Monthly Archives: June 2014

On love and marriage, religion and morality

His Dark Materials: 1. The Golden Compass (or, Northern Lights) 2. The Subtle Knife 3. The Amber Spyglass 2.

His Dark Materials:
1. The Golden Compass (or, Northern Lights)
2. The Subtle Knife
3. The Amber Spyglass

In The Amber Spyglass, the final book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials fantasy trilogy for young and discerning older readers, which I have just now been re-reading, the physicist and former nun Dr. Mary Malone tells lead protagonists Lyra and Will the story of how she lost her religious vocation. It is an affecting account, one which includes a Proustian moment when a sweet taste of marzipan brought back the remembrance of a childhood romance and reminded her of the sweet joys of spirit and flesh in union (like the adult Proust’s taste of a madeleine, a kind of pastry from his childhood, which brought back all the stream of memories that became his multi-volume In Search of Lost Time). “‘And I thought,’ [Mary] says: ‘am I really going to spend the rest of my life without ever feeling that again? […] Will anyone be better off if I go back to the hotel and say my prayers and confess to the priest and promise to never fall into temptation again? Will anyone be the better for making me miserable?

“‘And the answer came back – no. No one will. There’s no one to fret, no one to condemn, no one to bless me for being a good girl, no one to punish me for being wicked….’”

Indeed I have long wondered what kind of loving God, sitting up on some cloud in all His infinite wisdom, would spend so much time fretting over who loves whom and how they express it instead of the more substantial concerns of these books: keeping promises to those we love, for example, even at the cost of our own deep suffering; accepting responsibility for oneself and others; respecting and working to preserve the earth, the planet, the universe that we inhabit; truth-telling when truth is most needed, and loving as fiercely as we may occasionally have to fight; but above all nurturing brave and peaceable hearts that hate bloodshed, that keep us from senseless acts of cruelty and violence and oppression, that allow us to create the space in which some real measure of peace and harmony might thrive. After all, isn’t Jesus supposed to have said: “Blessed are the peacemakers”?

Those of you who are familiar with these books are aware that they are peopled with human and other sentient beings from a multiverse of subtly and drastically different and overlapping worlds. Lyra comes from a vaguely antiquated English Oxford with its scholars and old buildings and catacombs; and in the larger world she inhabits, roving “gyptians” and bands of children, witches and armored bears and other fierce warriors and adventurers; all of whom, except for the armored bears, have “daemons,” which are in essence the physical manifestation of their conscious soul or animal nature. Will, on the other hand, who has a daemon too but has never seen her, comes from an Oxford much like our own and meets Lyra in a third universe that was once idyllic but is now haunted with ghost-like vampiric “Specters” that suck the souls (or daemons) out of adults, leaving bands of marauding children to fend for themselves.

At the books’ thematic core, though there are so many interrelated and interwoven threads, is something that in Lyra’s world is called Dust but in different worlds is known by different names. This is not ordinary “dust” but “a new kind of elementary particle” that has the Church in Lyra’s world (and scientists and military-espionage and police types in Will’s world) in a state of excitement or panic. A panic which, in Lyra’s world, is centered on the Church’s sinister Magisterium with its Consistorial Court of Discipline and its Oblation Board, which has begun to kidnap poor and marginal children and brutally sever them from their daemons. Why? Because in the Church’s mind Dust, which has something to do with daemons and which begins to manifest itself in bothersome ways at roughly the time of puberty, is also associated with original sin and must at all costs be eradicated.

Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman

It must be understood that the fictional-fantastical Church in question – with its mythical counterparts for good and evil in Heaven – is a caricature of the Catholic Church at its historical worst and might be associated with some of Christianity’s darkest periods. It is true that Pullman is himself an acknowledged atheist, and he does not pull any punches in these books in his criticism of religion (even in our real and present world) obsessed with controlling and scaring, punishing and exercising inquisitorial authority. But his is a deeply moral and ethical mythology that the religious are perfectly free (and well advised) to understand by whatever metaphorical principle best serves them. The series, in any case, is inspired by John Milton’s magnificent and challenging 17th-century poem Paradise Lost, which in preparation for this reading I recently tackled in the slightly abridged form of my Norton Anthology of English Literature. Its twin subjects are the Biblical War in Heaven and the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Both themes are present here, and Pullman gives a movingly positive twist to the story of Eve’s temptation.

