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The Shadow of What We Were Paperback – January 25, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sepúlveda packs more than three decades of Chilean history into this lean and darkly humorous novel. Three aging revolutionaries—Cacho Salinas, Lolo Garmendia, and Lucho Arancibia—reunite to pull off one final, spectacular heist, gathering in a hideout to await the arrival of the Shadow, a legendary Robin Hood–type anarchist. As the comrades with their graying beards, thinning hair, and chubby physiques wait, they revisit the past and ruminate on losses: after Pinochet's coup, Cacho and Lolo fled to Europe, while Lucho, whose brothers were murdered by the regime, stayed and endured torture that has left him brain damaged. Meanwhile, and unbeknownst to the trio, the Shadow lies dead on the sidewalk, struck down by a freak accident. Although the narrator frequently runs away with the story, trailing off into history lessons, Sepúlveda maintains a high level of suspense as the police investigate the Shadow's death, and Cacho, Lolo, and Lucho decide whether to go through with their plan, turning their collective sorrows into a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

Decades after they were forced into hiding by the Pinochet government, four aging revolutionaries reunite to plot one final mission, a coda to their revolutionary years and perhaps an act of resistance to today�s changed world. Actually, it�s only three aging revolutionaries: that night their leader, the Shadow, is accidentally killed by a falling record player hurled from a window amid a domestic quarrel. As Detective Adela Bobadilla, member of the first (and possibly the last) generation of police officers with clean hands, and her boss, the intrepid Inspector Crespo, try to get to the bottom of the mysterious death, our revolutionaries reminisce about their exploits, their exile, and the lasting legacy of the Allende years. Portraying his characters with gentle humor, Sep�lveda (The Old Man Who Read Love Stories, 1989; Eng. trans., 1995) skillfully lures readers into thinking of the aging revolutionaries as comic figures: silly, grandiose, perhaps overly nostalgic. But the Shadow, it turns out, had a surprise planned for his former comrades in arms, and, amid all the delightful levity, Sep�lveda drives home some deadly serious points about the legacy of the intervening Pinochet years and the possibility of justice. --Brendan Driscoll

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Europa Editions (January 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1609450027
  • ISBN-13: 978-1609450021
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.4 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #774,496 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I was stymied by this short book at first, and even after completing it, I was not sure exactly what I had read, though I recognized that humor and dark irony were at the root of much of the novel. It was not until I had spent considerable time looking up the author's biography, and the historical events in Chile with which he had been involved, that the full impact of this novel became clear. Ultimately, I found this to be one of the most interesting novels I have read in a long time, but it is complex, in part because of its brevity, and in part because there is no introduction which provides the background which many non-Chilean readers, such as myself, may want or need to appreciate this book fully.

At the heart of the novel is the government of Salvador Allende, a socialist who was elected President in 1970. Allende, a physician, promised better health care, among other things, and he immediately began nationalizing industries and implementing socialist goals. He was vigorously opposed by the right, by the judiciary, and eventually by the army (not to mention the Nixon administration). Eventually he was overthrown by the army, under General Augusto Pinochet on September 11, 1973, a date that echoes throughout this novel. Pinochet kept the country under military law, arresting many and "disappearing" others from 1973 - 1990. The author himself endured two and a half years in a Chilean prison. Like all five of the characters in the novel, he spent many years in exile after that, before eventually returning to Chile.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By user on March 21, 2011
Format: Paperback
The Shadow of What We Were is set in Santiago, Chile, where four old comrades arrange to meet for the first time in thirty years for one last rebellious act. They are former revolutionaries who have gone into hiding or have been in exile since Pinochet's 1973 coup. Told with dark humor, this slim novel deals with the devastating reality of dictatorship.

Most interesting are Luis Sepúlveda's remarks on memory--whether personal, political or national--which are stuck into pauses, when the characters are catching their breaths, and in the time it takes to meet the eyes of a comrade. Memory is a tricky thing. It can be fickle, completely dishonest or brutally forthcoming. It can also by manipulated.

While the three wait for a fourth who will never arrive, they recount their youth and the time that has passed. The men chafe against their oppressors all the while accepting that things will not change and knowing that "only fools or cowards could believe that one day the paternal handkerchief of the State would dry all the tears that had been wept or held in for more than thirty years now."

No, they do no expect anything. Exile and defeat have made them mere shadows of what they were. They still see that there is change to be made but do they have the conviction? "As he poured, the two men looked each other in the eyes for a brief moment and discovered the same shadows, the same bags under the eyes, the same historical glaucoma that allowed them to see parallel realities or to read existence as two narrative lines destined never to coincide: reality and desire."


But can you blame them? When the next generation does not have the "burden of nostalgia" or when your memories--your past--is taken away from you?

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