About A golpes de hacha y fuego, by Iván Carrasco. LA ÉPOCA. 8.23.1995
About El naufragio de la luz, by Hernán Poblete Varas. EL MERCURIO. 11.5.2004.
About El naufragio de la luz, by Juana Paredes. ECOS DE ESPAÑA Y LATINOAMÉRICA. July 2004.
A New Narrator
Fascinated by the richness of voices, problems and tendencies of the poetry of southern Chile we have become accustomed to think that it is the only production characteristic of this part of the country.
However, that's not how it is. In southern Chile, there are not only poems, there are also novelists, essayists, and playwrights. Among the novelists we cannot forget, Francisco Coloane, Luis Durand, Edemio Alvarado, Rubén Avócar, César Díaz, Pedro Guillermo Jarra, Fransisco Ortega, Tadeo Luna, Andrés Gallardo, Rubén González, René Aroca, Janí Leguai, to name a few.
Without a doubt poetry is the majority, and it is this type of textuality that been most developed and earned the most recognition and relevance. The best homage that could be made to it would be a development of other genres to accompany it at the same level. But there is still a lot lacking for this to happen, not only in the south.
That is why the appearance of young novelists is encouraging, like Hernán Neira and his book A golpes de hacha y fuego (By the blows of axe and fire), edited by Andrés Bello in the month of May.
Even though Hernán Neira is Chilean, he was born in Lima in 1960. He received his High School degree in Madrid; he studied philosophy at the Catholic University of Santiago and his Doctorate at the Paris University VIII, with a thesis about Sartre; at the same time he continued his studies of linguistics and sociology. He has published works in his specialty and in literary criticism in Chilean and foreign magazines.
Neira has earned various recognitions for his literary works. In 1983 he was a finalist in Paula magazine's story contest for "Mis fotos con Claudia Ripamonti" ("My photos with Claudia Ripamonti") and in 1991 for the Juan Rulfo award in Paris for "Ameland". In 1994 he won Valdivia's Municipal Fernando Santiván story contest, and this year the Oscar Castro contest of the short novel in Rancagua.
The book A golpes de hacha y fuego (By blows of axe and fire) is made up of five dissimilar narrations in terms of theme and type, but they are connected secretly or visibly by analogies of style and of the representation of a polyvalent reality. The stories that are told have precise delimitations as procured by the intrigue and well-defined characters, characterized with detail by a narrator that knows them thoroughly. In spite of this, parts of the world are left dark, mysterious, inexplicable, and the narrator allows a glimpse of them through an analytical, descriptive, detailed discourse. This tension between a skillful development of the intrigue and the doubt or uncertainty about the constitution of reality holds the reader's interest, even if he clearly suspects the outcome of the story, the reader feels that in the end not everything is explained, that some of the events follow a secret law whose key is not explicit.
In this way, "Ameland" is the story of a young lighthouse keeper that manages to escape with his female companion from a strange island, where the unexplainable behavior of the villagers forces them to remain, utilizing all means available to do so. The couple's will to survive must overcome not only the secluded geography, the inclemency of the sea, and the natural elements, but also their own incomprehension of the motives that have confronted them and the villagers.
"Fastnet," beyond the adventure of a sailor hired to sink a sailboat, with the objective being that the navel company receives the insurance and at the same time eliminates him so there will be no witnesses left of this and other similar acts, (he is saved thanks to the help of the widow of another captain murdered for the same motives), it is also an elegy of the death of a certain way of life: that of the sailboats, formerly the home of the sailors that felt this way of life as a vocation or predetermination. It is also a manifestation of the paradoxical character of life, because those who save the inhabitants of the sailboat from death are the modern sailors of the steamboat; the force that condemns to extinction the other form of working and living.
"Mis fotos con Clauida Ripamonti" ("My photos with Claudia Ripamonti"), appears to be the simple story of a writer and an actress who, upon living together outside of their everyday environment in a foreign country, discover a different love and a stronger one than before, it is also the presentiment of magical analogies, superposition and identities between the novel's fiction as written by the author and the new reality of the couple's condition.
In the same way, "La noche más apacible" ("The most tranquil night") shows us the tragic life of a young woman that tries to escape from the schizophrenia inherited from her mother. The author slowly describes the different psychological states of the young woman, her different attempts to escape this curse and fateful, final result. Naturalist story, psychological realism, scientific objectivism (the narrator even indicates the exact name of the pharmaceutical drugs that she uses), or is it the old conflict between predestination and free will, situated in modern times and contexts?
Along a similar line, but in a much more clear way, appears the last tale, "A golpes de hacha y fuego" ("By blows of axe and fire"). The title precisely indicates the crux of the novel's argument; a colonist has leveled an enormous forest through fire and the work of an axe. However, what follows already pertains to another dimension: unexplainable deaths occur that of a worker, the landowner's dog, and finally, the death of the colonist and his entire family (his wife and his son) during the burning of his house. The legend provides the explanation: in the forest lived spirits that needed twilight to survive. And the destruction of the trees is also, perhaps, their own destruction. Therefore, is it his revenge that is told in this text, or is it only an explanation that searches for the community to justify human imperfections or to diminish the feeling of guilt for not being able to resist the strength of power and arrogance? It is difficult to know, but here appear glimpses of mysterious relationships that we perceive in Miguel and Claudia's story, and also literature's curious capacity to make us suspect that our vision of what is real is too simple and flat and that in dreams and fictions are often found the questions that are worth asking ourselves and the glimpse of answers that have lived with us for a long time, but that we have abandoned or do not want to accept.