(That is a theme, in fact, that I have re-visited in a very different and more realistic context in my new Young Adult novel Original Sins, for which I am presently seeking an agent or publisher – but that’s another story.)

I come to this theme, anyway, in the immediate context of the new federal court rulings in religiously conservative states like Utah – and now my own Indiana – allowing same-sex marriage.

LGBT Pride Flag

LGBT Pride Flag

This swiftly snowballing trend is something that the consistorial courts of discipline and magisteriums of our day have sought and will continue seeking to prevent or to repeal. But the only way to enforce what strikes an increasing number of good Americans as a morbid and exclusionary sexual morality is to turn our democratic-republican form of government, with its often and willfully misunderstood separation of church and state, into something more closely resembling a theocracy. I was therefore pleased the other day to read in Evansville, Indiana’s Courier & Press the more sensible religious perspective of Lynn Martin of the St. Lucas Church, which appeared under the headline: “United States should not aspire to be a ‘Christian nation’” – as much to protect Christians from each other (as Constitutional originalists ought to remember from the most basic survey of U. S. history) as to protect Christians from non-Christians or non-believers from believers, and in both instances, vice versa.

If one pays attention to the social reality in this country, it is hard to take seriously the frequent assertion that Christianity and its proponents are under assault here. There is a vast difference between a Christian woman in Sudan being sentenced to death for not practicing what their grand inquisitors call (highly questionably) Islam, and our being restricted from putting gigantic crosses in public spaces and imposing the social implications of our theological interpretations of scripture on those who do not share those views. No one is preventing anyone from practicing their Christian faith within their homes or churches, or even of praying over their food in public settings, or any number of other passionate expressions of that faith. But God help you if you’re a Muslim in post-9/11 America. Or (gasp!) one of the “non-believers” that President Obama dared acknowledge in his first inaugural address: “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers.”

(On the subject of the contributions and the travails of American Muslims I recommend the book Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers. If I believed in a mandatory American reading list, this would be on it.)

1768In respect to U. S. District Judge Richard Young’s Indiana ruling, we are happy in my house and my children’s homes not only because of all the other Hoosiers who are now able to make legal the truth that has already existed in their hearts, but for mine and Anita’s youngest daughter Stephanie, her wife Rachel, and their little boy Nicholas, our grandson, whose family can now be legally recognized. They were married, as far as all of us are concerned, more than seven years ago on May 26, 2007, in a ceremony with family and friends in Perry County, Indiana, a ceremony that for us remains sacred in the most humane sense of the word. The piece of paper that they applied for, paid for, and had signed and notarized on Thursday is only the legal vindication of the bond that was made holy on that other day. Nicholas, who was three at the time of their wedding and was long ago adopted by Rachel, has been ecstatic with the news –  he and countless other children whose “special” families can now come out of the darkness and present themselves as a complete and viable and privileged unit. And all the evidence contradicts the notion, still popular in the consistorial circles, that children with opposite-sex parents thrive more than those with two moms or two dads.

2208The truth and reality of homosexual as well as heterosexual love (not to mention transgender and other varieties of love that most of us know nothing or next to nothing about) is in fact another theme that Pullman picks up in The Amber Spyglass. The very tender relationship between two male angels, Baruch and Balthamos, is deeply moving. They are never identified as a gay couple, but the bond between the two is immediately so intimate and so powerful that it is at least strongly implied. When Baruch, the more obviously strong and heroic of the two, is killed in the line of duty, Balthamos falls apart for a while and ends up retreating, from his duty to protect and guide the two young heroes Lyra and Will, when the danger becomes too much. But in the end, at the crucial hour, he comes back, conquering his fear to save them (or at least Lyra who is the target of a priestly assassin) at the crucial moment – completely anonymously, without the endangered youth even suspecting it. Clearly he does it out of shame for his earlier collapse, but most of all to honor his deceased partner without whom he has lost the will to live. “‘Baruch,’” he says after the assassin has been permanently sidelined, “‘oh, Baruch, my dear, I can do no more. Will and the girl are safe, and everything will be well, but this is the end for me, though truly I died when you did, Baruch, my beloved.’” And after the paragraph break: “A moment later, he was gone.”

