The shadow of what we were by Luis Sepulveda

The shadow of what we were by Luis Sepulveda

Chilean Fiction

Translated by Howard Curtis

Luis Sepulveda is a real character of chilean fiction and politics ,his bio reads like a huge novel.A student activist then a member of the Allende regime in the late sixties ,where he was involved in the culture department one thing he did was make cheap copies of classic books available to all in Chile .When Pinochet came to power ,he flew the coup set up a drama group protesting at the Pinochet regime He was caught and tried ,then sentenced to life in prison then reduced to 28 years and then finally  8 years   in exile after he had spent two years in prison .He then spent time in Germany as he had loved reading German literature in prison, Argentina and Uruguay he is involved in teaching indians to read to help them selves .He is involved with Greenpeace and goes on their ships round the world  .All that he has written over 15 novels and made four films as a director .Quite a life .

To my comrades ,male and female

who fell ,and picked themselves up ,

Licked their wounds .cultivated their laughter ,

Preserved their Gaiety ,and carried on regardless .

A preface from Luis I felt caught the spirit of this book well .

So the shadow of what we were ,what is it about well it is a story of old rebels meeting .These three friends who all fought in the socialist liberation army as supporters for the Allende regime after the coup by Augusto Pinochet .They meet after a request from an old comrade an anarchist known “the shadow ”  .But he has been held up and they ve  got to sort it for him themselves and these three aren’t the best at planning lets say .They on a hunt for some money that was from a bank robbery that the Shadows grandfather had carried out in 1925 ,he was a sort of Chilean Robin Hood of his day .So they ve been asked to rescue it and are in a whare house   .But this is thirty years on from their days as freedom fighters and they have maybe settled and have other lives in exile .So  they drift into conversations on the trivial in their own lives  Chilean wine ,coffee why they are so good and such .So a plan is hatched and the man chosen to do the Job is Coco Avarena ,he is the butt of the jokes in the past from his fellow comrades  ,a bit of a disaster area I picture a frank spencer type guy a nice chap but one hell of whirlwind of things going wrong . So I let you find out if they find the money or not .

They ate,drank ,and talked of their lives ,while the rain ,which showed no sign of stopping clattered on the roof .They didn’t say so ,but the three of them felt good here ,by the fire they talked ,reviving the lost custom of a good chat over wine .

They meet and chat away .

Well Luis Sepulveda is a new writer to me ,this is the first book I’ve read by him and I now ask myself why I d not tried him before but that said it looks like he has only had a couple of books translated .The book is filled with a wry dry humour of people looking back after time with lighter eyes on their past .But also a large chunk of sadness at fallen comrades things that were lost when Pinochet took over .This is one of those books you love from Europa editions  maybe not  a straight forward choice for translation as it is a little left field . But I learnt a lot about how it felt to be involved in Chile at the time  the way people just disappeared ,went in exile and were just killed by the Pinochet regime .We also  see how time affects people who were fierce in there youth and maybe have mellowed over time  .Sepulveda is maybe best placed having lived in  the times of the characters  and also been involved in the resistance to Pinochet .I really hope some of his other books make it to English I was moved by this book from laughter to tears .

Have you read this book ?

Do you have a favourite Chilean writer ?

July 2012


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