50 películas para ser feliz by Leonardo D’Espósito (Paidos), 368 pages
Some people might value cinema as a source of artistic inspiration or serving some morally didactic or political propaganda purposes — in the eyes of Leonardo D’Espósito, films serve the much simpler function of making people happy, banishing the problems of existence for a few magic moments. Although the memory can also linger forever to bring a smile to some of the worst moments in life. This cinematic bliss does not have to be either high-brow or low-brow — it can come from François Truffaut or John Wayne. Nor from any generation in particular — it can be Fred Astaire or the Beatles across 12 decades of cinema. Nor from any continent in particular — it can be Federico Fellini or Orson Welles or one of the great Japanese directors. All kinds of vision represented by the 50 films but, as Sheryl Crow sang, if it makes you happy...
La novena by Marcela Serrano (Alfaguara), 256 pages
Although perhaps not quite as famous among Chilean romantic novelists as Isabel Allende, Marcela Serrano is not far behind — and just as political. This novel is set during the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship (1973-90). Due to an absurd combination of circumstances university student Miguel Flores is arrested during a protest — his offence is considered light enough to warrant exile rather than disappearance so after a few days in a police cell he is sent to a remote agricultural area to keep him out of politics. There he ekes out a lonely and meagre existence, provoking fear or hatred among all his neighbours except Amelia, a widow living on an estate called La Novena (the book’s title). She sees the young student as offering all the cultural and social graces of the ëlite which Miguel detests. Yet as they come to know each other better, they both start to question their own prejudices and hatred turns into a mutual attraction. But no happy ending — chance and Miguel’s political activity ultimately lead to betrayal, the novel’s real theme.
El Pichi — la revolución de los frágiles by Eduardo Blaustein (Marea), 208 pages
Hitherto veteran journalist Eduardo Blaustein has been best-known for his books on the battle between Kirchnerism and the mass media, taking pot shots at the Clarín Group’s star journalist Jorge Lanata, but he now turns his hand to writing a novel about his own generation — the pichis or kids growing up in the 1970s. Their incarnation in this novel is Pablo, a secondary school student at the prestigious Colegio Nacional of Buenos Aires in those extreme times. His militancy in the Montoneros painting graffiti on walls and planting pamphlet-bombs soon leads to an early exile in Barcelona, which he cuts short with a return to his country — an ideological, almost religious approach to death. Blaustein seeks to describe the rare mixture of thoughts and emotions which go into creating this mentality of political violence, at times with an almost desperate humour.