Thursday, May 5, 2016

Pablo Neruda / A Passion for Life / Review by Rebecca Seal

Laureate of passion

Rebecca Seal on Pablo Neruda, a Passion for Life

Pablo Neruda, a Passion for Life
Adam Feinstein
Bloomsbury £9.99, pp422

Rebecca Seal
The Observer
Sunday 20 November 2005 01.43 GMT

There is no doubt that Pablo Neruda led an extraordinary life - poet, diplomat, Stalinist, communist, journalist, philanderer, husband and Nobel prize-winner.
Feinstein's book takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of that life, starting with his birth in 1904 into a somewhat itinerant Chilean family, made up of uncles who were in fact his half-brothers and sisters secretly born of his father's affairs. By the age of 16 he had left home for Santiago and his poems were already being published - even if some of them were, by his own admission, mawkish and adolescent.
The publication of Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair set the scene for the fame he was to have for the rest of his life, and allowed Neruda to start working as a diplomat (it was something of a Latin-American tradition to give poets a stipend based on diplomatic duties). In turn, this led Neruda towards communism and eventually Stalinism - something which resulted in him having to go into hiding and then exile, after the Chilean government declared him an outlaw. At the same time he managed to continue his political agitation, marry three times, travel widely and publish prolifically, eventually winning the Noble Prize for Literature in 1971.
This book is a loving portrait of a very unusual man. Feinstein has reverently pieced together information from memoirs, articles and interviews to create this biography, one of only very few written about Neruda. Unfortunately, that can make it read like a text book or scholarly work, and at times Feinstein slips into listing facts and events with little in the way of narrative or reflection.
None the less, this remains a fascinating insight into the life of one of the most important poets of the 20th century.

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