Luis Sepúlveda ‘The Shadow of What We Were’

–There in the middle of the assembly, Coco Aravena felt euphoric. The commission for agitation and propaganda of the Marxist-Leninist Communist Revolutionary Party, Mao Tse-Tung Thought, Enver Hoxha Tendency, IMG_1249which was very different from the liquidationist clique that called itself the Marxist-Leninist Communist Revolutionary Party, Mao Tse-Tung Thought, Red Flag Tendency, had commissioned him to read a resolution from the central committee, a resolution destined to change history.

Three acquaintances forced to go underground after Augusto Pinochet’ coup in Chile in 1973, meet up more than thirty years later at the behest of “The Shadow” to carry out one more job. Cacho Salinas who had just come back from exile in Paris, Lucho Arancibia who had stayed in Chile only to lose his family and to have been tortured himself until his head was no longer “right”, Lolo Garmendia who had been sent in exile to Ceaucescu’s Romania only to find somewhere worst than Chile. The three of them had known each other all those years before in the splintered microcosm of Chile’s revolutionary left, illustrated by the opening quote and parodied by Monty Python and had each separately known and learnt to trust ” The Shadow”

From their discussions with each other, whilst waiting in Arancibia’s garage for the man that had reunited them, a picture of Chile, and the complications and absurdity of life and of their exiles and that of the thousands of other “Young Communists” is slowly distilled to the reader. They are so altered by their experiences that without ever having met before, they are able to recognise other Chileans who have been through similar experiences as epitomised by the following conversation between Salinas and the man selling him roast chickens, the story of why Salinas hated chickens is in itself an anthology of the absurdity of the revolutionary thought of the seventies pushed to the limits:

–Are the chickens fresh? Are they tasty? That’s what I want to know.
The vendor closed his newspaper, glanced out at the street and then up at the ceiling of the shop. “Look friend, I don’t know where these chickens come from and I don’t care, they’re all the same, exactly the same weight, they come frozen, hard as rocks and glassy-eyed. I defrost them, stick skewers up their asses and out through the back of their necks, smear them with a sauce that comes in a plastic bag and after forty minutes on the spit they turn into something edible. Happy now? Don’t make things any more complicated than they are.”

This book was read as part of Spanish lit month 2017

in parallel within the book a second story concerning another returning emigre, who had not been taken seriously by anyone during those revolutionary years, Coco Aravena is wound into the first story line as a dispute between Coco and his wife, as she throws books and his phonograph out of the window, leads to a highly improbable coincidence as his phonograph falls on “The shadow” and kills him, but even this is surpassed by the absurdity of real life as not knowing what to do, they go down to street level to examine the body:

–The rain was still falling, and the body was still on the sidewalk. His black clothes shone wetly, but there wasn’t the slightest sign of either the lethal phonograph or the books.
“Fucking people,” Coco Aravena muttered.
“What do you mean?” the woman said. I don’t understand what you are talking about.”
“Look Concha,” Coco replied, pointing to the dead man’s bare marble-like feet. “They stole his shoes.”

This is a book based on “The Last of the Summer Wine”type caring humour.

First Published in Spanish as “La Sombra de lo que fuimos” in 2009 by Espasa Calpe .
Translated into English by Howard Curtis as “The shadow of What We Were” and published by Europa Editions in 2010


Raphael Jerusalmy ‘The Brotherhood of book hunters’

Initially, searching through audio books at my local lending library it was the cover of this book that caught my attention, I had not heard of the author.
After graduating from the Ecole Normale Supérieure and the Sorbonne, and then working with Israeli military intelligence, the atypical Raphaël Jerusalmy is now a trader in antique books and an author.

After Jean Teulé in 2006, Jerusalmy basis his book around the medieval poet François Villon, who as well as being ‘the first poet of the modern era’ was also a brigand and a thief who after being condemned to death by strangling then hanging is pardoned but banned from Paris, soon after he disappears for ever. As Jerusalmy says ‘how could he resist such an invitation’.

Jerusalmy’s ‘Brotherhood of book hunters’ is a medieval conspiracy thriller which plays between Paris, Florence, Jerusalem and Rome. These are troubled times, Gutenberg is one of many printers operating in Germany, the inquisition is losing its battle outside of Italy and Spain, the powers of the Medicis in Florence challenges that of the pope in Rome, the king of France’s power is challenged by his brother and knowledge and writings are controlled by bigots. Against this background Villon is sent on a number of missions by the bishop of Paris which lead him on a quest to find writings from ancient civilisations which have been rescued and saved over the years by the brotherhood, a Jewish organisation who are slowly disseminating these works which could rock the very foundations of Christianity.

Shades of Dan Brown if you will, I found this an entertaining read.

First published in French as ‘La Confrérie des chasseurs de Livres’ by Actes Sud in 2013
Translated into English by Howard Curtis and published as ‘The Brotherhood of Book Hunters’ in 2014 by Europa Editions