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.

The Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero

neruda caseThe Neruda Case by Roberto Ampuero, translated by Carolina De Robertis
Riverhead Books, June 2012
First published as El caso Neruda, 2008
Source: library

Roberto Ampuero is a writer, professor, and diplomat based in the United States and Mexico who was born in Chile.The Neruda Case is the sixth book in the Cayetano Brulé series, but it’s the first to be translated into English.

In this book, Cayetano Brulé, a fiftyish private investigator reflects back to his first case: the ailing Pablo Neruda hired Brulé to find the missing Dr. Bracamonte, an old friend of his who specialized in treating cancer with plants. The story takes place in Valparaíso, Chile, a coastal city north of Santiago, and the strongest parts of the story take place there.

While the book begins in contemporary Chile, the case Brulé remembers takes place in 1973, at the end of the Allende’s years in power. The actual investigation takes Brulé to various locations in Latin America and Europe (another one of those well-funded investigations), but I think the most vivid parts of the story, description-wise and action-wise, take place in Chile. The food, the fog, the political upheaval in Chile– all of these aspects of the story were more vivid for me than the search for the missing Dr. Bracamonte.

The search for Bracamonte feels very different than the Chile-based parts of the story. In part it’s because Ampuero introduces lots of characters and provides lots of political background about each country Brulé visits, but, more, importantly, the search for Bracamonte felt secondary to me because I was not very invested in the character of Pablo Neruda, who comes across as quite the self-absorbed womanizer. I didn’t care whether he found Bracamonte. Also, the female characters were not very developed they tended to be either sex objects or humorless revolutionaries, which is unfortunate. This book is not a pure detective story, and, as such, the plot tends to lag.

I’m not sure how representative The Neruda Case is of the rest of the Cayetano Brulé series of books in terms of style and plot. It is well-written and well-translated, but I didn’t care for Neruda, and I don’t think I was meant to.

An interesting review appears in Washington Independent Review of Books.