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
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.
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