Reading Chile


It goes without saying that a great way to get acquainted with a destination is through the country’s literature. Those who are planning to travel to Chile will have plenty of options. Fans of modern literature probably know the works of Isabel Allende, a prolific novelist and cousin of the late Chilean president, Salvador Allende. Born in 1942, Allende has written several best-selling semi-autobiographical novels, including her first, The House of the Spirits (La Casa de Los Espiritus 1982) that tells a story of post-colonial Chile.

For poetry, you can’t beat Chile’s two recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda. Read our articles about their poetry for some suggestions. Neruda also wrote prose pieces, the most famous of which are his memoirs, published after his death. To learn more about Chile’s beloved poet before their Chile tours, travelers may enjoy Adam Feinstein’s authoritative 2004 biography, Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life. Another option is Chilean writer Antonio Skarmeta’s novel, Burning Patience (Ardienta paciencia), on which the popular Italian film, Il Postino was based. Though not set in Chile, it gives readers a sense of Neruda’s persona and an appreciation for what his countrymen appreciate about him, among other things, his talent for describing love. Serving as Ambassador to France, Chilean novelist/journalist Jorge Edwards followed in the tradition of the famed poet who served in the role decades earlier. Edwards wrote Neruda, Adios Poeta about his hero and friend.

Known for his use of magic realism, the first novel of Jose Donoso, Coronation (Coronacion), published in 1957, brought him international fame. Set in Santiago, it is a satire about the aristocrats. Passengers wanting to dive into some hefty reading before they travel to Chile should pick up a copy of La Araucana by 16th century Spanish nobleman, soldier and poet, Alonse de Ercilla. It is a magnificent epic poem about Spain’s efforts to overtake the Araucanian Indians of Chile.

If your Chile tours are to be a family trip, you may be interested in books about Neruda for young readers. The Hispanics of Achievement Series published a 100-page biography of Neruda in 1992. Another option is To Go Singing through the World: The Childhood of Pablo Neruda by award-winning biographer and illustrator Deborah Kogan Ray which includes some of Neruda’s poetry. Another good choice is Poli Delano’s 2006 memoir for young readers, When I was a Boy Pablo Neruda called Me Policarpo. Delano’s family traveled in the same diplomatic circles in Mexico, and the author-to-be got to spend time with the eccentric Pablo Neruda and his wife Delia.