“I Dreamt the Snow was Burning” by Antonio Skarmeta

Is that not the best title you’ve ever heard? I’m just totally enchanted by it, even more so now that I know where it comes from: a Chilean folk song. If you’re interested, you can listen to it @http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IStkuzilAQ.  I haven’t been able to find the full lyrics, but the section the title comes from goes:

I dreamed the snow was burning,

I dreamed the fire froze over,

And dreaming impossible things,

I dreamed you were my lover

So it’s not only a beautiful turn of phrase, but also fitting, because ultimately this is a book about impossible dreams.  For Arturo, the closest there is to a main character, that dream is to become a famous footballer and lose his virginity (he manages one out of two, but it isn’t as he’d hoped).  For those around him, and the author himself, the dream in question is a democratic Chile, ruled by and for her people, a place where workers own the means of production and community centers are full of blistering political arguments. The book takes place in the last days of democracy in Chile, before the military seized control in what I’m guessing was the early 70’s based on the football references. (Before reading this book, I knew nothing about Chile beyond the fact that it was briefly democratic before turning fascist under a military dictator who turned the national football stadium into a prison camp/torture center).  The last days of life in Chile, a poet might say; that’s certainly the way it comes across.  At the risk of sounding cheaply sentimental, all these beautiful people, full of hope but hardly naive, arguing over Lenin and Socialism, boisterous as a spring day and believers, every one.  Yet a shadow looms, of course it does, in the form of Arturo’s humiliation in the match of his career, taking place at none other than the previously-mentioned national stadium.  When he makes “contact with the ball, bringing it to earth with a blow of his boot which to many sounded like a corpse being thrown into a grave,” it’s foreshadowing at its most chilling.  So I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that the novel ends with the roar of tanks and the spit-fire of machine guns, doors kicked in and new martyrs with slogans half-spoken on their lips, the-people-united-can-never-be-defeated, an awful ruckus of shattering like I’m sure I’ve never heard, and then, in the end, silence.

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