Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Lifeby Adam Feinstein Published 08 Aug 2005
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Adam Feinstein's book is the first English-language biography of the Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Relating Neruda's remarkable life story and delving into the literary legacy of the man Gabriel Garcia Marquez called "the greatest poet of the twentiehth-century-in any language," Feinstein uncovers the details of this icon's artistic output, political engagement, friendships with a pantheon of important 20th-century artistic and political figures, and many loves.
"Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life" Reviews
Marvelous book, just the way I like a good biography: replete with a fascinating variety of details, all reported and described by a multitude of individuals who knew the great poet. The man had friends far and wide, from every profession and background. The author also took a fearless look at Neruda's shortcomings: his weakness for women and wine (not song, he apparently had a tin ear), and his refusal for so long to face the failures and iniquities of Communism in the Soviet Union, and the crimes committed by his former hero, Stalin. It all has the ring of truth, pulls no punches, embraces the good and the bad in one man's life. A long and excellent account, that reads well.
Neruda’s life was full and fascinating. At times I felt the author was struggling just to keep up with the chronology, but I can sympathize since the poet was everywhere- as one of the most famous Poets - and Stalinists - of his generation. He was a Bon Vivant and a bit of a spoiled child, having gained near instant fame in his native Chili - a fame and adoration that followed him through his life. The author spends much time on Neruda’s various romances and does a great job helping us understand his poetry.
Book Review - Pablo Neruda "A Passion for Life"
"To produce such truthful poetry I guess you have to have a pretty crazy life to go alongside that.." - Feinstein on Neruda
"A Passion for life" is a biography of Neruda written by Adam Feinstein. Written to mark the centenary of the poet’s birth.
It follows Pablo's life from Childhood, documenting his upbringing in Temuco, Chile continuing to describe his enrolment working for the Burmese embassy, his various lovers and marriages and the inception and writing processes to his various journal articles, and of course his poetry collections.
There is a great deal that I would like to write about this book. I read it in fascination, sometimes having to gulp in breath.
The passion that Pablo's poetry holds has always been an inspiration to me and will continue to be so, and the affinity that he holds with nature inspires my own writing. I remember the involuntary heart palpitations from my first reading of Residencia En Tierra and my fascination with the way he created such abstract scenarios that at the same time seemed to fit together perfectly. I was worried when first choosing to read this, that it was written by a third-party and not Neruda himself, and therefore could be inaccurate, but I didn't find this to be a problem.
Neruda's life is the kind that you can get embroiled in as a reader. His attention to detail becomes your attention to detail, his passion for life rubs off on you, and I can imagine Feinstein experiencing this effect when researching Neruda. He doesn't write in an over complimentary fashion, keeping his opinions on points such as Neruda's devotion to Josef Stalin, (suggesting that he was blinkered by admiration). Although Feinstein writes in an unbiased fashion, you can see his admiration for Neruda through the devoted way that he writes about his life.
What struck me was the detail that he uses. He included all important milestones for the poet, but also peppered the biography with kitsch little details such as the poet as a child, writing his first poetry into the paintwork of boats and scratching letters into the sand. The reappearing theme of the ocean is something that I really enjoyed throughout this work (whether or not this was intentional I'm not sure) but it gave a nice continuity to the work, helping Feinstein to stay true to Neruda's love of the ocean and marine life. Unlike some biographies, Feinstein makes this work lyrically sing as well as giving us a play-by-play of Neruda's life-events.
Whilst reading this book, I also read Neruda's poetry collection alongside it, which I found was beneficial to my understanding of the book. I would recommend this if you really want to get an insight into understanding Neruda's poetry, as sometimes he can be cryptic.
For example in the 1940's he took a trip to Guatemala and Peru and wrote his epic poem "Alturas De Machu Picchu"reading about his love for Peru alongside this really helped me to identify with Neruda's passions for the country.
I don't think many people are aware of the political risks that Neruda undertook in order to get his poetry published, or to promote his political message. I was bowled over by the devotion that he had to his cause, and the sense of humour and whimsy that he kept along the way. The way that Feinstein documents his life reflects this.
The book contains an in-depth amount of research and documentation, such as letters from Pablo's sister Laurita and love letters from the poet to his many dames (juicy love letters at that). The reader can really tell that Feinsteinmade this his life's work, and the dedication he has given to this is admirable.
I recommend this book if you're looking to read about the life of a great man, a political pioneer and a Lothario. It made me connect with Neruda more than I had previously, and made me want to travel the America's again!
After many trips to chile, I was overdue to read about chile's national poet hero after moving here. I'm not sure if this is the best biography since there may be other in Spanish which are better than this, but I loved the way it introduced the man, his poetry, and the time/place that was Chile during his lifetime.
Neruda's birth in 1903 was pretty nondescript - a sickly child of dubious parentage in the backwater south of chile - but by the time of his death he was one of chile's prize personalities, dying, significantly, with the fall of the first elected socialist government in a notorious coup. Neruda took up poetry early in life but quickly took up a role in Chile's diplomatic core to pay his bills. Although serious, and not so serious relationships with women was part of Neruda's story from early on, it was in his first posts that he ended up in his first affairs and marriage. The turmoil of these was a pattern of things which continued til late in life. Neruda's commitment to communism and Stalin in particular, gives insight into the political and idealogical attraction of radical socialism - in hindsight Neruda's particular loyalty is misguided but the rationale was understandable given the times. In the end it seems his celebrity helped elect the ill fated Allende government, whose fate perhaps also accelerated Neruda's demise and death.
And so, while politics became a central function of Neruda's life, it was his poetry which was always his real success. I have not read much poetry since high school, and while Neruda's poetry is mainly used to illustrate the changes in his life and writing style, I was able to gain an appreciation of the variety of voices he explored through his life. I've also stated reading a bilingual edition of his poems that has been on the to read list for the last few years. At this point, it is the imagery rather than the rhythm, rhyme or other literary devices that is catching my attention, and even then it's only a few lines in each poem. But I'm intrigued enough to persist in exploring his verse and may pick up some lyrical Spanish along the way.
Although popular in his lifetime, Neruda has become more since his death. I imagine to really understand why I'd need to be Chilean, however, there's enough in this biography to give some understanding. I have a few years here so it will be interesting to see if this one remains on the top three for capturing the national spirit.
I readily admit to being a bit of a sucker for literary biography. Feinstein's book takes us into the heart of Chilean literature, and his broad sweep also includes important Guatemalan, Cuban and Mexican literary figures through the 30s, 40s and 50s and on. Neruda was not only a man with an immense appetite for friendship; his experiences as a consular official in Spain during the civil war, particularly his exertions to help thousands of republican refugees leave Spain on a ship chartered by the Chilean government, will captivate those who look back wistfully to an age when writers did not just describe the shapes of their navels or their feelings in their fingers and toes. An essential read for anyone interested in 20th century literary history in Spain and Latin America.
Adam Feinstein makes a good fist of encapsulating the life of one of the 20th century's greatest writers within 400 pages. He doesn't gloss over Neruda's shortcomings - particularly his delayed condemnation of Stalinism and the deceptions of his love life - but overall what emerges is a life in which commitment triumphs over existentialism. Even in his dying days, when many of his political hopes were crumbling as the coup against Allende took hold, there is a sense that human dignity will prevail. And the excerpts from the poetry throughout his life - from the Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair through to the later odes - makes one want to reach for his collected works and delve in once more.