Last Evenings on Earth
Ernest Hemingway once said that a good story was like an iceberg; what is visible is always smaller than the part that remains hidden beneath the water, which confers intensity, mystery, power and meaning on what floats on the surface. This is certainly true of the fourteen stories here, the first collection by the universally acclaimed Chilean author to be published in English. Imbued with 'the melancholy folklore of exile', as Roberto Bolano once put it, and set largely in the world of the Chilean diaspora in Central America and Europe, the narrators of these stories are usually writers grappling with private quests (Bolano's beloved 'failed generation'), who typically speak in the first person, as if giving a deposition, like witnesses to a crime. They are characters living in the margins, on the edge, in constant flight from nightmarish threats. In 'Sensini' an elderly South American writer instructs another younger writer, also living in exile, in the subterfuges of entering work for provincial literary prizes. The title story tells of a journey to Acapulco that gradually becomes a descent into the underworld.
'Dance Card' provides the reader with sixty-nine reasons not to dance with Pablo Neruda. And the story 'Mauricio ("The Eye") Silva' opens with the following sentence: 'Mauricio Silva, also known as The Eye, always tried to avoid violence, even at the risk of being considered a coward, but violence, real violence, is unavoidable, at least for those of us who were born in Latin America during the fifties and were about twenty years old at the time of Salvador Allende's death.'