Saturday, November 26, 2011

Luis Sepúlveda's The Shadow of What We Were

Luis Sepúlveda's The Shadow of What We Were (translated 2010) is a quick and funny (including a quick rant about café con piernas, which I had never thought of in political terms) novel about former militants in Chile trying to figure out their lives long after the Allende and Pinochet governments--which defined their very existence--are long gone. Sepúlveda himself was imprisoned for two years and then fled to Europe, where he still lives. He knows of what he speaks.

They've lost their revolutionary fervor, but they still want to fight against the postauthoritarian protection enjoyed by those who ruled during the dictatorship, especially those--like Pinochet himself--who looted the treasury with impunity. So they remember the past and plot one last mission.

Although they remain dedicated to their cause, there is also the sense that much of what they liked was the camaraderie, since in retrospect so many of their actions appear self-indulgent. As one character remembers:

There in the middle of the assembly, Coco Aravena felt euphoric. The commission for agitation and propaganda of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Revolutionary Party Mao Tse-Tung Thought, Enver Hoxha Tendency, which was very different than the liquidationist clique that called itself the Marxist-Leninist Communist Revolutionary Party, Mao Tse-Tung Thought, Red Flag Tendency, had commissioned him to read a resolution from the central committee, a resolution destined to change history (p. 98).

It's odd, but for some reason I thought of a movie as I got to the end of the book, a movie I have not seen in  some 25 years. This image clinched it:

The four men looked at each other. Fatter, older, bald or with graying beards, they still cast the shadows of what they were. 
"Well, are we in?" Garmendia asked, and the four men clinked their glasses in the rainy Santiago night (p. 110).

The movie is Going in Style, a 1979 film with George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Strasberg as old men who plan a bank robbery to "go in style." Even if Sepúlveda doesn't know the movie, I get the feeling he would appreciate it. Same type of dark humor, with the common theme of bank robbery to boot.


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