How does the experience of dictatorship impact the children, and what is the relationship between writers and their material, asks a noted Chilean novelist.
Listed among Granta's Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists, Zambra (The Private Lives of Trees, 2010, etc.) divides his third novel into two strands: a story of the Pinochet years narrated from a child's perspective; and a meditation by the author of that story on how novelists draw ideas from their own experiences. The unnamed hero of the first element is a 9-year-old boy living in Maipu, near Santiago, in 1985. The night an earthquake hits, he meets Claudia, who asks him to spy on a neighbor, Raúl. Twenty years later, when the dictatorship is over, the narrator finds Claudia again, and they become lovers. He also learns that Raúl was her father, a political activist who lived apart to protect his family. The author's sections of the book expose the weaving of fragments, reminiscences and relationships into fiction. Writing and writers are discussed, while meanwhile, the author is struggling to mend his marriage to Eme, whose background informs the novel. But when Eme reads the book, she resents the appropriation of her own story, and the relationship founders. Nevertheless, the "necessary and insufficient trade: to spend life watching, writing" continues.
A metafictional layer cake of political, technical and poetic reflection—short, deft and striking.