Antonio Skármeta: Nuevas Lecturas by César Ferreira and Jason Jolley

Antonio Skármeta: Nuevas Lecturas. César Ferreira and Jason Jolley. Lima: Universidad Ricardo Palma. 2017.  206 pages.

The recent publication Antonio Sáarmeta: Nuevas lecturas, (2017), is an important new collection of critical essays centered on new approximations on the literary production of the renowned Chilean author.  The new compilation, assembled by César Ferreira and Jason Jolley, offers ten recent essays devoted to various facets of the wide ranging and diverse work of Skármeta. These new readings of Skármeta’s narrative output, grounded in diverse theoretical models, offer fresh insights into many of his works. They also constitute an important contribution that is sure to open new spaces of interpretation as well as offer a deeper understanding not only of Skármeta’s vast literary corpus but also of the Post- Boom period in Spanish American narrative.

In the first essay of the collection, “Orphans, Adoptive Afiliation and Literary Paternity in the Narratives of Antonio Skármeta”, Jason Jolley carefully documents the idea that Skarmeta can be interpreted as a “literary pedigree” due to the formative influences of the Chilean poets Nicanor Parra and Pablo Neruda have had on the style of the syntax. This tendency can be observed in his earliest short stories as part of his transition away from the Boom toward a new Post-Boom esthetic. Furthermore, according to Jolley, Skármeta’s tendency to deploy a narrative strategy of “adoptive filiation” can also be seen as a constant in his work.  In his analysis of Skarmeta’s 2003 novel, Baile de la  Victoria, and Ardiente paciencia, (1985),  Jolley,  points to the tendency of orphans to actively seek parenthood as  alternatives to bloodline lineages. This constant search to overcome the stigma of being a huacho, according to Jolley is a recurring theme in Skármeta and it plays itself out in multiple novels and short stories by Skármeta.       

David Wood’s essay, “Body Politic: The Evolving Role of Sports in Skármeta’s Short Stories,” reveals the fundamental importance of athletic competition as a formative and didactic space in Skármeta’s early short story collections. Drawing from short stories in Skármeta;s early collections El entusiasmo  (1967) and Desnudo en el tejado,  (1969), Wood’s analysis centers on the concept of the sports arena as a metaphorical space that is essentially didactic and that opens new spaces for his characters’ transcendence and self–fulfillment, often in conjunction with formative sexual experiences of young athletes. Citing several of Skármeta’s short stories, Wood discovers an evolution in the writer’s metaphorical use of sports. While Skármeta’s earlier stories emphasize sports as a medium for characters to a new metaphysical awareness, later ones such as Enroque and Balada para un gordo, reveal how sports can illuminate political and ideological boundaries.               

In her essay  “Geographies of Space  and Time in Antonio Skármeta’s Soñé que la nieve ardía”, Cecily Raynor  thoughtfully analyzes Skármeta’s first published novel (1974) by highlighting   the circularity in the trajectory of the protagonist, Arturo, tracing his inception into political activism after his arrival in Santiago during the presidency of Salvador Allende and concluding with his return to his home in southern Chile after the golpe de estado that brings Augusto Pinochet to power in 1973. Citing Michel de Certeau’s work The Practice of Everyday Life,  Raynor points to the importance of the space afforded by the pensión, or boardinghouse in the political awakening of Arturo, which he experiences there alone. Here, in the space where has absorbed political discourse from others, his repeated utterance of the word compañero or comrade leads directly to his full political commitment to Allende’s Unidad Popular.  Rayno also underscores Skarmeta’s inclusion of Chilean youth slang and dialect which are included in many of the novel’s dialogues in order to capture the pulse of Chilean youth’s newfound political engagement in the rapidly transforming space of the boardinghouse and Santiago during the Allende years.             

