Plus Cuba, Mexico, Bolivia and East Berlin. How often do you find a novel that rolls through all these geographic locations? “The Neruda Case,” by Roberto Ampuero is a thriller of sorts by an established Chilean novelist. This is the first of his books to be translated into English.
The absolutely unusual aspect of this book is that–from a feminist perspective–it deconstructs the personal choices of Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet. To find a Cuban doctor who might be able to cure his cancer, Neruda hires a young Cuban guy who is hanging around Valparaiso, a southern Chilean city of hills and cold weather. The search turns from a man to a woman and child. Internally, very serious pressure is mounting on Allende, who, nonetheless, visits by helicopter to talk with his favorite poet. The characters in each city are on the left, before the fall of the Soviet Union.
The prose—or is it the translation?—is awkward at times. And the novel overall lacks the smooth polished Iowa Writers Workshop quality, so emblematic of popular American literary fiction these days. Yet I enjoyed this book. Why?
1. Neruda’s love life as it relates to his poetry.
2. Chile right before Allende falls.
3. Cuba from the impoverished intelligentsia’s perspective.
4. A brief love affair in East Berlin.
5. A marriage on the rocks due to the intense politics of the time.
6. The thrill of the hunt.