Book Review: The Shadow of What We Were by Luis Sepúlveda

The Shadow of What We Were is a novel that reads like a memoir.  In this book by Luis Sepúlveda, the lives of three former communist exiles intersect back in their homeland of Chile.  Tales of younger men are also interwoven in the story, displaying a snapshot of the legacy the anarchist movement had on some of the individual citizens of Chile.  Though the topic is serious, the story is told with a dry self-deprecating humor that makes it an entertaining read, despite the grim circumstances.

Cacho Salinas hated chickens, hens, ducks, turkeys, and any creature that had feathers, but even so he stopped to look at the spit on which forty-odd broilers were turning, lined up in ranks like the robot soldiers in Star Wars.

“How are the chickens?” he asked the vendor, who was busy reading the sports page of a newspaper.

“Stark naked and dead, what do you expect?” the man replied.

He hated chickens, not because of their taste, but because they were stupid and he blamed them for passing on a disease the first symptom of which was a lack of imagination.  Lolo Garmendia had asked him to take care of the food for the group, and, when he e-mailed him to ask what he should buy, the answer was categorical: Buy chickens.

At only 132 pages, it is a quick read, yet still gives the reader brief glimpse into the sense of the history of the life in Chile as experienced through multiple generations.  The characters make an impression, from the aging and cautious former revolutionaries to the bumbling couple whose lives are accidentally thrust into the middle of a potential scandal when a record player is tossed out a window.  Through a series of happenstance episodes, they all converge into an unexpected climax that is as unlikely as the accidents leading up to it.

The Shadow of What We Were is a title published by Europa editions, a fairly recent label that specializes in translating bestselling and award-winning authors from other languages into English.

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