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I don't much like the poetry of Pablo Neruda.  I loathe communists in general.  And I think General Pinochet did the right thing when he overthrew Salvador Allende.  But somehow, I love this story of a young postman on Isla Negra, Chile and the relationship that he develops with his sole customer, the great communist poet Neruda.

Mario Jimenez has no desire to follow in the footsteps of his father and most of the other men of the island and become a fisherman.  So he leaps at the chance to take over a postal route that requires only that he deliver the voluminous correspondence that comes for the island's most famous resident.  Timidly at first and then more insistently, Mario calls upon Neruda to teach him about poetry and language.  Then, after meeting a luminous young bar maid named Beatrice, he demands that Neruda help him to woo her.  Eventually Mario wins her love, in large part through his own poetical devices, including an amusing string of metaphors.

When Salvador Allende assumes the Chilean presidency, Neruda is sent to France as ambassador and Mario becomes sort of a surrogate set of eyes and ears for the poet, sending him observations and recordings of daily life.  Initially, life is good in the new Chile, but things gradually deteriorate in an onslaught of shortages, work stoppages and violence.  Neruda, who in the intervening years has won the Nobel Prize for Literature, returns home to the island to die and Mario is whisked away "for questioning."

Despite the down beat ending, this short sweet novel is filled with memorable, if overly idealized, characters, for whom the author clearly has great affection, and scenes of thrilling erotic passion and it is animated by a sense of the beauty of language and poetry.  I recommend both the book and the Oscar winning movie adaptation of several years ago.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Latin American
Book-related and General Links:
    -BIO: Antonio Skarmeta
    -REVIEW: (W. S. Merwin, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: (Michael Wood, NY Review of Books)
    -Article: NERUDA'S POSTMAN (José Piñera)
    -The Poetry of The Postman
    -Review: of   I DREAMT THE SNOW WAS BURNING By Antonio Skarmeta (James Polk, NY Times Book Review)

    -REVIEW: Roger Ebert
    -REVIEW: The Postman (Il Postino) A Film Review by James Berardinelli

PABLO NERUDA (1904-73):
    -PABLO NERUDA: 1971 Nobel Laureate in Literature (Nobel Prize Internet Archive)
    -Pablo Neruda (Bio from Nobel site)
    -Pablo Neruda Poetry Page
    -A site dedicated to Pablo Neruda
    -The Passions of Pablo Neruda (Realms of Existentialism, Katharena Eiermann)