Adding depth to this collection are two insightful essays that explore different dimensions of Skármeta’s novel La insureccion, (1982).  It should be noted that the origins of the novel date to Skármeta’s visit to Sandinista Nicaragua in 1980 with the German filmmaker Peter Lilenthal as a script writer for Lilienthal’s documentary on the Sandinista Revolution.  Skármeta eventually converts this experience into a probing depiction of the complexity of Nicaragua’s Sandinista revolution that culminates in 1979.  Drawing from recent investigations on the representation of the central  role of the “guerrilla” in a wide range of Central American novels,  José Juan Colín’s reading of the novel centers on the  collective portrayal of the Sandinista movement in Leon by means of a narrative strategy that uses a testimonial approach;  the multiple voices of Nicaraguans in Leon all contribute to the representation of two contending oppositional forces of the conflict. On one side is the guerrilla protagonist Ignacio, pitted against the oppressive leaders of Somoza dictatorship, Capitan Flores and Cifuentes. Colín also underscores the importance of women’s voices in the construction of a multidimensional new revolutionary amalgam, which in itself embodies collective and the weight of historical inertia, and whose culmination is the revolutionary triumph of the Sandinistas.   

The second essay that offers a new reading of Skármeta’s La insurreccóon  can be found in Esther Sánchez Cuoto’s essay “La insurección: Victoria menor en la revolucion Sandinista in Nicaragua”.  In her analysis, Cuoto captures and analyzes the nuances inherent in the emblematic character Victoria Menor, whose role is central in the thematic consolidation of the liberation of women as a fundamental precept inherent in the Sandinista Revolution.   The female body, interpreted by Cuoto in the novel as a metaphorical space representing Nicaragua, struggles for liberation in her coupling with the Sandinista guerrilla Leonel, and in doing so, erase the scars of sexual violation perpetrated by Somoza’s guardia on her as victim, and Nicaragua itself, in a larger sense.         

Ashley Kerr’s reading of “La chica del trombón” (2001) casts the protagonist, Magdalena, in the category of the Bildungsroman, and as an allegorical figure whose experiences and rites of passage find their parallels in Chile’s search for national identity throughout the twentieth century. Kerr points out that here again Skármeta’s preference for the orphaned state comes into play, serving as a blank slate devoid of defined origin onto which the progressive construction of Alia Emán can be assembled. After a series of formative sexual encounters, Alia ends up giving birth and thus symbolically aligning herself Salvador Allende’s Unidad Popular and its quest for the birth of a new Chile.  Finally, according to Kerr, Alia inserts herself into the forces of new national construction and achieves agency as the embodiment of women’s newfound activism as a political force in Allende’s Chile.

Allison Libbey Titus’ essay, entitled  “Intersection between Narrative Theory and Politics in Los días del arcoiris”,works within the  an analysis based on the relation between narrative structure and basic themes of the 201l novel. Titus’s reading centers on a thoughtful analysis about the precision and balance between form and content that Skármeta employs to highlight diverse aspects of his novel Los días del arciris.”  Titus asserts that narrative intricacy, achieved in part by the use of shifting between autodiegetic and heterodiegetic narrators and their use with distinct characters, is deployed by Skármeta to foreground central events in the novel. Titus provides ample structural analysis in her new reading of this historical text that concerns itself with the 1988 plebiscite and its impact on characters portrayed in the novel. In conclusion, Titus contends that, unlike many Boom writers who frequently tended to emphasize narrative techniques over story–line, Skármeta, in this novel, is able to achieve the opposite. Narrative technique functions here as a tool to enhance and accentuate the impact the plebiscite has on the two principal characters, Nico and Bettini.       

In his essay “ No pasó nada de Antonio Skármeta: entre exilio, penurias y aprendizaje,”  Germán Castillo offers and insightful reading of Skármeta’s well known novel No pasó nada.  Carillo situates the novel within the Bildungsroman/ entwicklungroman, tradition, using it as a framework that applies not only to the development of the novel’s central character, Lucho, but also to Skármeta’s  own personal experience of extended exile from his native Yugoslavia in Chile and Germany.  Here the themes of exile, personal growth of political engagement all apply to Lucho as he confronts problems in his own life as well as the Pinochet dictatorship from his home in Berlin.  Carrillo points to several key events in Lucho’s development that eventually lead to his achieving personal agency through defined political commitment: his relationship with the Kumides family – exiled from Greece in Germany- and his fight with Michael Kruger, a young German who later becomes his trusted ally in the anti- Pinochet crusade they collaborate with in Berlin.

