If you ever have the chance to go to the beautiful and diverse land of Chile, or even just spend time dreaming of doing so, you must read Pablo Neruda and Isabel Allende. The first is likely a given, but it’s the latter who imparted her own love of her homeland on me the most, and in turn made me feel I loved it, too.
If you want a novel wound amidst the backdrop of Chile you could read The House of the Spirits (her first published book), Eva Luna, Portrait in Sepia, and/or Inés of My Soul. Each of these tells a wonderful story and shares a piece of Chile’s past with fictional characters and stunning imagery. However my personal favourite of her books is Daughter of Fortune, which begins in Valparaíso but takes the reader to California during the Gold Rush and beyond. Really, you will nearly always get a taste of Chile when you read almost any Allende book – though she resides in the USA, her heart clearly belongs to Chile, and you can feel her passion for that country and it’s varied history leaping from the pages.
For a real, rich taste of Chilean geography, culture, people, history, and language, read Allende’s My Invented Country: A Memoir, in which she shares more closely the assassination of her uncle Salvador Allende during the coup of 1973 and her subsequent exile to the States.
Allende apparently always writes her novels in Spanish but rest assured, the English translations are still amazing. As a semi-speaker of Spanish, I can tell you that her translator(s) really capture the passion and spirit of the language, and nothing feels lost. Then again, I’ll have to report back when I finally (one day!) read one of her works in Spanish!
Chileans are very proud of Pablo Neruda and his notoriety, and I think it’s obvious why. Neruda captures the heart and soul of Chile by finding the beautiful in the every day, in regular life and in regular people, and in love, of course. I am not a giant lover of poetry (gasp!) but I do imbibe every so often 😉 I would recommend saving Neruda for your time in Chile if you’re planning a trip – but don’t miss out on his work if you’re not! For me, being in his homes (he has various homes throughout Chile that have been preserved and can be viewed) and then sitting and staring at the sea, the same sea and the same view as he had when he wrote them, and then reading his work over a glass of wine while the sun set on the same sea (and harbour, in his beloved Valparaíso) was much more powerful than just reading them elsewhere. Also, if you have any Spanish at all, try to muddle your way through some of his poems in their original language, even if you need to use the English translation side-by-side to capture it all. You won’t regret it!