Tag Archives: Alejandro Zambra

Happy Independence Day, Chile!

Chile declared its independence from Spain on Sept. 18, 1810. The South American country has a turbulent history — and one of the richest literary traditions in the world.

gabriela_mistral• The only Latina to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, Gabriela Mistral (1889-1956) is best known for her poems that touch on the subjects of children and motherhood, such as in the book Ternura (Tenderness). Mistral is the subject of her own children’s book, My Name Is Gabriela: The Life of Gabriela Mistral, written by Monica Brown.

Pablo_NerudaPablo Neruda‘s (1904-1973) love poems have made him one of the most beloved poets in the world, winning the Nobel Prize. He is featured as a character in Antonio Skarmeta’s Il Postino, which was made into a 1994 Academy Award-nominated movie, and is the subject of Roberto Ampuero’s excellent The Neruda Case, which shows him in the last days of his life as he reflects on his past loves and President Salvador Allende’s government is about to be overthrown.

A._Skármeta• Besides Il Postino, Antonio Skarmeta has written some other memorable works, including the children’s book The Composition, named one of Scholastic Parent & Child’s 100 Greatest Books for Kids, and the play El Plebiscito, a story about the advertising campaign against President Augusto Pinochet that became No, a 2012 Oscar-nominated film.

AllendeIsabel Allende has won worldwide acclaim for her books that depict life in Chile, including The House of the Spirits, Eva Luna, Daughter of Fortune and her most recent novel, Maya’s Notebook.

roberto-bolanoThe novels of Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) — such as 2666, winner of the National Book Critics Award — have become more popular after his death. He also won the Romulo Gallegos Prize for The Savage Detectives.

AlejandroZambra• Winners of the Cervantes Prize, given to Spanish language writers, include Jorge Edwards, Gonzalo Rojas and Nicanor Parra. Other contemporary Chilean writers include Alejandro Zambra, right, author of Ways of Going Home.

Sources: Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica


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Book review: Alejandro Zambra’s “Ways of Going Home”

Ways of Going HomeWays of Going Home (Farrar Straus and Giroux) by Alejandro Zambra is two books in one.

The book begins with an earthquake in 1985 in Maipú, a suburb of Santiago, Chile. The nine-year-old narrator, meets a girl, Claudia, who lives with her uncle and mother. Claudia asks the narrator to spy on her mysterious uncle and report back to him. Then the girl moves away.

The book then switches to a 30-year-old man who is writing that story. He is in the midst of separating from his wife, Eme, who has inspired the story. The narrator also draws from his own life, as the reader can see in his visits to his parents.

Eventually, he gets back to the story, where the narrator has grown up and reunites with Claudia – who reveals her family secrets.

The book is 138 pages, just the right size for a book that has mostly dialogue and internal narrative and not much action.

Zambra, who is often compared to another Chilean writer, Roberto Bolaño, describes life in Pinochet-era Chile – including a harrowing but brief scene in which a teacher fears he is being attacked in a classroom – but he excels in his observations about the relationship between parents and children.

“We go home and it’s as if we were returning from war, but from a war that isn’t over. I think, We’ve become deserters. I think, We’ve become war correspondents, tourists. That’s what we are, I think: tourists who arrive with their backpacks, their cameras, and their notebooks, prepared to spend a long time wearing out their eyes, but who suddenly decide to go home, and as they do they breathe a long sigh of relief.”

I didn’t feel particularly connected to the main character, except in the first – and strongest – part of the book, when the boy is young and innocent. The older character is more distant and cold, perhaps a reflection of aging.

“I got over to the little shelf holding the old family photo albums. That’s what these albums are for, I think: to make us believe we were happy as children. To show ourselves that we don’t want to accept how happy we were.”

It makes you wish he never lost his innocence. Ways of Going Home is much like life – adventurous and full of curiosity in the beginning, and a bit melancholy and weary as time moves on.

AlejandroZambraMore about Alejandro Zambra:

A native of Santiago, Chile, Zambra has written two other novels, The Private Lives of Trees and Bonsai. The novel was translated by Megan McDowell.

Source: I purchased this book from Amazon.com.

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Filed under 2013 Books, Book Reviews, Fiction

In the news: Books from Valdes, Gonzales kick off the new year

Here’s what’s happening in the first month of 2013 (Note: I updated this article to include the Blanco and Valdes links.):

Feminist and the CowboyJust released: In The Feminist and the Cowboy: An Unlikely Love Story, Alisa Valdes recounts her relationship with a man with opposite views. In an intriguing article in Salon, Valdes said the relationship was abusive. In The Tragedy of Fidel Castro, Portuguese writer Joao Cerqueira imagines how Jesus Christ would settle the battle between Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and U.S. President John F. Kennedy.

Ways of Going HomeJan. 8: Chilean Alejandro Zambra depicts life in the Pinochet-era Chile in the novel Ways of Going Home.

Jan. 10: The Miniature Wife and Other Stories is a quirky collection of 18 short stories from Tejano Manuel Gonzales, whose work has appeared in The Believer and Esquire.


Junot Díaz (right) and Francisco Goldman will speak at “A Benefit Evening of Latin American Storytelling,” Feb. 5 in New York City, with proceeds going to Radio Ambulante. Radio Ambulante’s executive producer, Daniel Alarcon, will moderate.

Literary magazines:

• The literary magazine BorderSenses is taking submissions until March 31 for its next issue. The publication will take short stories, poetry and book reviews in English and Spanish, as well as artwork. Write to editor@bordersenses.com.

Other features:

• Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco will read a poem at President Obama’s inauguration later this month, becoming the first Latino to hold that honor, NPR reports. He was also profiled in The New York Times.

• In a much-discussed article, The New York Times wrote about the lack of Latino-oriented books for children. In a follow-up article, Aurora Anaya-Cerda of La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem, N.Y., gave her reading recommendations. Many small publishers felt they were not represented in the article, and Publishers Weekly featured those presses, including Lee and Low Books and Arte Público.

•  Arte Público books, which recently moved into new headquarters, was recently profiled in The Houston Chronicle.

ABC News/Univision marked the 50th anniversary of the Latin American Boom in literature.

• Book editor Marcela Landres delivered her list of the best in Latino literature for 2012.

Junot Díaz talked with NBC Latino about how he found his literary voice. He also discussed his love for libraries, politics and the greatness of Star Wars on the TV show Moyers & Company.

Joy Castro talked to the Lincoln Journal-Star about the prospect of her 2012 book, Hell or High Water, being optioned by actress Zoe Saldana for a possible movie or TV show.

Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist are among the 30 selections for World Book Night, in which volunteers will give out books April 23. Sign up to be giver by Jan. 23.

• Cisneros remembered Mexican singer Chavela Vargas, who passed away last year, in The New York Times.

• Chilean Roberto Ampuero, author of The Neruda Case and his country’s ambassador to Mexico, was profiled in The Wall Street Journal.

• The film version of Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima is coming to the big screen, reports the Huffington Post.


Filed under 2013 Books, Fiction, News