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Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life by Adam Feinstein – review


A fascinating biography of the Chilean poet that paints him as exuberant and heroic

"The apolitical writer is a myth created and given impulse by modern-day capitalism," declared the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. In this fascinating biography Adam Feinstein shows how Neruda evolved from a bestselling love poet into a world-famous political poet speaking up for the exploited and downtrodden; his poem "Let Me Explain a Few Things", for instance, written in response to the Spanish civil war, renounces flowers and metaphysics for the repeated line "Come and see the blood in the streets." Feinstein's Neruda is exuberant, gregarious, generous and humane, even heroic (notably helping 2,000 refugees escape Franco's Spain in 1939 and achieving his own daring escape from Chile over the Andes in 1949), although not without faults (infidelity and an unwavering admiration for Stalin). He died of cancer in 1973, just days after General Pinochet's military coup and, as Feinstein explains in a new afterword, persistent rumours that Neruda was poisoned on Pinochet's orders led to his body being exhumed earlier this year. This month it was confirmed that no traces of poison were found.

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