Victor: An Unfinished Song by Joan Jara - review by Antony Beevor

Antony Beevor

Chilean Lament

Victor: An Unfinished Song


Jonathan Cape 278pp £8.95 order from our bookshop

On 25 May 1972, on Chilean television, Pablo Neruda warned the country that they faced the same threat of civil war as Spain in 1936. The similarities were not coincidental, but part of a common pattern when a popular front government faces a die-hard Hispanic establishment. In both cases there were: agrarian unrest including massacres of peasants occupying unused land; a flight of capital and economic embargoes; abortive coups before the main one; street violence mainly provoked by the extreme right, the Falangists in Spain and Patria y Libertad in Chile, then replied to by young militants on the left; and finally in the shadow of the military threat, the government's dilemma between trying to appease the army or deciding to arm the people, a move which would undoubtedly precipitate a coup.

Victor Jara's story might appear to prompt an even more striking parallel with that of Federico Garcia Lorca. Both worked hard to bring culture to deprived communities, both were vilified by the Right as homosexuals (inaccurately in Jara's case), and both were shot within a week of the military rising.

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