Burning Patience by Antonio Skármeta - review by Jean Gordon

Jean Gordon

All That Bla Bla Bla

Burning Patience


Methuen 128pp £9.95 order from our bookshop

Burning Patience is an energetic, charmingly ribald folk-like tale, the third novel by expatriate Chileno, Antonio Skármeta.

Set in a small Chilean fishing village, it is the story of the village postboy’s passion for the local bartender’s nubile daughter. To woo his Beatriz, Mario enlists the aid of the village’s most illustrious inhabitant (the only person who receives any post), who also conveniently happens to be Latin America’s most prolific and persuasive poet, Pablo Neruda .

His pursuit is obstructed by his fiercely opposing mother-in-law-to-be who believes the postboy is unworthy of her daughter: ‘he has no capital other than the fungus that grows between his toes. And if his feet are teeming with microbes, his mouth is as fresh as a head of lettuce, his tongue more tangled than a pile of seaweed’. Besides, ‘all men who start with words go much further later with their hands’. And sure enough, armed with Neruda’s romantic verse, the postboy eventually succeeds in conquest (consummation symbolically coinciding with Allende’s victory). But a greater force than mere lust is at work here; the more Mario parodies Neruda, the more he himself becomes seduced by words; he adopts The Great Poet as hero and poetry begins to take over his life.

Indeed, the influence of Neruda spreads and soon this entire, illiterate village is speaking in the figurative (except the contrary mother-in-law who, pronouncing that ‘there isn’t a drug in the world worse than all that bla bla bla ‘ confronts the metaphor with a barrage of proverbs and clichés. Skármeta

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