Remembering the great Luis Sepúlveda

On April 16, 2020, the unique Chilean writer Luis Sepúlveda passed away in a hospital of Oviedo, Spain, as a result of a Coronavirus infection he had contracted while he was attending  a literary meeting in Portugal; he was the first known case in that region.

His literary and social activism spanned many decades, starting as a Communist militant that worked in the government of President Salvador Allende; in the repressive aftermath of the military coup of Pinochet he was jailed and after two and half years of prison he was granted house arrest thorough the benevolent auspices of the German branch of Amnesty. He escaped his home and joined the director of the Alliance Française of Valparaiso to create a drama group, the very first focus of  resistance against the dictatorship.  Arrested yet again, his prison sentence was commuted for seven years in exile.

He was supposed to end up in Sweden to teach Spanish literature but he absconded from his flight in an airport stop-over in Montevideo, Uruguay, and trekked to Quito, Ecuador, where local writers sheltered him; he created another drama group in the local Alliance Française. He joined an UNESCO expedition to study the customs of the Shuar Indians, living six months in the jungle: there he renounced Marxism-Leninism  for good as he understood that this ideology could not apply to mostly impoverished, illiterate, rural inhabitants. As we say In Spanish: “era muy parco” (he was very sparing with his words)


In 1988 he won the Tigre Juan Award for his novel El viejo que leía las novelas de amor  and in 2009 he won the Premio Primavera de Novela for his novel La sombra de lo que fuimos. Contrary to other famous Latin American writers that excelled in the flourish of nicely sounding adjectives and smart names to deploy in their lines, he was more interested in conveying the greatest number of details with the fewer number of words, a literary technique akin to the very best of Ernest Hemingway. Thus he shared the paucity of words of the Native Americans who have always considered themselves more attuned to Nature’s rhythms and avoided verbosity. In fact, when the Europeans came to the American continent, they wrongly assumed that, because natives spoke few words, they were somehow mentally deficient.

In a future article of our section Foreign Book Review we will review and comment one of his novels. In the meantime we offer you a simple descriptive phrase from it:

“Le hablan a la selva y sólo la lluvia les responde”

(They talk to the forest and only the rain responds)