My favorite things Chile

1. Fiction: I’ve already covered Roberto Bolaño plenty on MR; The Savage Detectives is his masterpiece but it’s all worth reading.  The massive 2666 is due out later this year.  José Donoso’s The Obscene Bird of Night, while hardly read in the U.S., seems to me one of the most gripping novels of the 20th century.  If you read the Amazon reviews you’ll that others who have read it agree.  This is one of the least read first-rate novels I know.  It’s not easy going, however, and it’s taking me a long time to read through a mish-mash of the English and Spanish-language texts.  To top it all off, Isabel Allende has many fun books, most notably The House of the Spirits, which almost everyone will enjoy.  Chile is much stronger in literature than most people think.

2. Popular music: Ricardo Villalobos is the lead figure of Chilean techno, which is now I hear quite a vibrant genre; Taka Taka is quite a good mix album.  What else can you point me to?

3. Poetry: My favorite Neruda is Canto General, his retelling of Whitman’s America but covering the entire hemisphere.  A masterpiece.  Estravagario is excellent and while I haven’t read Residencia de la Tierra, it is considered another one of his classics.  The love poems are very nice though perhaps not his best material.  In any case he is one of the three or four best poets of the twentieth century.  Gabriela Mistral is talented but I cannot say I love her work.

4. Playwright: Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden is good.

5. Favorite small town: There are so many, but how about Villarica, Punta Arenas, or that small port place next to La Serena whose name I cannot remember?  Chile is one of the world’s best countries for lovely small towns.

6. Movie, set in or made in: Sorry folks, but I can’t think of a single one.  What am I missing?

7. Seafood dish: Curantos.

8. Pianist: It’s hard not to pick Claudio Arrau, but, despite his musical intelligence, I don’t actually enjoy most of his (to me) lugubrious recordings.  I have heard he was much better live in concert.

9. Painter: Roberto Matta is the obvious choice.

The bottom line: Writing, writing, and more writing.  More generally, Chile is one of the very nicest countries on Earth.  The key is to get around to those small towns.


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