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- Skármeta, Antonio — El cartero de Neruda (130 pages)
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I was reading The Postman in July when I suddenly realized I had a postal theme going. Wouldn't it be nice, I thought, to keep that going with a third (and perhaps more) postal themed title? I mentioned this to JC, and expressed regret that I had already read Bukowski's Post Office last year. "How about Il postino?" he suggested. Well, aside from getting the title totally wrong — Il postino is the movie; El cartero de Neruda is the book on which the movie is based — I thought it a brilliant idea. After all, it continues the postal theme, it features one of my favorite poets, and it's been sitting on my shelves for a few years waiting to be read.
I'm sure most of you are familiar with the movie. Aside from changing the setting from a fishing village in Chile to a fishing village in Italy as well as a few subsequent biographical details that had to be amended, the movie is fairly faithful to the book. One key element is absent from the movie, though. We get the homage to Neruda, but the love story between Mario and Beatriz gets more prominence while downplaying the homage to the common man. The political element is very much downplayed in the movie. El cartero de Neruda is a romanticized look at what life was like in Chile in the early 1970s. Yes, Neruda was very much a part of that, not only for being a poet of the people but also for his involvement as presidential candidate (eventually giving way to Allende), but so was the gradual modernization of the country and infrastructure improvements, political rallies, popular music of Latin America, the US, and Europe, and of course the Pinochet coup. El cartero de Neruda captures these things brilliantly. But above all, Skármeta captures, through the crucible of Mario Jiménez, the hopes and and aspirations, the struggles, the daily life of common prople. El cartero de Neruda is a magical book that packs so much depth into its slim 130 pages.
I read El cartero de Neruda in the original Spanish, of course. It was an eye-opening experience. Spanish is the first language I learned, and naturally I am completely fluent. But none of my schooling was in Spanish, and there is a big difference between conversing with friends and family and reading literature. I found myself looking up several words per page, which made progress slow. This was a rewarding endeavor, though, as El cartero de Neruda (and especially the dialogue between Mario and Neruda) was a sheer pleasure to read.