Picks and Pans Review: Burning Patience

updated 06/29/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/29/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Antonio Skàrmeta

Set in a little fishing village on the Chilean coast, where the most prominent citizen is the poet Pablo Neruda, this is a highly original, brisk and broadly comic (except for the ending) novel. Neruda is befriended by a poor young postman and aspiring poet who calls on him for help after developing an uncontrollable passion for the tavern owner's pretty daughter. The mistress of the bar warns her daughter, "If you start confusing poetry with politics, you'll end up a single mother." During the course of this story Communists seek the villagers' votes, Salvador Allende Gossens is elected President, Neruda is sent to Paris as ambassador, and Chile falls into even worse economic straits. Because he is homesick, Neruda mails his young friend a tape machine and asks him to record the sounds of the gulls, the waves and the bells to send to him in France. Neruda returns home, gets the Nobel Prize for literature and then falls ill. Skàrmeta, a native of Chile who has written plays and directed films, now lives in Berlin. This novel conveys a special message about the lively spirit of Chileans and, indirectly, says something even more important about the country's troubled recent past. (Pantheon, $10.95)

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