That is one of the most moving passages in this whole series of books or in any other that I can think of. Compare it, for instance, to the pathos of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, whose unhappy end tore at my heartstrings and at my soul so many years ago as a teenager when I saw the BBC television production of her story – and again last year when I finally got around to reading the book. Tolstoy, who had initially planned a rather moralistic novel judging her ultimate fate as simply the natural consequence of her adulterous sin, was also saved from that fate (perhaps by some merciful literary angel) and allowed to write one of the most senstitive and nuanced treatments of a troubled marriage, of the causes of its failure, of human souls in tenderness and torment, of love that promises so much but also consumes.

3229In any case, here’s to all the good people of Indiana and Utah and every other state where a distinct but vital minority of our republic are finally receiving recognition for the basic human right and loving unions that the rest of us have always taken for granted. Who are we to judge who is worthy or unworthy of receiving such possibilities of joy and happiness? Surely life is trying enough without making it all the more so for those who may be different from us in one way or another. And the next time you want to say, “But the Bible tells me so,” explain how so many devout readers of that Good Book (and I was once one of them) would beg to differ.


On desire and destiny, love and solitude

Megan Segarra

Megan Segarra

Megan Segarra of Meganda Films, a young Latina and independent filmmaker who has recently finished the revision of a screenplay based on the last chapter of Rosa Martha Villarreal’s novel The Stillness of Love and Exile, is currently raising money to bring the film to fruition. At the following Web address ( you can read some more about the project as well as watch a trailer and a brief interview between author and screenwriter / director. A contribution of $10 or more, if you are able, would be very deeply appreciated and help in the creation of one more object of sublime beauty in a world so troubled by hate and violent absolutisms.

Rosa Martha Villarreal

Rosa Martha Villarreal

Villarreal was my editor at the former webzine Tertulia Magazine and author, previous to this novel, of a modern version of the Faustian myth (Doctor Magdalena) and a historical novel called Chronicles of Air and Dreams. The Stillness of Love and Exile has been honored with the 2008 PEN Oakland / Josephine Mile Literary Award and the Silver Medal for Best Regional Fiction for the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards. She is also the author, more recently, of a very charming children’s story about a boy, his dogs, and a baby dragon – The Adventures of Wyglaf Wyrm – which is available as an e-book ( for the equally agreeable price of $1.99.[1]I wrote briefly of The Stillness of Love and Exile in my journal of June 7, 2007: “From the outset, it’s quite a read, first the engrossing tale of a young woman – raped and taken away to Ciudad Juarez by a drug lord – and her road to escape and freedom; secondarily, a hopeful tale about her slow awakening to a sense of her own desire and the spiritual liberation that facilitates her movement to the fulfillment of that desire in her chosen destiny. I like this definition of terms in the opening lines of her opening prologue: ‘Fate is what happens upon us, an accident born of impassivity. Destiny is the journey which we choose, an awakening of the deepest desire for self-destruction and rebirth in the love of another.’”

In her personal dedication to my copy of The Stillness of Love and Exile, she invites me to enter “the dreams of desire and the possibilities of destiny.”

The title of her final chapter (and of the short screenplay) is in Spanish, though richly defined and elaborated in the English narrative and script: Noche Intempesta [Night of Stillness]: “In times past,” Villarreal writes, “when silences were part of the daily rhythms of men, the stars would realign themselves on the nights of stillness and the animals that hid themselves in the moon shadows rejoiced at their moment of freedom, and the diviners of the unseen worlds changed themselves into wolves, owls, and jaguars. Even in the Christian lands of Medieval Europe, the stoic monks who counted God’s heartbeats secretly awaited the nights of stillness. Though the constant din of machines has obscured the magic of the nights of stillness, in the small desert towns it is still conceivable to lose one’s self in the heart-spirit of silence.

noche-poster1[1] “When the night of stillness, la noche intempesta, descended upon the desertic lands of Texas-Coahuila, the invisible Natures that had haunted the poet Coleridge suddenly became visible. In the impenetrable stillness, Lilia’s heart became the mirror of a terrible wonder …”

Here’s hoping for the success of this venture in independent cinema. In times as troubled as ours (perhaps they have always been this way), the magic of literary and cinematographic narrative and art is as welcome as water in a parched landscape.


