its surroundings in Island of Bones

 

The amusing goings on in a small village in India
The amusing goings on in a small village in Pakistan. Get a cultural insight and make great friends

 

Protect yourself from the Canadian chill in Ottawa with a cracking crime thriller
Protect yourself from the Canadian chill in Ottawa with a cracking crime thriller

So, there you have it, our top ten books this year. We’d love to hear yours and we do actually have loads more except we couldnt fit them all in. How do you pick only ten? Well based on location and atmosphere, these ten really did pack some punch. And well because I had to include this one –

Cry yourself to sleep on an island beside a lighthouse in Australia with A light Between Oceans...
Cry yourself to sleep on an island beside a lighthouse in Australia with A light Between Oceans…

Well, I guess that makes it 11 – well we best stop there otherwise we’d be here all night adding all our favs. Tomorrow we chose one that has both surprised and amazed us in equal measure. An imaginary location but one which we would love to go back to very very soon…….

 

 

The Midnight Swimmer – London, Berlin, Havana, Washington

Unknown

Place in time – Early 1960s

Setting – London, Berlin, Washington and Havana

Where fact meets fiction – at the heart of the Cuban missile crisis, the Profumo Affair, the French Connection and precisely why Marilyn Monroe sang “Happy Birthday” to JFK.

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This is a clever tour of  behind the scenes of the diplomatic and spy worlds at a time in history – leading up to the Cuban Missile Crisis – where tensions are heightened and no-one or nothing is as it seems.

‘Don’t play me for a fool. Who are you? I’m sure I’ve seen you before.’

‘You’re confusing me with someone else.’

‘Maybe that’s because you take so many different forms.’

Fact and fiction merge seamlessly together – our character Catesby who is somewhat of a reluctant spy – almost everything he does, he questions the morality of it and the rights and wrongs of further actions. He has rather an interesting background for a spy – working class, grammar school and then Cambridge before entering the SIS. So, he set up as not quite the outsider anyore but certainly not ‘ one of the boys’ either.

Catesby’s  boss, Henry Bone, is introduced early on as he disposes of someone is no longer useful. Further actions and events cause us to wonder who is the hunter and who is the hunter – which must have been the real state of affairs at a time where the Americans and Russian were playing a game of ‘who will blink first’ with the future of humanity. The tension of possible nuclear warfare is lurking…

Where then do you think the Russian are going to put their missiles?

Catesby then told him the name of the island

Bone laughed.

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At one point, Wilson has Catesby ruminate on the idea that what “made the Cold War so dangerous was that the Russians were playing chess and the Americans poker.’ Many of the British officials seem to mistrust the Americans and vice versa. The British are scared of the fact that it will be the British Isles which would be blown off the map if weapons were used. The reader is left wondering just what the real behind the scenes level of trust, mistrust and double dealing really was like. As Catesby himself thinks –

 “The most interesting aspect of international relations wasn’t the conflict between enemies, but the conflicts between allies.”

Coming up to the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination, this seems to me to be the perfect time to take another and thrilling look at the dealings that went on behind the scenes of what led to the Cuban Missile crisis and to take a look at the man himself .

Courtesy of Wikipedia
Courtesy of Wikipedia

 

The murky and shady dealings of the spy setting goes hand in hand with that of the real historical setting and combines for an explosive and fascinating mix. The fictional characters in The Midnight Swimmer become involved with scandal and intrigue on every level – rubbing shoulders with as diverse characters as Harold Macmillan and Che Guevara

 

Dear President Kennedy , the revoultion is inevitable and unstoppable, but while you are waiting I hope you enjoy these cigars

Che

IMG_0330

Take a shady but thrilling ride along the corridors of the smooth stone walls of La Cabaña of Che Guevara

 

The ornate embassies of Georgetown, Washington

 

The fishing villages of Norfolk

 

Quite a ride.

Cuba on a train

A journey through Cuba
A journey through Cuba

This is a book trail via a train journey and what a thrilling ride it is –

It has all the ingredients of a good travel guide and an insight into not only cuban society and history but also the Spanish language spoken in Cuba. Language, travel, and humorous moments featured in one book. What more could I ask for?

 

Peter Millar, a journalist starts his trail from the the crumbling town of Havana on his way to the now infamous town of Guantanamo. One of his first observations on Havana is:

“I stroll out into the warm sticky afternoon heat to reacquaint myself with a city that is forever being built and forever falling down.”

This journey is one of sights,sounds, smells and tastes as the author takes us around the bars, clubs, museums and streets of the various places he stops off at. Due to the extreme heat, sweat and a chicken peeing on him, it may not be a journey you would want to take yourself but the beaten of this book is that you can get the best of it whilst sitting in your comfy armchair.

Even if you are not interested primarily in the politics or history of Cuba then you will at least be familiar  with some of the more Western images of it  – Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, the cigars, the rum and of course Buena Vista Social Club. This book does give a brief history lesson but it is much more than this – the history is merely a backdrop to a much more fascinating insight into a misunderstood country and its people.

 

It also shows us that sometimes our perceived perceptions of something are not always the truth or that the hidden story is often the most interesting. There are a lot of ‘well I didn’t know that moments as well about other Cuban facts such as the origins of the Hershey train – the same Hershey of the chocolate kisses fame.

Although never having been to Cuba, I identified with a lot of his travelling experiences and the comedy characters you can meet along the way- the woman dressed in a tent trying to smuggle banana milkshake, the frustrated train travellers, the over excited tour guide and of course the drunken stranger who insists on giving advice or in this case singing Phil Collins songs.

A particular strength of the novel to me was the linguistic story  – Cuba is Cuba which comes to mean so many different things as the book progresses. There are many linguistic insights – such as how the Cubans don’t seem to like the letter ‘s’ or to pronounce things in the same way that they do in the Spanish spoken in Spain.

 

And there’s the humour, the music, the different way of booking a train ticket, of queuing and  finding a place to stay.

 

Everywhere is different but in a lot of ways everywhere is the same – the characters, the pride, their instinct to survive and the love they have for their country and their traditions. I would have liked to have met these people and have a chance to talk to them too – like many of the people I met on my own travels, they are what I remember and who made the trip what it was.

The end of the book – when the author reaches Guantanamo is interesting as it is where we learn of the name behind the headlines and what it means to ordinary Cubans. I don’t want to give anything away but it a very interesting last chapter of the journey.

 

If you want to learn a little about the history and culture of Cuba then read this book. If you just want to go on an amazing journey across the island on a series of trains which are just as much a character in the story as are the humans, then read this book. If you are want to find out about something you think you know already, then read this book.

 

The title may say ‘Slow Train to Guantanamo’ but it is anything but slow. If anything it’s too short and only a snap shot of one man’s journey in a long line of trains.  It leaves you with the feeling you’re right there with the author himself. You feel as if you’ve stepped back in time and then at the end are thrust back into the present with the immortal line someone shouts whilst travelling with a mobile phone

 

‘Hiya, I’m on the train’

 

This book may be about a country stuck in the past but it really shows snippets of a country slowly changing and moving towards the future.

Let’s hope the trains get there too.

 

Cuba is Cuba after all.