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The Neruda Case: A Novel Hardcover – June 14, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case is a sweeping mystery set against the backdrop of the Chilean coup. This unforgettable book is brilliantly imagined, and features the poet Pablo Neruda in a remarkably intimate role. Roberto Ampuero’s writing is exhilarating; he is a delight to read.” -- Isabel Allende, author of Daughter of Fortune and The House of the Spirits

About the Author

Roberto Ampuero is an internationally bestselling, award-winning author. He has published twelve novels in Spanish, and his works have been translated around the world. The Neruda Case is his first novel published in English. Born in Chile, Ampuero is a professor of creative writing at the University of Iowa and currently serves as Chile’s ambassador to Mexico. He lives in Mexico City and Iowa City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1st edition (June 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159448743X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487439
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #718,644 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Cayetano Brule, an unemployed Cuban in Valparaiso, escapes the tedium of a cocktail party one evening by disappearing into the library while the party is being held. He hopes to avoid chatting, but when an intruder enters and comments on the indignities of old age in vivid terms, Cayetano wonders aloud if the man might be a writer. When Cayetano turns around, he finds himself staring at Pablo Neruda, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, just two years before. Then Cayetano learns that Neruda has a mission for him, his first job as a private detective - to find a man Neruda has not seen for over thirty years, using skills he must learn through reading Simenon's Maigret novels and through on-the-job training.

Within the story of Cayetano's mission for Neruda, author Roberto Ampuero incorporates both the historical and contemporary history of Valparaiso and the political turmoil that roiled the country from the 1970s - 1990s. A ferocious earthquake in 1906 killed three thousand people and devastated the city, and in 1914 the Panama Canal opened and permanently ended Valparaiso's prosperity as a resupply stop for trips around Cape Horn. By 1971, President Salvador Allende, in the second year of his term, is the first Marxist ever to be elected president in open elections, and now, in 1973, Cayetano, his wife, and Neruda are ardent supporters, their politics representing an unusual point of view for most western readers.

As Cayetano tries to fulfill his task for Neruda, he travels throughout Mexico, Cuba, East Germany, and Bolivia, interviewing people from teachers to archivists. He is desperate to help Neruda, who is obviously dying of cancer. Dr.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As someone who reads about 2-3 books a week, it is easy for me to become jaded by the books on the market right now. The hyped books rarely deliver, particularly in the literary category, yet The Neruda Case turned out to be a pleasant surprise. The subject matter, dealing with Chile, Cuba, East Berlin and Bolivia in the tumultuous seventies, was fascinating and the tidbits about Neruda (I admit I am a fan) delightful. What I liked best, was Ampuero's frequent ruminations as expressed through his very likeable, very intelligent and observant protagonist, Catelano Brule. Ampuero succeeds in bringing characters to life as well as the countries they visit. While many novels fail nowadays with their political high-handedness and political pressure tactics, Ampuero offers a balanced, more philosophical (although some may find it cynical) view of politics and history through Brule's POV. I found Brule endearing, and enjoyed his observations about life, food, wine, poetry, and revolutionaries, as much as I did the mystery he wove. At times, particularly in the use of dialogue, I felt the translation (or the writing) fell short, but the narrative translation was poetic and beautiful. I would recommend The Neruda Case to anyone interested in the effects of politics on individual life and liberty, poetry and its relationship to reality, and philosophical questions about life, meaning, reality, the role of disguise in life, and identity. This literary mystery was thought-provoking and a worthwhile read. I only wish more of Ampuero's work was translated! For those wanting a traditional page-turning, impossible to put down mystery, this book is not for you. Rather, it is a tale to be savored, much like Neruda's poetry. Ampuero brought Chile alive for me and made me want to visit despite some of the tragic political events described. He is a sensual writer with a deep sensibility and connection to profound ideas.
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Format: Hardcover
Disclosure: I received an uncorrected proof copy for free from the publishers for an unbiased review.

The Neruda Case has a few things going against it, for many english-speaking readers:

It's a translation from Spanish.

It is a prequel, written in 2008 after a series of five Cayetano Brulé mysteries (not translated into English, so we don't know the character):

(1993), ¿Quién mató a Cristián Kustermann?
(1994), Boleros en La Habana
(1996), El alemán de Atacama
(2004), Cita en el Azul Profundo (novela policial)
(2005), Halcones de la noche

It's a really ambitious book, attempting to

1. Provide a backstory for the detective Cayetano Brulé

2. Incorporate the life, loves and poetry of Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda

3. Re-examine leftist thought and culture of the 1970s

4. Portray the idealism and tragedy of the brief Allende reform government

5. Explore the broader history of all Latin America, from pre-Columbian times to the present

6. And, of course, tell a mystery story.

For me, the best parts of the book were its historical elements; this is a great historical novel, immersing the reader in a specific time and place.

I learned a lot reading this book. It broadened my perspective.

I also liked the rich sensory detail, the feel and sound and scent of the cities Cayetano visits in his international quest, the way coffee tastes different in different cultures.

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