Book review: Robert Ampuero’s “The Neruda Case”

Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case (Riverhead Books) is a fascinating book that combines a missing persons case, one of Chile’s most historic events and the life story of Latin America’s greatest poet.

Detective Cayetano Brulé is living in Valparaíso, Chile, in 1973 when he is asked by poet Pablo Neruda to find an old lover. The search takes Brulé to Mexico, Cuba and Germany – and he discovers some things about Neruda that lessens his deep admiration for the 70-year-old.

While the search is going on, Neruda is dying of cancer and remembering his past lovers from his life, including his time as a diplomat. He is feeling regret, including the abandonment of his wife when their child was born with a birth defect. Meanwhile, the country of Chile is under tumult as the government of Socialist President Salvador Allende – Neruda’s friend – is under siege from General Pinochet.

Ampuero, who used to live near Neruda when he was a child, kept most of the historical details but fictionalized the missing lover case. Ampuero writes at a fast pace so that even his descriptive passages don’t slow down the story. The book only becomes more intense as General Pinochet is preparing a coup. But, like Brulé, readers may have a different impression of Neruda as they read the book. He comes across as a selfish cad – or maybe just more human than his romantic poems.

The Neruda Case, which was translated by Perla author Carolina DeRobertis, is a great book that is not to be missed.

More about Roberto Ampeuro: Ampuero has written a dozen novels in Spanish, with The Neruda Case being his first published in English. He serves as Chile’s ambassador to Mexico and is a professor of creative writing at the University of Iowa. He wrote about his memories of the poet in this essay published in The Daily Beast/Newsweek.

Source: I received a review copy from the publisher.

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Filed under 2012 Books, Book Reviews, Fiction

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