Truth be told, I’ve never read Marquez before, not 100 Years of Solitude, not Love in the Time of Cholera, nothing. I’ve always wanted to, of course, because anyone who reads always has a pile of books and authors they will read one day, however, Marquez has always slipped out of my reach for some reason.
This book came to me by accident at the library when I was looking for something else; out slipped this thin little book from the shelf from between 2 large tomes on South American and Spanish history. I recognized the author right away and as a lover of film found the premise too enticing to now even remember what I went to the library for in the first place.
But what did I think of the book?
I’m not sure what to make of this story. The book is billed as non-fiction and since a film was made in Chile during the dictator Pinochet’s reign then there’s no denying the facts about it. What intrigues me is how Marquez assembled this book and how similar that engineering is to the crafting and editing of a film – in this case over 100,000 feet of a donkey’s tail to pin on Pinochet.
The book was made after nearly 18 hours of conversation between Marquez and Littin. Marquez then had to pare down all that conversation into 10 chapters about 12 pages each. That’s very little material left from an enormous trove of what Litten did talk about. However, Littin too made the same decisions when making his film and cut down over 100,000 feet of film into a 4 hour TV film and then further down to 2 hours for the theatrical version.
Both works are documentaries and both are biased because, well, everything is biased. Anyone who tells you there is a state on non-bias is a liar. Littin, being a native Chilean and an exile made all his film editing decisions from that persona – a persona he can’t escape because we can never escape ourselves – even if we are forced to flee halfway around the globe. Yet Littin, in making his film, had to take on the persona of a businessman from Uruguay, he had to talk, dress, walk, and behave like a stranger. He hated doing it, he was exiled from his own body while back in his native land.
And this is where the bias comes into play. Even with 5 film crews all filming independently of Littin most of the time, Littin still chose what to film and what not to film. Allende and Chilean democracy and September 11, 1973 was always going to be memories of heroism. He would never ACTUALLY see those events through the dispassionate eyes of some foreign businessman. He may take note of how clean the cities now are and how many surface improvements have been made to Chile under Pinochet, but he would always be fighting him.
Marquez, in turn, when editing down all Littin told him, made decisions based on what he as an author would make for the best story. He chose to explore repeated themes all through the book that seemed to be speaking to a greater ‘truth’. Here Marquez, also against Pinochet, crafted an even more unreal reality of the situation in Chile at the time. Events all seemed destined to happen (“Children are more of a problem when they are grown up”), themes reappear (Love blossoming in the form of hearts carved into an old bench vs. the modern porn cinema and the ugly, naked dancer with the mole), images repeat in clever and subtle ways (the underground resistance vs. the miners who slave underground – the constant close shaves vs. getting the word for requesting a shave at the barber wrong ‘afeitar’ and not ‘rasurar’).
This work of reporting has become literature, the film’s become art, it’s become what the dictator Pinochet tries to burn down or restore in his own image. It’s sort of a mobius-strip of ‘where’s the truth’
And that’s where my problem came because I was never sure how close to the truth I was. Yes, Pinochet was a terrible, horrible dictator (that’s not the issue), but what about Allende? Was he really the hero of Chile? How could such a great politician, one who was reelected so many times that he joked his tombstone would read “Here lies Allende, the future President of Chile.”?
Worse still was that this was just about Litten trying to make the film. Very little light was shed on the people who helped him, though when the book did go there the characters were all much more interesting than Littin. Strange that a filmmaker was unable to really see his work though the eyes of the people around him and decided only to tell Marquez his own experiences, or strange that if he did tell Marquez, that Marquez chose to edit all that out.
Maybe what we have here is another book like the one described at the end called ‘Chilean Race’ that under Pinochet saw revived because it hilariously claimed that Chileans were the actual true direct descendants of the ancient Greeks. Maybe what we have here is counter propaganda?
I just wish I knew more about the subject matter to be more critical, but I could never shake the nagging feeling that something seemed a bit to ‘artistic’ about the whole book. Maybe Marquez was just unable to write himself out of the story, but then, how couldn’t he help it? How couldn’t Littin be near exploding to get back into his own skin and drop the fake persona?
Fascinating to think about, none-the-less.