Good Reading : February 2018
COFFEE TABLE A LATIN AMERICAN LITERARY LEGACY In this extract from Culture Trails: 52 perfect weekends for culture lovers, we follow a literary trail in Santiago, capital city of Chile, and the nearby seaport of Valparaíso, where we discover that literary heroes loom large and the spirit of boundary-pushing Chilean writers has been revived since the demise of the Pinochet regime. Santiago, a modern city of seven million on the edge of the Andes Mountains, is now vibrant again after decades of repression that followed the country’s 1973 military coup.Vividly painted street murals colour its neighbourhoods, and writers, artists and other bohemians fill its cafés once more. The thriving capital is Chile’s present-day cultural heart, but it’s also where the country’s three most important wr iters left an indelible mark. Chile’s most famous contemporary wr iter, Isabel Allende (born 1942), lived in the country for a relatively short time, yet her histor ical – and at-times magic realist – fictional depictions of South Amer ica, and in particular Chile, have made her one of the continent’s most prized literary voices. In the 1960s she worked in Santiago as a journalist before beginning a career as a prolific novelist, producing more than 20 books, including the modern classic The House of the Spirits (1982). Like many wr iters and artists, Allende fled Chile after the 1973 military coup that brought General Pinochet to power. Pinochet dissolved congress, discarded the country’s constitution and censored the press; many of those who objected were tortured or ‘disappeared’. He may have even played a role in the demise of Pablo Neruda (1904–1973), beloved for his prolific output of love poems; he won the 1971 Nobel Prize in Literature and influenced Allende. His homes in Santiago and the nearby port town of Valparaíso are now museums that celebrate his life. But Neruda wasn’t the first Chilean to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature; that was the powerful and emotional female poet Gabriela Mistral (1889–1957) in 1945. A teacher and educational refor mer, she also influenced a teenage Pablo Neruda. One after the other, these three literary giants helped shape Chile’s popular consciousness, and their presence can still be felt.