While Rosa Martha Villarreal’s novel ends up in a happier place than Gabriel García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude), his great novel – the crowning achievement of Latin American magical-realist fiction, at the very least – ends up pointing in the same direction. In its final chapter, unnumbered and untitled, which I finally came to the end of the other night after quitting decades earlier without (it appears) having gotten further than the end of chapter four of twenty, it almost looks like the troubled family dynasty begun by the first José Arcadio Buendía is going to be saved from the dust of oblivion by the son (last of the Aurelianos) of the ecstatic and prodigious love of Amaranta Úrsula and the second-to-last Aureliano:

Image from the Author's Website (

Image from main page of the author’s website (

“Through her tears [of childbirth],” we read (in my hasty and imperfect translation), “Amaranta Úrsula saw that he was one of the great, strong, willful Buendías like the José Arcadios, with the open and clairvoyant eyes of the Aurelianos, and predisposed to start the lineage over again from the beginning and purify it of its pernicious vices and its solitary vocation, because he was the only one in a century who had been conceived in love.”

But in almost the next breath the child’s mother dies and his father places him in the little basket that she had prepared for him and begins wandering aimlessly around the town, coming to realize that he was “incapable of resisting the overpowering weight upon his soul of so much past.” In the novel’s final words (which I feel it is safe to reveal without giving too much away, should you want to read the book yourself) we are informed that the saga of their lives “was forever and ever unrepeatable because lineages condemned to one hundred years of solitude do not have a second chance on the earth.”

Still, the very illusion of the transformative power of those two lovers’ love, and all the positive magic that occurs in the length of the book to transform plain reality into something as timeless and significant as the sad saga of the Trojan War as narrated in Homer’s Iliad, or the troubled homecoming of Ulysses in the Odyssey, is more than enough to lift the heart even as it cries a little at this last of many misfortunes.

There is so much more to say, but I think I’ll leave it at that.

On Literature, Memory, and Travel

Machu Picchu: Perú

Machu Picchu: Perú

First of all, a shout-out to my young Canadian friend and fellow literary translator Liam Walke (not Liam Walker, the soccer star) of Montreal: I have just read the most recent installment of his travel journal from Perú, and I can’t state enough how much I am enjoying his sensitive and nuanced treatment of place, people, culture. Rather than quote him let me just send you directly to the source:; scroll to the bottom of the page for recent postings, and I would recommend reading more than one to get a good sense of what he is doing. The site, which is actually called loves, leaves, lines, is being added to my links.

On second thought, let me give you a small taste (though it may seem such a small thing) of what touched me in this posting: “On Thursday, I went up to Racchi, a small village about thirty minutes outside of Cusco, to help a friend with her environmental education and art project for primary school kids. I’ve met a lot of children, and I can say that it is a different kid who grows up in an adobe house their father built; a different kid who wanders through their yard and down the hot dirt road to school past scavenging pigs and donkeys feeding on the grass above; a different child entirely who understands the cycles of the potato harvest; a different type of child whose first language is not Spanish but Quechua.”

He also has a passage about the political terror of past years, the vile and indiscriminate terrorism of the Maoist “Shining Path” and the perhaps equally vile and indiscriminate reprisals from the military (and then there’s always that chicken and egg question: which came first, the one oppressor or the other?).

Sam Baker

Sam Baker

I am reminded of the musician Sam Baker, whose music I came to know some years ago through my son Jonathan. Baker had the particular misfortune of being on a train to the ancient Inca site of Machu Picchu when a Shining Path bomb exploded, killing many passengers and taking away full use of one hand and a good portion of his hearing. Still he has managed to make some very affecting music, not just out of that experience but also a full American life richly lived and observed – a music at once “beautiful and broken,” as the NPR reviewer of his new CD Say Grace puts it. Click here for a taste of that music:

As for the Peruvian children Liam speaks of, living in a rural county in southern Indiana I have read numerous compositions by students who might understand the cycles of (if not the potato) the corn crop, and who have written with varying degrees of eloquence about their relationships with horses, dogs, cows, and the experience of growing up on a family farm. Still, there is little comparison between rural southern Indiana and rural Perú. My own experience between 1978 and 1980, in the poorer neighborhoods in both rural and urban Argentina, was quite startling to me in that respect. On my return to the country in June and July of 2005, my contact with its poor children was pretty much limited to subway stations.

