Ways of Going Home

17934556Alejandro Zambra, 2011
Translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, 2013

“To read is to cover one’s face, I thought.
To read is to cover one’s face. And to write is to show it.” (50)

Ways of Going Home was a nice little surprise of a book. Written in four parts, it starts out as a childhood recollection of a young boy’s interest in his classmate who asked him to spy on his neighbor.  The first-person narrative of the boyhood story had an engaging sense of mystery set against the backdrop of a true to life historical Chilean earthquake. That mystery is abruptly turned upside down as the second part abruptly reveals itself to be the written from the voice of the author of the first part. Set several years in the future, the author discusses his struggling relationship with his ex-wife and his desire to share his story with her.

“She asked me later, half-joking, if the characters stay together for the rest of their lives…”it’s never like that in good novels, but in bad novels anything is possible,”… afterward I tried to keep writing, I don’t know which direction to take. I don’t want to talk about innocence or guilt; I want nothing more than to illuminate some corners, the corners where we were.” (48)

The third part revisits the story of the boy as a grown adult as he rekindles a relationship with that same childhood girl and the fourth revisits the author’s voice. The novel’s blend of a novel within a novel and a voice of self-awareness allows a reflective perception upon the intentions of the text that explores ideas of identity and family relationships. The childhood story and the earthquake take place during the Pinochet-era Chile and the author’s story takes place in the more democratic present. The reflection on the past and how those experiences influence one’s views and opportunities is an consistent theme throughout the book:

“Now that I think about it, there was a time when everyone gave advice. When life consisted of giving and receiving advice. But then all of a sudden, no one wanted any more advice. It was too late, we’d fallen in love with failure, and the wounds were trophies just like when we were kids, after we’d been playing under the trees. But Rodrigo gives advice. And he listens to it, asks for it. He’s in love with failure, but he’s also, still, in love with old and noble kinds of friendship.”  (54)

The fluid transition from a fictional perspective of a historical reality to authorial awareness and back to fiction allows the novel to achieve a blended sense of light somberness that questions universal ideas that extend beyond the Chilean history that sets the backdrop for the multi-perspectives of the book:

“Our story isn’t terrible. There was pain, and we’ll never forget that pain, but we also can’t forget the pain of others. Because we were protected, in the end; because there were others who suffered more, who suffer more.” (97)

 

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About hardlyregistered

The meandering observations of a 30 something guy.
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