“It was the headline of il manifesto, and the friendly newspaper dropped in my hand while I was walking down a road in Rapolano, near Siena.” These are the first words of the chapter in which Luis Sepúlveda remembers the disappearance of his friend “Manolo” — that is Manuel Vázquez Montalbán. But in those 300 pages of Storie Ribelli (Rebel Stories), which the Chilean writer will release on Sept. 17 at Pordenonelegge, there are also many other stories, characters, facts (even the kidnapping of Giuliana Sgrena and the murder of Nicola Calipari). There are, in short, the stories of a long, human, political and civil history. We spoke with the author about it.
You are a very beloved writer in Italy. And you often come to visit us. Have you ever thought about living here?
I’ve thought more than once about living in Italy. But one danger has restrained me: I would weigh more than 400 pounds after a year. There is nowhere in the world you can eat better than in Italy.
A couple of months ago, finally, you regained your Chilean citizenship. After 31 years, the government has decided to put an end to an injustice. The story of that event at the consulate opens your new book “Rebel Stories.” How does it feel to be a citizen of your own country again? Will you go back to live in Chile?
It is good when finally an injustice is resolved, but nothing else. I am not a patriot, I am an internationalist. Now as a Chilean citizen, I can vote and my opinion on social and political issues becomes a little more legitimate. Here, that’s all. There is no significant emotional or cultural change. I do not think I’m going to move back to Chile, I’d rather continue living Chile through my memory and my remembrances.
Was the stateless status very harsh?
It is a terrible condition because a stateless person is suspected of everything and nothing. During border checks at airports, policemen do not know what to do, a stateless person is stripped of all rights.
In “Rebel Stories,” you retrace 40 years of personal life, and not just through militant writings in which you narrate, denounce and accuse. Is this the reason why you write? To give voice to the voiceless?
I have always been very proud of my militant generation, hundreds of thousands of young people trying to change society. I am a survivor of a sacrificed generation, many of those who have been my comrades are dead or are passing, I am their voice. As long as I live, the voices of my companions will remain alive. That’s why I write.
In the first chapter of this book, you remember Óscar Lagos Ríos, the youngest of Allende’s escort, who died when he was 21 years old “in the darkest day of Chile’s history.” You were also part of the Gap and that Sept. 11, 1973, you were at the center of this story, which started there and always circles back there. What sentiment prevailed, anger or fear?
The feeling that prevails is a mixture of pain and pride. Pain for the lost, sacrificed lives and pride of having been together with those extraordinary people. Every time I go to Santiago, I visit the cemetery and go to the tomb of the Gap’s comrades. There, I stand in front of the tombstone on which the name of Óscar Lagos is written on and I tell my oldest son that Óscar took him in his arms when he was newborn; he is now a man married to a beautiful woman and father of two children. And when it is time to go, I say by to Óscar saying, “It was an honor to share those hard years with you, mate.”
Have you ever thought you would not be able to make it, for example, during the period when you were a victim of torture?
Like all the militants who suffered torture or were in the concentration camps, I knew why I was in that situation. I do not often talk about that experience, but I always remember that those of my mates who were released, were not able to stand up, with broken bones, bruises all over their bodies, and the first thing they said was “I did not speak, I did not say anything.” The courage of these men and women is my moral foundation, it is the milestone that holds me.
Of Pinochet, you write, “there is absolutely nothing worthy of remembrance, perhaps only the stench.” Of Allende, you remember “his political and human integrity.” This book also contains many other portraits, not only of friends but also of people you don’t like, from the “infamous who allowed Pinochet to avoid the right process” to such beloved writers like Chatwin or Coloane. Is there any individual you still have not talked about but to whom you would like to dedicate some pages, perhaps in a future book?
I’m slowly working on a book, with the provisional title of “Gratitudes,” where I speak of writers, painters and other artists, teachers, to whom I owe a lot. I have always thought that there is no saddest orphan than the writer without teachers and I am very grateful to my teachers.
In “Rebel Stories,” you also speak of the struggle with the masters of the sea. Are the environmental battles still among your main interests?
Environmentalism is one of my political concerns, I know very well that crimes against the environment have an economic origin and everything that is economical is inherently political.
How do you imagine Chile’s future?
It is very difficult to imagine the future of an apathetic country, socially ruined and politically inert and unable to imagine an alternative to the prevailing neoliberalism. It is true that there are areas of society that really and properly reflect the reality and the possibility of changing it, but unfortunately they are only a minority. In other countries with neoliberal governments, the state has weakened almost to extinction. In Chile, the State has become a corporation serving the interests of the multinationals, which own the country. It is true that there are political forces that are hypothesizing a change, but without knowing how this change can be implemented coherently. It is difficult to imagine the future of Chile.
And what do you think what about the current, very difficult situation in Venezuela?
I have always been quite critical of the chavista movement and this meant for me many discussions with my Neanderthal left-wing colleagues. No matter how much oil a country can have, there is no political and cultural growth if the entire economy is based on extracting raw materials without diversification, without accepting the challenge of new technologies or the need to promote renewable energies. After Chávez’ death, it is evident that his successor, Maduro, was not the most suitable individual, nor the strongest from an intellectual point of view, to deepen the so-called Bolivarian revolution.
Venezuela is a country that went from the biggest corruption to a revolutionary attempt that has not been able to explain why the need to change the nature of a corrupt state into a solidarity state. One cannot ignore that the United States has been trying to destabilize Venezuela from the first day of chavism.
However, Venezuela has a problem that needs to be resolved by Venezuelans, without foreign interference. The greatest problem is not that Maduro may take a dictatorial route or that opposition leader Lilian Tintori was surprised with an unlucky fortune in her car. The problem is oil, the black gold under the soil of its forests and plains.
One of your most loved and most read books is “History of a gull and the cat that taught her to fly.” Will you write more fairy tales?
Yes, I really enjoy the fairy tale as a literary genre and I’m working on a new story.
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