None of which is to say that there is not a very real and increasing problem with poverty in the United States, not least of all in my own Perry County. The problem of growing inequality in this land of the free – and the deeper the inequality, the less the real practical freedom that one enjoys – is a source of frequent concern to me.

(I have written, by the way, a literary journal of that last visit to Argentina; bits of it appeared a while back in a pair of no-longer-publishing e-journals, and I still hold out some hope of having the whole thing available to the largest possible reading public sometime before the end of this decade. I gather, unfortunately, that the market for slow-moving, meditative literary journals of the sort are not in high demand in today’s crassly materialistic market. Mine is modeled after the epistolary style of Lucio V. Mansilla, to whom I address the “letters”: about whom see the pair of reviews of Passionate Nomads announced in my January blog. I may share some passages from it in a future posting.)


images[9]Recently I saw Argentine director Benjamín Ávila’s critically-acclaimed film Infancia clandestina (Clandestine Childhood), which is based on his own coming-of-age experience of early adolescence with an assumed identity and two committed revolutionary parents. It is at once a beautiful and harrowing film. While Ávila’s attitude is unapologetically revolutionary (as is made plain by a dedicatory note that precedes the final credits), it is unsparingly clear as well about the folly of the parents’ expectation that their son’s own revolutionary commitment should be stronger than the yearnings of first love. The scenes between that boy and the precious little girl he falls in love with (and she with him) are among the sweetest that I hope to ever see on small or big screen.

An elderly Argentine gentleman who was watching the film with me became rather agitated afterwards, not without reason given his own experience as the victim of multiple bombings in the period of the pre-military dictatorship. He resented any effort to make the perpetrators of those acts of violence, whose victims ended up being the very public that they rather stupidly thought would thus be inspired to rise up with them and overthrow the regime, should be portrayed with any degree of sympathy. Those “Communists,” he complained, were the reason for whatever excesses the military coup brought with it. And now the whole government is made up of “those people,” those leftists.

The historical reality is surely more complicated than that; correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t quite believe that, by virtue of the present government’s having been of the left all those years ago, it follows that they were all running around setting off bombs in hotels and other public places. Nor do I believe that anywhere near a majority of the “disappeared ones” of the military’s “dirty war” were guilty of the violences perpetrated by the red-eyed parents of our young and future filmmaker.

As I commented very respectfully to the gentleman, after his rant had run its course, while by virtue of experience he certainly has more right to speak of such things than I do, I would direct his attention to the contrary experience and testimony of credible others. Among them my friend María Rosa, two of whose progressive but nonviolent teachers – both of them nuns of the Sacred Heart – were disappeared during that time.

imagesSZY0CK5MAnd also, among others, the remarkable witness of Jacobo Timerman, a Jewish newspaperman whose memoir Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number recounts the torture and lengthy imprisonment he endured for daring to publish inconvenient truths about the abuses of both left and right. And more particularly, as made evident by the line of questioning he endured, for being a Jew and part (of course) of that infamous worldwide conspiracy and all. In the end, he barely escaped the country with his life. (Went on, I believe, to critiquing the misadventures of the Israeli right and left.)

In any case, while Ávila’s filmmaking did allow me to feel some human sympathy for the deluded and idealistic parents, I felt it mostly for the kids; and the film itself has the definite virtue of not white-washing anything: the feeling of human sympathy does not preclude evidence and judgment.

In any case, as always, there would seem to be plenty of guilt to go around. And as far as memory goes, it can be highly colored by our fears and our emotions. Sometimes one is too close to the center of things to see the larger picture.

Essays on Memory and Human Rights in the AmericasThis is pertinent to the subject of Marjorie Agosín’s anthology Inhabiting Memory: Essays on Memory and Human Rights in the Americas, published by Wings Press in San Antonio, Texas in 2011 and containing my translation of María Rosa’s “Minimal Autobiography of an Exiled Daughter.” I blogged about it on November 5, 2011 and in the process quoted from that essay and another by Argentine writer Julio Cortázar. This anthology, Agosín writes in her introduction, deals with such questions as “how we can inhabit memories and live within them” (p. xii). More specifically: “The primary purpose of this collection is to express how memory is articulated after the authoritarianism that governed the entire region and to explore the themes of torture, complicity and silence. It also addresses the problematic legacies of learning about memory – how to live with it, how to inhabit it, how to recover one’s identity as a human being.”

