Sunday, April 01, 2007


My friend Debbie hit a moment of inspired genius when she gave me this book by Lisa St Aubin de Teran for Christmas. It 's a brilliant, exciting and quite astonishing read!

'Otto' is the codename for a Venezuelan who by accident joins the communist party and generally sees his role as overthrowing the government. The book is told in autobiographic format, as if Otto is sitting there, telling his story to you. In fact Otto, born into a 10 child family in 1934, has a deep and abiding interest in literature and philosophy, but always gets involved in 'the struggle'. Ironically he describes himself as a bit of a wimp, not at all the kind of guy who enjoys living rough and hiking through mud with a huge backpack on his back. He has a gift as an orator and even as a schoolboy, every time he gets wheeled out to make speeches, he ends up insulting the local governors. Things get so bad for him that aged 18 he has to flee Venezuela (which at that time had fairly violent governments), go to Franco's Spain (not the best place for a communist), and later he ends up in Paris, where on his first day he participates in a demonstration in which 14 Algerians are shot dead by the French police. He also passes through Germany, in the 1950s, less than 10 years after the end of the war, and describes daily life, where, working as someone's cook, he has to do the shopping daily and has to learn the seemingly complicated etiquette of entering and leaving a shop.

The first half of his life he spends getting involved in all sorts of often armed struggles (though he fairly quickly gets disillusioned with communism) - the Algerian struggle, the situation in the Czech Republic in the mid-1960s, he spends a long time in Cuba (including a friendship with Fidel Castro), a new struggle in Venezuela, where, after a major bank robbery, he has to flee the country with his mates, returning to Italy which is undergoing serious home grown terrorism, Paris, London where they live in a cramped terraced house with nothing to do, and where 'bombs and bomb scares were a regular feature of London life' .... Later he and his friends are involved in Chile at the time of Pinochet's coup, and finally he returns home, where the police are waiting for him....

He comes across as the intellectual who all guerilla bands (and probably regular armies, too) need; a guy who is much more inclined to use brain rather than brawn. It is interesting that his style of telling the story is very conversational, and not peppered with long words like some intellectuals might like.

Did I mention that this book is a novel, not an autobiography? And yet...first, it seems that the author and her husband are in the book (with the husband's name and her age of 16 at her marriage clearly identified), and secondly she writes that 'the book takes diabolical liberties with the real life of the Venezuelan revolutionary, scholar and sociologist Oswaldo Barreto Miliano'. Though you cannot find him on the net, but you can find many other people mentioned in the books. The amount of research that must have gone into this book is awesome!

Now, let's see - what other books has she written?


va said...

I seem to think i have one by her about railway journeys in Italy but I can't find it on Amazon. Also I have her Memory Maps

varske said...

Whoops posted that one before I had finished.

I think I have one about railway journeys in Italy, also partly autobiographical. I certainly have Memory Maps. I always thought that her early married life was an example of what mothers should warn you about, not to take the first chance you are offered to leave home. But she obviously survived quite well.