“I can't be objective where Chile is concerned,” writes novelist Allende (City of the Beasts, 2002, etc.) in this evocative and, yes, highly personal, social geography cum memoir.
Allende describes her tour of her homeland as “a series of reflections, which always are selective and tinted,” and readers wouldn't want it any other way. She starts with her childhood, which “wasn't a happy one, but it was interesting,” then proceeds by caroms, letting memory lead the text this way and that. She explores the country’s physiography: the inhospitable north, where flamingoes are “brush strokes of pink among salt crystals glittering like precious stones”; the central valley's apples and grapes; Santiago, with “the pretensions of a large city but the soul of a village”; or the volcanic southern zone, with its wind and rain. Yet this is primarily a social and personal journey. Allende writes about her family's history, about her experiences with the politesse that hides the unbreachable class system, and about the poor, who are “well educated, informed, and aware of their rights.” The nation’s sobriety is matched by its violence: “experience has taught us that when we lose control we are capable of the worst barbarism.” Many believe in the supernatural, and the Catholic Church’s influence is pervasive. Women, with their “blend of strength and flirtatiousness that few men can resist,” are also “abettors of machismo: they bring up their daughters to serve and their sons to be served.” Allende shows us organ grinders, gypsies, and hot bread. She makes connections with her books. “Each country has its customs, its manias, its complexes,” she writes. “I know the idiosyncrasies of mine like the palm of my hand”—and there lies her nostalgia. The musicality in Allende's voice bevels all but the melancholy, especially the sad day in 1973 when the CIA orchestrated a coup against her uncle, Salvador Allende.
Dazzling as a kaleidoscope: an artful tumbling and knocking that throws light and reveals strange depths.