Sunday, May 22, 2011

Luis Sepúlveda's The Name of a Bullfighter

If you like Paco Ignacio Taibo II, then you may well like Luis Sepúlveda's The Name of a Bullfighter.  In fact, Sepúlveda thanks his friend Taibo.  The book is so similar in style: hardboiled crime fiction that is much more intent on evoking images, even very political ones, than on creating intricate plots.  What makes Sepúlveda intriguing is that his theme is Chile as it moved from dictatorship to democracy, and that makes the book darker than Taibo's.  The author was exiled in 1975 and still lives in Germany.

The story centers on World War II-era treasure that is hidden in Tierra del Fuego, and how various unscrupulous people are after it.  The disillusionment of radical leftists permeates the entire novel--they see the disaster of Marxism (as well as the violent battles between different Marxist models) and in Chile also see a democracy without justice.  The only soft spot of the main character is his former girlfriend, now mute and vacant due to brutal torture by the Chilean military.  Everything else is, as he puts it, "the bitterness I camouflage as toughness" (p. 197).

The guy was right.  It was a democracy.  He didn't even bother to say that they had restored democracy, or that democracy had been restored.  No.  Chile "was" a democracy, which was the equivalent of saying the country was on the right track and anyone asking awkward questions could dislodge it from the correct.

Maybe this same guy had made his career, in part, in prisons that never existed, with addresses no one can remember, interrogating women, old people, adults, and children who were never arrested, with faces no one can remember, because when democracy spread her legs to let Chile inside, she named her price beforehand, and demanded payment in a currency called forgetting (p. 148).

I recommend it.


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