Former Chilean revolutionaries reunite as bumbling conspirators in this novella by Sepúlveda (The Name of a Bullfighter, 1996, etc.).
The author, a former political prisoner in Chile now living in Spain, opens the book in 1925 with a bank robbery in Santiago, one committed in the spirit of Robin Hood (“This is a robbery, but we are not thieves”). The story then flashes forward to contemporary Santiago, for an incident that provides what little plot there is. Coco Aravena, a grandson of one of those original robbers, faces eviction from his apartment, because of, as his wife charges, his “laziness, depression, disillusionment, lack of ambition, contempt for work and possible lack of decency.” His wife angrily starts tossing their possessions onto the sidewalk, including a phonograph player that strikes a pedestrian and kills him. The dead man has a gun. Coco takes it. Someone else takes the dead man’s shoes. Coco schemes to invent a scenario in which their apartment was ransacked and whoever robbed them also killed the pedestrian. He also reunites with three former friends who had been militant supporters of Salvador Allende, until his overthrow by a coup in 1973 forced them underground, even into exile. They now look different and have different values. Some of this novel is very funny, such as a passing reference to “the strict morality of the anarchists” and a long soliloquy on the execrable quality of Chilean coffee. Some of it is serious, such as the invocation of the “immutable land of memory” and the admonition that Chileans need to “stop being wimps afraid of our own past.” But much of it plainly means more to the author and his Chilean readership than to those reading this English translation.
The past is present in this political novel, which requires greater knowledge of Chile’s politics and recent history than American readers are likely to bring to it.