Summary of pages 80–100
Urrutia says that he returns to Chile to find his nation “not in a healthy state” (79) and wonders what is happening to his beloved land. In 1970, Allende wins the presidential election. Urrutia and Farewell are miserable. Urrutia begins reading Greek tragedies. He recounts the events of the next three years in rapid succession. Allende nationalizes mines and industries, Neruda wins the Nobel Prize, and Communist President Fidel Castro visits Chile. An anti-Allende march is organized as the economy under Allende begins to tank—there are shortages and inflation and long lines for food. Farewell’s estate is taken from him in the Land Reform. And as Urrutia continues reading ancient Greek literature, there are strikes and killings and a march in support of Allende and finally the coup in which Allende commits suicide.
Urrutia thinks there will be “Peace at last” after Allende’s death. Farewell dances for joy; he learns soon after that his estate will be given back to him. Pablo Neruda dies of cancer and they go to his funeral, but they are saddened that under the repressive Pinochet regime, the funeral for their Communist poet friend is not a “proper send-off, with eulogies and so forth.”
Urrutia’s poetry becomes demonic; he raves against women and homosexuals and depicts children in landscapes of decay. He doesn’t understand why he raves; his own life is actually calm and organized, and he never gets angry.
One morning, Mr. Raef and Mr. Etah arrive at Urrutia’s home and ask him if he is familiar with Marxism, and whether he has any books on the subject. Urrutia is frightened, thinking they are accusing him of being a Marxist, a virtual death sentence under Pinochet. But in fact, they want him to teach a class of General Pinochet and the other junta leaders and aides about Marxism. The job is to be strictly top secret; no one must know. And it’s an offer he can’t refuse.
Urrutia is given a week to prepare for his assignment, and then Colonel Pérez Latouche arrives to bring him to the home where the classes will be held. Urrutia changes into his cassock for the classes, but is not sure why he does so. He is ashamed of himself, asking “Who would have thought you’d come to this, Sebastián?” (90). But he feels he has no choice. All the military leaders file in.
In pages loaded with irony, Urrutia describes teaching the group of avowed Communist-haters about the basics of Communist thought. The leaders show ignorance and uninterest in the topic. At one point they ask whether Marta Harnecker, a Chilean female writer, is good-looking (Urrutia says she is). Other than that sophomoric question, the pupils don’t bother to ask very much; they just take notes, and Pinochet nods off. Attendance at the weekly classes is poor, and during one session when another general falls asleep, Pinochet leads Urrutia out to the garden for a chat. The priest timidly recites a poem about the moon, but Pinochet says dismissively, “Nice poetry.” The generals continue to talk about Harnecker, speculating about her sex life.
Urrutia teaches ten classes, and Pinochet gives him a rather cold goodbye. Urrutia asks if the classes have been useful, and the general says, “You may go with a clear conscience…you’ve done a splendid job” (95). But Urrutia is not so sure. Did they really learn anything? Did he do the right thing? What would his literary friends think? He wonders, too, whether Marxism is really evil, or if it is a kind of humanism. “Is it always possible for a man to know what is good and what is bad?” he asks himself, and breaks down crying helplessly.
Tormented by guilt about the classes, Urrutia finally confesses his secret to Farewell. When he has finished his story, Farewell narrows his eyes as if bitterly envious of the priest’s connection to power. He asks Urrutia what Pinochet is like. Urrutia tells him about a conversation he had with Pinochet, in which Pinochet compared himself with former presidents Allende, Frei, and Alessandri. Pinochet claimed that the other men were not intellectuals, while he, by contrast, had written three books, although they weren’t widely known and were about military strategy. Pinochet then explained that the reason he wanted to learn about Marxism was to know his enemy—to know exactly how far they will go.
Analysis of pages 80–100
When Urrutia says that his country is not in a healthy state, he is referring to the rise of Socialism, which he, as an elite conservative, opposes (and which author Bolaño supports). From 1964 to 1970, left-wing President Eduardo Frei Montalva led Chile, initiating a period of reform. In 1970, Allende was elected. During his rule, even more radical reforms were initiated with the aim of helping the working class and poor peasants.
The United States opposed Allende’s policies (as they opposed Communism in general—in Cuba, Vietnam, and other places) and eventually organized the coup that toppled him from power. Farewell and Urrutia welcome the fall of Allende, but they soon find that all is not peaceful in Chile under Pinochet. When the poet and national hero Neruda dies, they are saddened that Pinochet has forbidden a proper public funeral. In fact, the funeral procession formed anyway, as a mass protest against the brand new regime—hence the shouting and chanting and the two men hear, which they dismiss as “vulgar carrying-on” (84). The brutality under Pinochet is not described directly, but is echoed symbolically through Urrutia’s poetry. The misogynist rants, the anti-homosexual screeds, the cruelty to children found in his verse all reflect the actual state of affairs in the police state, in which women, gay men, and children are all particular victims.
The scenes of Urrutia teaching Marxism to anti-Communist generals are filled with ironic and satirical humor. The ignorance and sexism of the generals is made clear by their obsession with the sex life of Communist thinker Marta Harnecker (a real person). Pinochet hasn’t a clue about poetry, nor does he care, and his efforts to present himself as an intellectual are completely laughable. He is leader of a nation, and he knows not even the basics of political philosophy. He is simply a brute. But Urrutia doesn’t dare speak up to challenge him.
Urrutia does feel ashamed of teaching the generals—but his shame has much to do with what others might think of his actions. He still cannot tell for himself what is good and bad. He turns to Farewell for comfort, but Farewell is merely jealous and bitter. It is suggested that Farewell has the power and the desire to bring Urrutia down.