Overview

Beltrán Soler es de Chile, una tierra que se mueve. Es, además, un sismólogo que sabe más sobre las placas tectónicas que de la vida. Camino a Tokio, hace escala en Los Angeles, donde pierde el avión y se enfrenta a un temblor que lo remece. De pronto, las cincuenta películas más importantes de su vida, aquellos filmes que vio durante su infancia y adolescencia en los 60 y los 70, lo acosan.

Desde Willy Wonka y la Fábrica de Chocolates a Encuentros Cercanos del Tercer Tipo, ...

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The Movies of My Life

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Overview

Beltrán Soler es de Chile, una tierra que se mueve. Es, además, un sismólogo que sabe más sobre las placas tectónicas que de la vida. Camino a Tokio, hace escala en Los Angeles, donde pierde el avión y se enfrenta a un temblor que lo remece. De pronto, las cincuenta películas más importantes de su vida, aquellos filmes que vio durante su infancia y adolescencia en los 60 y los 70, lo acosan.

Desde Willy Wonka y la Fábrica de Chocolates a Encuentros Cercanos del Tercer Tipo, pasando por las ruidosas cintas de catástrofe como Earthquake! y los filmes futuristas de los setenta como Soylent Green, Beltrán se conecta con su pasado y su excéntrica y disfuncional familia. De recuerdo en recuerdo, de película en película, Beltrán descubre la dimensión casi épica de la historia de los Soler. Ambientada en los dos mundos extrañamente paralelos de la suburbana California de Nixon, y el frío Santiago de Chile de Pinochet, esta ágil y contemporánea novela es sobre dos idiomas, dos mundos y dos familias que ven las mismas películas.

