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 ?

16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Richard
    Jul 05, 2012 @ 02:44:35

    A favorite Chilean writer? What, are you baiting this bigtime Bolaño fan, Stu? All kidding aside, this book sounds great even if you’re going to cost me a fortune in new purchases by the end of the month. I have a feeling I’d love this one–thanks for the rec.


  2. Caroline
    Jul 05, 2012 @ 07:25:10

    I’ve read a book by Sepulveda (THe Old Man Who Read Love Stories) years ago and it was very entertaining. I had no idea he had such a colorful life.


  3. Tony
    Jul 05, 2012 @ 11:05:51

    Very tempted by this – obviously Europa Editions have a lot of good stuff 🙂


  4. Parrish
    Jul 06, 2012 @ 20:48:22

    Not read this writer but as Tony says it is tempting as this sounds like a wonderful writer & as to the favourite Chilean writer I also agree with Richard’s comment, but will also chuck Nicanor Parra into the list.

    The Last Toast

    Whether we like it or not,
    We have only three choices:
    Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

    And not even three
    Because as the philosopher says
    Yesterday is yesterday
    It belongs to us only in memory:
    From the rose already plucked
    No more petals can be drawn.

    The cards to play
    Are only two:
    The present and the future.

    And there aren’t even two
    Because it’s a known fact
    The present doesn’t exist
    Except as it edges past
    And is consumed…,
    like youth.

    In the end
    We are only left with tomorrow.
    I raise my glass
    To the day that never arrives.

    But that is all
    we have at our disposal.


  5. Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)
    Jul 06, 2012 @ 21:38:28

    I am so moved by books that depict survival in spirit-annihilating, repressive regimes. Will definitely search around for this writer’s work!


    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)


  6. Emma
    Jul 10, 2012 @ 19:48:51

    I’ve read it too and enjoyed it as well. I’m linking your review to mine.


  7. Trackback: Shadows and Reds in Chile « Book Around The Corner
  8. karlo mikhail
    Jul 11, 2012 @ 03:15:03

    This looks like an interesting account of the resistance to Pinochet’s dictatorship. Thanks for the brief overview. 🙂


  9. Claire 'Word by Word'
    Oct 17, 2012 @ 18:40:17

    Came looking for Chile as my student adores South american literature and told me I must read Luis Sepulveda’s Histoire d’une mouette et du chat qui lui apprit à voler so I’ve looked it up and found an English title The Story of A Seagull and The Cat Who Taught Her To Fly, listening to her narrate the story to me was enchanting and I look forward to meeting this author on the page. 🙂

    Have you read this one?


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July 2012


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