The Name of a Bullfighter by Luis Sepúlveda

name of a bullfighterThe Name of a Bullfighter by Luis Sepúlveda, translated by Suzanne Ruta
Harcourt Brace, 1996, originally published as Nombre de torero, 1994
Source: library copy

So reading and blogging-wise, I’m still on a Latin American crime novel kick. It’s due in part to a batch of Latin American novels arriving by interlibrary loan recently, but  I also chose to read The Name of a Bullfighter specifically because (honestly) it’s short. Despite my less than stellar motives for seeking out this book, I’m happy I read it.

The Name of the Bullfighter is the story of two men racing to recover gold coins stolen from the German government and hidden in Chile for fifty years. It’s a very spare, bleak story that follows first Juan Belmonte, the man who shares the name of a bullfighter, who was a Marxist guerilla throughout Latin America before settling in exile in Hamburg, Germany, and second Frank Galinsky, a former Stasi intelligence officer. The plot is not the most important part of the story: the chase for the gold is mainly a device for Sepúlveda to talk about guerilla movements throughout Latin America (See the note at the bottom of this post to read more about Sepúlveda’s own life) and his disillusionment with the left. I don’t think you need an extensive knowledge of Latin American political history before reading this story because Sepúlveda provides plenty of background.

Belmonte is the most-developed character in this story:  his story of exile and returning to Chile was the heart of the book. The book as a whole was quite short, and the plot was fairly brisk: I didn’t feel like I needed to get close to the other characters. The book is bleaker than what I usually read, but it was an interesting take on Latin American history.

I encourage you to read a brief biography of Luis Sepúlveda.

Another review appears in Two Weeks Notice.

9 thoughts on “The Name of a Bullfighter by Luis Sepúlveda

  1. Rebecca – Oh, I’ve heard good things about this one. I know what you mean, too, about the plot not being the most important part of the story. Sometimes a novel is carried by strong characters or atmosphere and that can be terrific, too. Oh, and you’re not the only one who at least sometimes chooses a book because it’s short…

    • Margot- It’s a short book so there’s not a lot of room for a long plot. I’m glad that this new-to-me author was a pleasant surprise. I’m glad I tried it out.

  2. This sounds like a very interesting story. (And I really like short novels. I have some very long ones I keep putting off.) I have not read many (if any) Latin American novels and I will have to correct that. Thanks very much for the review.

    • You’re welcome Tracy! I’ve only read a handful of Latin American crime novels, but I’m interested in trying more. The Global Reading Challenge is a good way for me to try more authors.

  3. Hi Rebecca – thanks for supplying another Latin American author! I too am doing the Global Reading Challenge. How are you finding the Latin American authors? I’m struggling with that area as well as Africa.

  4. Do you think that Kramer is really Ulrich Heim? And to whom was Ulrich Heim sending the letter that he wrote in 1991 from Berlin (chapter two) where he lays out the story of how he and Hans got the coins and how he was later tortured? A terrific book for characters, atmosphere and political awareness.

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