cover image A Distant Father

A Distant Father

Antonio Skarmeta, trans. from the Spanish by John Cullen. Other Press, $15.95 (112p) ISBN 978-1-59051-625-6

The disillusioned yet hopeful narrator of Skarmeta’s (The Postman) slim and subtle novel is Jacques, a 21-year-old school teacher and literary translator based in the village of Contulmo in southern Chile. Two years after his father suddenly abandons him and his mother, Jacques befriends the miller, Cristian, who was close to his dad. When Jacques isn’t spending time with his devastated mother or Cristian, he works on translations of French poems and Raymond Queneau’s Zazie dans le metro, with ambitions of making a name for himself in print. Jacques takes a trip to Angol to sleep with prostitutes and bumps into his estranged father, Pierre, who now runs a movie theater and has a baby. Upon Jacques’s return to Contulmo, his outspoken student Augusto Gutiérrez convinces him to attend his 15th birthday party and promises to set Jacques up with his older sister on the condition that he take him along to visit the brothels the next time he goes to Angol. At the party, Jacques learns a secret about his father’s baby, which inspires him to put a “plot” into action. Skarmeta treats his characters with a tender hand and, with impressive economy, balances dark humor with a sober and realistic portrait of a stagnant culture whose people are always longing for something better. [em](Sept.) [/em]