against magic realism: chilean writer alberto fuguet’s cinematic obsession

Cover Image

 Alberto Fuguet



In a country full of missing people, disappearing is easy. All the efforts are concentrated on the dead, so those of us who are among the living can fade quickly away. They won’t come looking; they won’t even realize you’re gone. If I’ve seen you before, I don’t remember. You see, everyone down there has bad memories. Either they don’t remember, or they simply don’t want to.

A professor once told me that I was lost. I replied that in order to lose yourself, first you’d have to know where you are.

Then I thought: What if it’s the reverse?

I was erased for fifteen years. I abandoned everything, including myself. There was a quiz I never took. My girlfriend was having a birthday party and I never showed up. I got on a bus bound for Los Vilos. I didn’t have a plan; it just happened. It was what had to happen, and there was no turning back.

At first I felt guilty. Then pursued. Would they be after me? Would they find me? What if I run into someone?

But Ididn’t run into anybody.

They say that the world is a handkerchief. It’s not. People who say that don’t know what the world is like. It’s huge and—above all—strange and foreign. You can roam far and wide and nobody will care.

Now I’m an adult. In some ways. I’ve got hair on my back, and sometimes the zipper doesn’t zip. I’ve been to a lot of places and done things I never thought I’d do. But you survive. You get used to things. Nothing is so bad. Nothing.

I’ve been to a lot of places. Have you been to Tumbes? To the port of Buenaventura?  Or San Pedro Sula? What about Memphis?

Like a puppy, I followed a Kmart checkout girl as far as El Centro, California, a town that smelled of fertilizer. The relationship started off better than it ended. Then I went to work in the casinos in Laughlin, Nevada, that lined the Colorado River. I lived in a house  cross the way in Bullhead City with a woman named Frances and a guy named Frank, but we never saw each other. We left each other notes. Both of them were bad spellers.

Once, in a diner in Tulsa, a woman told me that I reminded her of her son who’d never come home. “Why do you think he left?” she asked. I said I didn’t know, but maybe I did.

Or maybe not.

Without wanting to, I ended up teaching English to Hispanic children in Galveston. The Texas flag looks a lot like Chile’s. One of the girls died in my arms. She fell off the swing set: I’d pushed too hard and she flew out of her seat. It seemed like she flew for two minutes through the hazy Gulf sky. I didn’t want to hurt her, but nevertheless I did. So . . . what?

What can you do?

Have you been to Mérida, on the Yucatán? In the summer there it hits 108 degrees, and they close off the downtown area on Sundays so the people can dance. Sometimes I find a girl and join in.

Last year I decided to Google my own name. Maybe they were searching for me. But even I couldn’t find myself. Just a guy with the same name as me who lives in “Barquisimeto, Venezuela,” and has a dental practice. He has three children and believes in God.

Sometimes I dream about living in Barquisimeto, having three children, and believing in God. Sometimes I even dream that they have found me.

—from Alberto Fuguet’s Shorts, 2005. Translated by Ezra E. Fitz.

Born in Santiago de Chile, Alberto Fuguet spent his early childhood in California. He is one of the most prominent Latin American authors of his generation and one of the leaders of the literary movement known as McOndo, which proclaims the end of magical realism. He has been a film critic and a police reporter. He lives in Santiago.

Continuing the cinematic obsession which informed his novel The Movies of My Life (2003), in Shorts Fuguet offers eight filmic "shorts"—each of which is prefaced by a black-and-white photograph—which range from the two-page story “Lost” (about a suffering existentialist) to a 100-page novella—stories with a movie-like realism and which are shot through with the authentic feeling of cinéma vérité.