César Ferreira’sessay, “Antonio Skármeta y el Post-Boom: Lectura de  El Cartero de Neruda (Ardiente  paciencia), is a two part analysis which first situates the work of Skármeta in its relation to the totalizing and ambitious narrative works  prevalent during the Boom.  As Ferreira aptly points out, Skármeta, along with the Argentine writer Manuel Puig, was a forerunner among Latin American writers who chose to consciously distance themselves from previous Boom writers such as Gabriel García Márquez and José Donoso.  In doing so Skármeta stakes out and explores new narrative spaces which Ferreira defines in part as a “new urban vitality,” which employs everyday language and references to popular culture but at the same time it opens new political commitments and a freer more open attitude toward sexuality.             

In the second section of the essay, Ferreira, offers a reading of Skármeta’s El cartero de Neruda that centers on the rural and inexperienced letter carrier Mario and the transformational learning experience he undergoes with the assistance of his mentor, the Nobel poet Pablo Neruda. In Ferreira’s reading, Mario’s role as literary apprentice from the master Neruda is extended into his initiation into the role of poetry in the courtship of his girlfriend Beatriz.  In conclusion, the tragic end for Neruda and president Salvador Allende as a result of the coup of 1973 leaves the legacy of freedom of expression and poetry, embodied now by the disciple Mario, as additional victims of the Pinochet dictatorship.     

The final essay in the collection “Erase una vez: La narrativa infantil de Antonio Skármeta by Jorge Aviles Diz, casts new light on the writer’s longstanding  propensity to include children as protagonists in his narrative. Drawing  from a wide range of works by Skármeta such as La composición, (1998)  Chispas, (2008) Insomnio (2002) and Galletas chinas, (2008) Diz concludes that the presence of children in Skármetas must be seen as a continuum that in many ways allows one to comprehend the whole of the Chilean writer’s output.  Furthermore, as Diz aptly points out, the major themes that constantly appear in Skármeta’s works, i.e., political engagement, exile and ethical stances, also constitute the thematic core of his works that are centered around children as characters. The portrayal of children is often described within the bounds and limits of the relationship they experience with their parents, with the outcome being, according to Diz, anticlimactic, with children such as Chispa, from the story of the same name, struggling to help his indigent father move forward in a world of pessimism and anguish.       

Overall, this collection touches on a wide range of themes and styles inherent in Skármeta’s work.  Seen in its totality, one finds several recurring themes that stand out and appear repeatedly.  Firstly is Skármeta’s conscious effort to distance himself from the models that predominate in the Boom, as both editors Ferreira and Jolley point out in their respective essays. Another recurring model in Skármeta’s narrative is the Bildungsroman, as several contributors affirm. The essays by  Germán Castillo, Ashley Kerrr and César Ferreira all point to this recurring theme in Skármeta’s work. In terms of the syntax and stylistic register, his work also opens new linguistic spaces as part of the Post Boom esthetic, as the essays of Jolley nnd Cecily Raynor aptly document.  In its entirety, Antonio Skármeta: Nuevas Lecturas, is a diverse and recommended array of new readings on the work of the prolific Chilean writer.

William Clary


Other Reviews in this Issue

Lennon bajo el sol
Antonio Skármeta
And we were all alive
Cicatrices y estrellas


LALT No. 4
Number 4

The fourth issue of LALT highlights underrepresented but deserving voices from across Latin America, with a focus on women writers as well as special sections dedicated to genre-bending science fiction, indigenous-language poetry and prose, and the essential relationship between author and translator.

Table of Contents

Editor's Note


Short Fiction from Peru


Translation Previews and New Releases



Latin American Science Fiction

Indigenous Literature

Dossier: Five Women Writers in Translation


Dossier: Colombian Poetry

Nota Bene