Several years ago my cousin, who lives in Chile, insisted that I read Roberto Ampuero’s novel, Nuestros años verde olivo (link to Kindle version). Finding the book took some doing, and, when I finally got it, could not put it down.
“Nuestros años” is semi-autobiographical. Like Ampuero, the Communist protagonist had to get out of Chile in a hurry after the fall of Allende. He headed to East Germany, where he met and married the daughter of a Cuban general, and later they moved to Cuba.
And then he got screwed.
Today the Wall Street Journal has an article on Ampuero:
A Literary Ambassador
His autobiographical novel “Nuestros Años Verde Olivo,” or “Our Olive Green Years,” a reference to Cuban military fatigues, chronicled Cuba’s reality of scarcity and secret-police paranoia, and became a sensation in Latin America.
The novel, published in 1999, is one of a handful of texts by disillusioned Latin American leftists critical of Cuba and communism in general. “Latin Americans who knew real socialism from the inside or saw how it fell apart, mostly opted for silence,” says Mr. Ampuero.
The book put Mr. Ampuero on Havana’s black list. “Neither Ampuero or anybody who remotely looks like Ampuero will ever be able to travel to Cuba,” the Cuban ambassador in Chile said after the book was published, according to the writer.
Ampuero has written crime novels since, among them “El caso Neruda” (“The Neruda Case”), which, like Il Postino, features real-life writer Pablo Neruda in a fictional setting,
Brulé, the neophyte detective in “The Neruda Case,” could be a fun-house mirror image of his creator. The detective is a Cuban-American émigré who falls in love with a revolutionary Chilean student he meets in Miami, and follows her to Chile just in time to experience the bloody 1973 coup against socialist President Salvador Allende.
Just before the coup, Brulé takes on his first case on behalf of Pablo Neruda, the Nobel Prize-winning poet and Communist Party politician. In the book, Neruda is dying of cancer and wants to find a loved one who has been missing for decades.
The Neruda Case is now available in Kindle; so is Ampuero’s latest, El último tango de Salvador Allende. I’m adding them to my wish list.