After a chance encounter at a Santiago nightclub, aspiring poet Gonzalo reunites with his first love, Carla. Though their desire for each other is still intact, much has changed: among other things, Carla now has a six-year-old son, Vicente. Soon the three form a happy sort-of family—a stepfamily, though no such word exists in their language. Eventually, their ambitions pull the lovers in different directions—in Gonzalo's case, all the way to New York. Though Gonzalo takes his books when he goes, still, Vicente inherits his ex-stepfather's love of poetry.
...heartfelt ... translated with sleight of hand from Spanish by Megan McDowell ... Without a doubt, it is his best work yet, generously infused with nostalgic tenderness, original humor, and Zambraesque storytelling vitality. Only a writer like Zambra—whose love for literature, insight into human vulnerability, and understanding of tumultuous history were expansively illustrated in his previous works—could have written Chilean Poet ... The intersection of familial and literary lives is infused with heartrending drama ... the novel is at once an emotionally resonant story about human relationship, and the procedural depiction of writing a novel about Chilean poets ... Regardless, both Zambra’s straightforward prose and his experimental poems all read naturally, thanks to McDowell’s astute translation.
There is a gentle joke in the title of Alejandro Zambra’s Chilean Poet that leads readers to expect some kind of highbrow Künstlerroman while actually delivering a novel of domesticity filled with prosaic records of daily life. This is partly because, as Mr. Zambra teases, Chile has so many damn poets that the calling has lost its mystique and become a national industry. But the greater meaning has to do with the difficult poetic potentiality for inspiration and transcendence, which this splendid book finds in family relationships as much as in artistic creation ... moves deftly among different points of view, arriving at Vicente’s maturation—inevitably, he too becomes a moody wannabe poet. His complicated reunion with Gonzalo is one of the best endings to a novel that I have read in years, a scene of beautiful emotional improvisation.
[A] brilliant poetical novel ... A topsy-turvy blend of bildungsroman and roman à clef, Poeta chileno ...amends the poetics of contemporary 'autobiographictions,' verifying the need to renovate their validity. Zambra does so by brilliantly coaxing his readers in each of the novel’s four parts to believe his frequently hilarious tales ... a novelistic epigone but primarily a charming, very rare, and disconcerting tribute to the poet’s vocation; a poignant settling of scores.