Saturday, March 24, 2018

Chile: Camanchaca, by Diego Zúñiga

I have been intrigued by the area of Northern Chile that surrounds the Atacama Desert, the dryest place on earth, every since discovering that my great grandmother's brother, a Scottish mining engineer, settled there in the late 1800's. So when I read of this book, the author's first novel, I ordered it.

When it arrived I found a very slim volume of a little over a hundred pages, many of which carry only a few lines of text. The book tells of its teenage narrator, living with his mother in Santiago, invited by his father in the northern city of Iquique to visit him and take a road trip with him. The camanchaca is a low sea fog that is the only source of moisture in the desert. The story is told in fragments as if seen through fog, fragmented, elusive and with its outlines blurred.

I found the narrator a somewhat unappealing character - overweight, with bad teeth, uncertain about life. But the writing is compelling, with a sense of mystery about it, which is never quite solved. A quick, but not necessarily easy, read, which I found myself appreciating very much. The author was born in 1987, so it will be interesting to see what path his writing takes in future.

Camanchaca is translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell, and published in 2017 by Coffee House Press.

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