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By Antonio Skarameta
Translated by from the Spanish by Katherine Silver
New York: Hyperion, 1993
ISBN: 0-7868-8127-5 118 pages

Bob Corbett
August 2015

This very short novel is funny (mainly), interesting, informative and a very quick read. I read it in one sitting in the morning hours. The novel is set in the very small coastal town in central Chili, Santa Maria.

Mario Jimenez is the central character. Heís young, probably about 20, and lives on the coast in a fishing community. Virtually all the men in the village are in some way working in the fishing industry. This he definitely does not want. He is a dreamer, and has some interest in poetry, even though heís not too sure what it is.

Just outside the village is the home of the famous Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. It is the year before Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the year before Marxist Salvador Allende became president of Chili.

Mario gets his first job, delivering the mail. However, there is only ONE customer, the only person on the route who can read and write, Neruda himself. Mario is just thrilled; he will learn something about poetry!

Neruda is not easy to get to know. Heís reserved and about his own business, but Salvador is kind and has a naÔve and winning personality and soon he has attracted the interest of Neruda because of his fascination with poetry. They talk a lot about metaphors, a concept that is totally new to Mario. Once the two of them begin to talk about metaphors, the novel (novella?) is simply filled with marvelous and funny metaphors.

Soon Mario has a second and consuming interest Ė the beautiful young Beatriz Gonzales, daughter of the woman who has purchased the one and only bar and eating establishment in the small fishing area of town. He is smitten, she isseemingly disinterested, so he pleads with Neruda to help him find decent metaphors with which to woo her.

Ah, my, the metaphors do the trick and the two are soon in love, but Beatrizís mother is dead set against Mario, seeing him as a hopeless bum. However, the blitz of wooing with Neruda-inspired metaphors wins the day.

The novel is very funny and touching, but the last pages, once Beatriz has been won, turn serious and historically local. Allende comes to power, and Neruda goes off to Spain as Chiliís ambassador. However, things donít go well for Allende and soon his government is under attack and he is overthrown.

The last pages are curious since the overwhelming bulk of the short novel has been funny, touching and cute. All of a sudden all is plunged into strife, fear and danger, in just the last few pages.

Despite those startlingly different last few pages, the novel is a light and delightfully funny and a touching book to read, and it only demands a few hours at most. Itís certainly worth those hours.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett