Monday, July 19, 2010

Book 15, Chile: “Fulgor y muerte de Joaquín Murieta” by Pablo Neruda

Yessss!!! Finally in South America! (Though in the real world, I’m currently in Munich. How did that happen?)

I’m doing an obscure play by Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda in the original Spanish, not to show off my erudition, but simply because I picked up a second-hand copy in Brazil a few months ago, and I’d never finish it otherwise, despite the volume itself being so slim. Truth is, I have doubts about its validity, given that the story mostly takes place in California during the Gold Rush – Murieta himself was a hstorical bandit whose origins may not even have been Chilean, but Mexican.

And yet! Neruda’s piece is so full of patriotism that it hella qualifies. (Plus we’ve got a big opening section about the departure from the port of Valparaíso, a location the miners long for throughout the play – when they’re not talking about their own villages and districts.) And according to Neruda’s account, Murieta was a hero who retaliated to the gringo Americans’ constant lynching of Chileans and Mexicans – specifically to the murder and rape of his wife Teresa – by going on a rampage and slaughtering white guys and gals willy-nilly (that’s the “fulgor”, me hearties), before getting mowed down himself (that’s the “muerte”).

It’s a psychedelic trip – most of the play’s performed as an oratorio, with choruses of men and women in poetry, and for some reason Murieta and Teresa never appear on stage, portrayed only by their voices offstage, refusing to embody the great idols of this legend, until the final scene when Murieta’s decapitated head speaks to us from its resting place on Teresa’s tomb – and then the audience breaks out in pre-distributed song decrying the war in Vietnam (this is another 1960s piece) and how people of colour will overcome. Strange, considering that Chileans themselves are pretty white.

But there’s also surrealism – el Caballero Tramposo, a devious trickster figure, who steals everyone’s watches for the gringo establishment, and even the Galgos (gringos) themselves, who gather in secret to recite a catechism of how they’re uniting to keep the coloured folks at bay. Not subtle, man.

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And there’s also slapstick, with the hardened miner character of Tresdedos bumping heads with the customs official Reyes, who demands loads of paperwork only to decide none of this matches up to the prospect of gold, leaves his job, and spends the rest of the play (quite sensibly) moaning about when they’re going back to Chile.

Rather fun. Haven’t seen Neruda so political before – all we read is poems by him about how gloriously beautiful women are, or panthers, or artichokes, or socks.

I’ll read Isabel Allende another time. Seriously, though, I haven’t read a single work by her. Shameful.

Representative quote:
Canción masculine

Así como hoy matan negros
antes fueron mexicanos,
así matando chilenos,
nicaragüenses, peruanos,
se desataban los gringos
con instintos inhumanos
hasta que por la vereda
pasa un caballo de seda,
hasta que por los caminos
galopa nuestro destino
y como dos amapolas
se encendieron sus pistolas.
Quién les disputa el terreno
y quién de frente los reta?
Es un bandido chileno!
Es nuestro Joaquín Murieta!

Next book: Some novel by Mario Vargas Llosa from Peru.. Screwed if I know.


JoV said...

Great blog. Malaysian checking in from the UK. I maintained a book blog too. see:

I would like to do similar world tour like you do.

Ng Yi-Sheng said...

Thanks! I love what Matahari Press is doing in Malaysia - have you checked them out yet?

JoV said...

I'm so oblivion to what's happening in Malaysia these days, but I'll surely check Matahari out! I'm impressed with the books that you read, and more impressed for Singapore libraries to stock these books, I don't think my library in UK would have those in stock!