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José Donoso: La desesperanza (Curfew)

This may not be Donoso’s most successful novel but it is still interesting. Mañungo Vera is an exiled Chilean singer who returns from Paris to Santiago the day Matilde Neruda, widow (and third wife) of the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, dies. He is accompanied by his six year old son who does not speak Spanish and whom he variously calls Jean-Paul and Juan Pablo. He links up again with an old lover, Judit Torre (the witch/victim we find in his other novels), and it is she that takes him round Santiago in the twenty-four hour period that the action of the novel lasts, dodging the curfew of the English title. The novel is divided into three sections – dawn, night, the next day. What this is novel is about is a Chilean – Donoso himself, if you will – confronting his ghosts and facing up to the new Chilean reality. Near the beginning of the novel Donoso writes Había llegado el momento para Mañungo Vera de transformarse en otro – The moment had arrived for Mañungo Vera to change into someone else. Vera has to face up to his reality as a father, as a singer but, above all, as a Chilean. Donoso’s portrait of Mañungo Vera and his odyssey through the Santiago night shows why he is one of the leading Latin American writers.

Publishing history

First published in Spanish 1986 by Seix Barral
First published in English 1988 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
tbAlfred J. Mac Adam