The narration of Neira's texts assumes the appropriate language for each environment, especially that of maritime life, and presents the subject as the norm that has been thoroughly familiar with the story he or she tells. The cosmopolitan atmosphere, the echoes of Welsh and Anglo-Saxon narration, sometimes evident through the means of the epigraph, the descriptive sensibility, the care with styles and the construction leave one with a sensation of seriousness for the trade, at the margin of success and frivolities.
Closer to classical tales than vanguards and breaks with the norm, Hernán Neira's stories and novels recuperate stories of adventure and people, to suggest to us radical problems in deeper confines more complex than those that actually exist. A voice that cannot be left unheard in the panorama of current Chilean narrative.
EL MERCURIO, Santiago, 11/5/04
Islands, Lighthouses and Solitude
A celebrated novel that leaves you thinking
This new story by Hernán Neira suggests that no man is an island, that we all form part of one continent: Humanity.
by Hernán Poblete Varas
"There are no greater islands than those who choose solitude," says the narrator of this story that speaks of physical and spiritual islands, of the internal desert that, at times, dominates man. We are speaking of Hernán Neira and El naufragio de la luz (The Shipwreck of the Light) Edition B, Barcelona, 2004. Price of reference, $7,000 Chilean pesos), a novel that was awarded the title of Las dos orillas by the Salón del Libro Iberoamericano de Gijón.
Ameland is a kind of center of the world, a place lost between the play of the tides, the changing sands, the reefs as they clamor against passing ships. Not far from the continent (which continent, humanity itself?), Ameland is alone, scarcely populated by silent inhabitants, marauders of their own solitude. There was built a lighthouse, and one day between gusts of wind and spray, arrives the narrator to replace the first inhabitant of the island, who is dead. How? By accident, suicide, murder? He only left behind doubt and one daughter, Mareika.
The couple find each other and lose each other until the end, but without end to the adventure. They love each other, they disavow each other, they look for and avoid a destiny, united yet irremediably separated. Schizophrenia, a reader who seeks concrete explanations could say.
Too simple of a solution for something that is more like allegory than mental disturbance. It is true that there is some form of madness here, a type of exacerbated non-communication, perhaps a disturbance triggered by solitude. But, what kind of solitude do we speak of if Mareika and the narrator love each other and seem to compliment one another facing the threatening, mutinous islanders, the relentless games of nature, the infuriated sea, factotum or powerfull god?
These bells "that toll for you," according to the well-known reflection of John Donne popularized three centuries later by Hemingway, seem to resonate here as well: no man is an island; we all form part of one continent: humanity. Separated from it we are shipwrecked, like the scarce land of Ameland. That is what the narrator and Marieka have lost, and look for beyond the fog and the waves. But in this novel another disturbing element not foreseen in the metaphor of Donne appears: here, the humanity that could have been the habitat of the lovers is just as hostile as the nature that surrounds and disturbs Ameland.
So, what is left? A solitary interior without a way to escape from oneself. Perhaps that is El naufragio de la luz (The Shipwreck of the Light) that the title of the book indicates. It is not a frequent theme in literature today, which is distanced from humanity, closer to the alcoves.
You have to read it and re-read it and not only in the figurative sense: the "argument," the adventurous tone of the first pages (that our unforgettable Pancho Colaone would have liked) suddenly contorts itself and carries us to internal abysses in which it is difficult to penetrate, like the reefs of Ameland.
One last pertinent observation: someone said that true inspiration occurs in the moment of correcting an already completed text. Some of that was missing here. (Article translated from Spanish by Christine Harrower).
ECOS DE ESPAÑA Y LATINOAMÉRICA, Planneg, Deutschland, july 2004 (this magazines is published in Spanish, in Deutschland)
El naufragio de la luz (The Shipwrecked Light) Edition B, 2004 (142 pages).
by Juana Paredes
The latest novel written by Chilean Hernán Neira, frequent contributor to ECOS in Chile, won the 2003 Las Dos Orillas award, issued by the Salón del Libro Iberoamericano de Gijón, and was just published in Spain, France, and Italy. El naufragio de la luz (The Shipwrecked Light) is the story of an anguished community of islanders opposed to the attempts of a lighthouse keeper and his young lover, Mareika, to escape destiny. The couple are confronted with crimes that are not their own, but that overwhelm and threaten their basic instincts of life and death. In this novel, Hernán Neira displays a lyric style with deep allegoric resonances, directly related to the world of Joseph Conrad. A novel to enjoy good literature. -- Juana Paredes.