Chile and Argentina, with their similar yet divergent histories of dictatorship and democracy, are amply represented in these pages, but other essays range over geographies from Uruguay to Ecuador and Guatemala to the U. S. Mexican border – even, in the context of bearing witness to and remembering the victims of AIDS, a not specifically Latin American setting.

A common thread is the inherent instability of memory, the necessity to look at opposing memories and to examine both oral and written sources, to build or re-build collective memory by the very acts of investigation and witnessing. I will limit myself here to some general observations of Peter Winn’s in his essay “The Past is Present: Memory and History in Post-Pinochet Chile.”

“Human memory,”  he writes, “is both miraculous and mysterious. Why do we remember what we remember and forget what we forget? Why does some passing random encounter stimulate memories that we had not thought of for ages? Moreover, these memory cues vary so much from person to person. For Marcel Proust, it was the smell of the madeleine, a pastry from his childhood, that opened the door to remembrances of things past. For Alejandro, a Chilean-American student of mine, it was the posters on his parents’ walls that ‘reminded’ him of the Chile of the Allende years that he had never known, a Chile they had told him of as a child, a Chile that now only existed in those posters.

“For me,” Winn continues, “it is the Chilean music of that same era – the songs of Victor Jara or the Andean flutes of Inti Illimani – which I experienced as a young man, that is most likely to open the floodgates of memory, taking me back to a time when it did not seem utopian to think that we could change the world. In my memory, I walk again through streets filled with peasants celebrating a land reform that gave them the lands that their forefathers had worked for others, through suburban shantytowns filled with squatters confident that they would build a better future. I hear again the life stories of workers telling me how they were realizing their dreams. I taste again the empanadas (meat pies) that we shared and the rough red wine, and know deep down that I would do it all over again, that it was the time of my life when I felt most fully alive. These memories match that experience; they are vivid and strong, as if it were just yesterday.

Our memories are markers of who we are, where we have come from and what road we have followed to get here. They have a truth value that we take for granted. If we are sure of anything in this world, it is the truth of what we remember. After all they are our memories,” he writes, “something only we can validate, something no one can take away.

“Yet, oral historians and memory scholars have learned that even the seemingly surest individual memory may be unreliable, particularly if it is a memory of trauma” (pp. 52-3).

He goes on to talk about the “power of collective memory to reshape individual memories (pro and con)”: “Individual memories are shaped – and reshaped – by the dominant collective memory, which validates some while denying legitimacy to others …” (p. 53)

I am reminded of an essay I once read about the competing narratives of Jews and Palestinians in the contested Holy Land; the gist of the essayist’s conclusion was that until each side can listen to the other side’s historical narratives – each of which contains its validity – and experience empathy for the suffering of those others, there will not be nor can there be peace in the Middle East. That is a rough paraphrase, and certainly imperfect in its remembering.

imagesXU2Z72DJIn Winn’s opening sentence he refers to “that other traumatic September 11th in 1973” (p. 51) when, with at least the advice and counsel and perhaps military equipment from our own CIA, the duly elected democratic-socialist president Salvador Allende was overthrown by the dictator-to-be Augusto Pinochet. My own “memory” of that event is highly colored by my reading of Allende’s niece Isabel Allende’s La casa de los espíritus (The House of Spirits) which, while being a novel, contains an even-handed treatment of the history of a family divided by conservative and liberal politics and presents what I think is a pretty accurate reflection of what was happening on the ground during the days leading up to and subsequent to that military coup – at least it holds up pretty well, as far as memory allows me to attest, to the historical accounts I have read since then.

I know that the critically-acclaimed Chilean / Mexican writer Roberto Bolaño (born in Chile, but living and writing in and of Mexico) looks down on Isabel Allende as a second-rate literary imitator of the magical-realist school most famously represented by Gabriel García Márquez. Bolaño, though he died young, represents a younger generation writing distinctly not in the magical-realist tradition. I like Bolaño, and I don’t feel qualified to really judge the literary achievement of Isabel Allende, but if he is right and she is merely an imitator, I have to say nonetheless that it is a remarkable and delightfully readable imitation. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys historically-grounded fiction and would like to get a sense of the competing memories of what happened in Chile during the last century. I continue to think of it as a more than reasonable facsimile (correct me if I am wrong) and am a firm believer in the principle that fiction can be infinitely more true than much of what passes as “nonfiction.”