The abandoned daughter of a famous poet finds her voice beyond the grave.
This phantasmagoric novel by the celebrated Dutch poet Peeters (Maturity, 2011, etc.) is a strange experience, poetic in word and verse but somewhat hesitant about finding its point. Our narrator is Malva Marina Trinidad del Carmen Reyes, Malvie to her friends. Except the real-life Malva never found her voice; the only child of the legendary poet-diplomat and politician Pablo Neruda was born in 1934 with a severe disability caused by hydrocephalus and died in 1943. Not a single line of Neruda’s work is devoted to the child. Here, she writes her story herself through Peeters, able to pass back and forth through time and space. “Oh Hagar, you’ll find out when your time comes: the hereafter is all about going over old ground,” she confesses. Her “afterparty of the dead" is a colorful one, populated by characters that include Oskar Matzerath, “the droll dwarf with the tin drum from the novel by Günter Grass,” as well as James Joyce’s schizophrenic daughter, Lucia, and Arthur Miller’s son, Daniel, who had Down syndrome and who thinks Malva is trying to posthumously earn her father’s love. She also bonds, in a way, with Socrates (a father figure of sorts) and with the late Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska, whom Malva secretly aspires to make her grandmother. Stylistically flamboyant prose may overshadow a sadly common theme as both Malva and Peeters explore what it means for a child to be abandoned by a parent. There is some resonance in making reparations for this long-lost daughter. While there’s not much narrative substance here, Malva’s voice is intriguing, having evolved beyond revenge or anger into a deeper acceptance.
An evocative portrait of a lost girl demanding agency even in the face of death itself.