cover image Burning Patience

Burning Patience

Antonio Skarmeta. Pantheon Books, $7.95 (118pp) ISBN 978-0-394-75033-0

Set in Chile in the early 1970s, this boisterous tale traces the growth from innocence to experience of Mario Jimenez, a young postman whose sole duty is to deliver mail to Pablo Neruda, the most famous citizen of Isla Negra, a tiny fishing hamlet. Neruda, Chile's national poet and a Nobel laureate, bolsters Mario's romantic involvement with beautiful Beatriz by teaching the postman the magical, metaphorical language of poetry. Over the vigorous protests of Beatriz's mother and the villagers, the lovers wed. Puncturing local and national pomposities with unfailing wit, Skarmeta draws parallels between Mario's private life and the public turbulence and violence that gradually overtake Chile, bringing this sunny, erotic fantasy to a tragic close with the 1973 murder of President Salvador Allende and the death of Neruda. This imaginative, amusing and ultimately ominous story depicts the perennial and uneven struggle between raw power and poetry. (April)