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The Shadow of What We Were – Luis Sepùlveda – 7/10

ShadowOWWWThe Shadow of What We Were by Luis Sepùlveda, kindly provided for review by Europa Editions.;

Summary (from inner cover): Three old comrades-in-arms have been called together at the behest of the anarchist, Pedro Nolasco – a.k.a. The Shadow – to carry out one last recolutionary gesture before time and age get the better of them. They agree to reunite in a warehouse in Santiago. it will be their first meeting since going underground after Augusto Pinochet's 1973 coup. They settle on a date, a location, a secret password. But a cruel and darkly comic destiny waylays their illustrious leader.

Firstly, the translation is excellent – the tone is consistent, characters are identifiable by their style of dialogue and a flavour of the original language has remained in the economical writing.

The story reminded me of 100 Years of Solitude, with the bleakly humorous misadventures of the imperfect characters and the rambling dialogue. I was horribly ignorant of the history, so the little bit of education I received about the Pinochet coup and what followed was rather useful, especially in such an easily-digested form. The references to European locations made it a little more accessible for me, particularly the recurring mentions of Germany. 

Some gems I enjoyed:

– the opening gambit of the bank robbery story

– "historical glaucoma" – Sepùlveda hit that nail on the head…

– the flying gramophone passage reminded me very strongly of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy!

– the old man and young woman police partnership. 

The book was a mere 132 pages long and I liked the publication style, paperback but with inner flaps like a hardback.

Not a book I loved, but that's no fault of the book itself, just that it didn't quite push all my buttons.


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