If you’re been following my blog for a while, you’ve probably noticed over the last few years that I’ve been reading more fiction. You’ve also probably noticed a good chunk of that fiction has been international in flavor. Inspired by challenges like Rose City Reader’s European Reading Challenge, Mysteries in Paradise’s Global Reading Challenge and Love Bites and Silk’s Around the World in 80 Books Reading Challenge I’ve read books set in a diverse collection of countries such as Albania, Afghanistan and Algeria. (In addition to other countries not starting with the letter A.) But for whatever reason, I’ve neglected Latin America. Even though the region has produced a ton of great novelists so far I’ve featured only one piece that could be considered Latin America fiction.
Alas, no more. The setting for Luis Sepúlveda’s novel The Shadow of What We Were is Santiago, Chile. His translated novel tells the story of a small group of aging revolutionaries who reunite after four decades for one last mission. Pinochet’s repressive regime has come and gone and in its place a democracy rules the land. However, due to the inexorable march of time, combined with the elite and powerful’s whitewashing of national history, younger generations of Chileans have little memory or knowledge of yesteryear’s brutality. With the gang’s familiar haunts transformed by the forces of globalization and gentrification, and their former comrades dead or living abroad, like a band of modern Rip Van Winkles they venture forth into an unfamiliar world. But of course, things don’t go 100 per cent according to plan. That’s what helps keep this story interesting.
I liked how Sepúlveda told this story using quirky characters and blending seriousness and humor, much like Algerian-Italian novelist Amara Lakhous. Seeing the contrasts between old Chile and new Chile also made for entertaining reading. Overall, I enjoyed Sepúlveda’s novel and there’s a good chance it’s inspired me to read more Latin American fiction.