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Editorial Reviews

The New Yorker
Fuguet is a leading member of the Latin-American literary movement McOndo, which seeks to supplant magic-realist imaginings with urban, pop-inflected globalism. In this novel, Beltrán, a Chilean seismologist, uses a list of fifty favorite films to narrate his émigré childhood in California and his return to Santiago as a ten-year-old during the turmoil of the nineteen-seventies. If the device at times feels heavy-handed—his mother’s affair with a married man falls under “An Unmarried Woman”—it can also be chillingly incisive, as when the disappearances in “Soylent Green” are juxtaposed with those of Pinochet’s Chile. The adult Beltrán is a less successful character, his cold detachment at odds with his fond reminiscences of adolescent life. Still, Fuguet has created a modern bildungsroman in which American culture enhances, rather than suffocates, the protagonist’s understanding of his native country.
The Washington Post
Fuguet writes well -- his translator, Ezra Fitz, appears to have done a terrific job -- in what seems a largely autobiographical book, and though often melodramatic he can also make you laugh (any scene with Zacarias). Despite a certain O. Henry-like neatness, the double-whammy of the novel's final pages -- as Beltran assumes adulthood in both the most natural and the most unexpected way -- is quite touching. But Fuguet's greatest strength lies in evoking the joys, traumas, fears and hopes of childhood and adolescence, and these, it would seem, transcend any nationality. — Michael Dirda
The New York Times
This is a novel of constantly shifting realities -- of earthquakes and movies, of the Chile of Pinochet and Southern California … In this lucid translation by Ezra E. Fitz, the Chilean writer Alberto Fuguet's novel is an unstable voyage, high on the Richter scale, where nothing is solid and nothing is final. —James Polk
Publishers Weekly
Fuguet is the central figure of a loose group of young Latin American writers-a movement known as McOndo-who identify themselves in opposition to magical realism. In the author's second pop-culture saturated novel to be published in English (after Bad Vibes), seismologist Beltran Soler tells the story of his childhood via a catalogue of movies that influenced him at pivotal moments. The setup is stiff-the adult Beltran is on his way to a conference in Tokyo when he is inspired to hole up in a hotel room in L.A. and begin writing his film-linked memoirs-but once Fuguet begins piecing together Beltran's lopsided, bicultural life, the novel speeds along, overflowing with ironic insight. Born in 1964, Beltran lives in Encino, Calif., until he is 10, when his family (father, mother and younger sister Manuela) move back to Santiago. Bourgeois in Chile, but barely middle class in the U.S., the family inhabits a weird in-between world. In Encino, Beltran reenacts The Poseidon Adventure with his friends; in Santiago, the family across the street (dubbed the Chilean Waltons by Beltran) wins a family singing contest with its Sound of Music medleys. The ongoing political upheaval in Chile feels like another Technicolor drama, with a few alarming incursions into reality. But the novel's true turmoil is personal: Beltran's difficult adjustment to life in Chile, his adolescence and his family's collapse (his father leaves his mother the night Saturday Night Fever opens). The movie titles heading each chapter serve as subtle triggers for reminiscence, but never become a structural straitjacket, and Fuguet's pop archness is tempered with honest feeling. Despite the rocky start, this is a fresh, notable effort. (Oct. 17) Forecast: Fuguet has been much hyped as the new voice of Latin American literature (he appeared on the cover of the international edition of Newsweek in 2002). Bad Vibes failed to make much of a splash, but an eight-city author tour and growing interest in the McOndo movement (the term was coined by Fuguet and is derived from Garcia Marquez's fictional city of Macondo) should get this novel noticed. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Criticas
A prominent Chilean novelist, journalist, and film critic, Fuguet (Mala onda [Bad Vibes], Alfaguara, 1991; Sobredosis [Overdose], Alfaguara 1995), is also one of the leaders of "McOndo," a new literary movement that proclaims the end of magical realism and strives to depict the more urban, gritty, Americanized reality of Latin America. In his fifth novel, Fuguet tells the story of Beltran Soler, a Chilean seismologist on his way to a conference in Tokyo. He misses his connecting flight and finds himself stranded in Los Angeles, where he spent his early years. In a hotel room, Beltran begins to remember the 50 most important movies of his life. Blending cult-classic films-Jaws, It's a Wonderful Life, Dumbo, and The Sound of Music, for instance-with Beltran's memories from his own childhood and adolescence, Fuguet tells a story emblematic of the 20th century. A man torn between two cultures-Nixon's suburban California and Pinochet's rightist Chile-turns to the make-believe world of movies to decipher his own identity. Although the novel's fragmented structure may seem disorienting at first (it's divided into brief chapters, each focusing on a movie), it ultimately succeeds in imitating the disjointed nature of memories and life. Written in a fresh, vibrant style that will grab readers' attention, this gripping tale will appeal to anyone interested in the ways American pop culture infiltrates every aspect of our lives. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries, bookstores, and book clubs.
—Carmen Ospina, "Criticas" Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Deliberately avoiding magic realism, Chilean Fuguet focuses instead on the incursion of American popular culture in Latin America. This, his second novel translated into English (after Bad Vibes), documents seismologist Beltr n Soler's coming of age, described vicariously through movies he saw as a child. The tie-in is sometimes thematic (many of the films are disaster epics) and sometimes biographical (the first half of the book takes place in California and the second half in Chile, where the family returned after Allende's fall from power). But sometimes the connection is not so obvious, and it is amazing that the narrator is able to conger up details of movies he allegedly saw when he was quite young. In the end, the book is certainly fun to read, but it's not particularly insightful. By blending popular culture and literature, Fuguet picks up where Manuel Puig left off, but in many ways the use of movies is just a gimmick. As for Fuguet's much-touted break with magic realism, the result is really nothing different from what was written before magic realism held sway. Recommended for public and academic collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/03.]-Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A clever autobiographical second US appearance from the Chilean-born author (Bad Vibes, 1997). Narrator Beltran Soler, a 37-year-old seismologist, is preparing to fly from Los Angeles to a professional conference in Tokyo when a small earthquake hits. A conversation in flight with a beautiful fellow passenger plants in his busy mind memories of movies he had grown up with-and the bulk of the story offers fragmentary reminiscences of his family's and his own experiences in Chile and southern California, connected to films that appeared during his childhood, in the late 1960s, through his 18th year. Some of the linkages are explicit: Dumbo expresses a fear of losing his mother (who is herself repeatedly victimized by her errant husband's frequent absences from home); Oliver! parallels the Solers' struggles to find a home; the figure of Huck Finn in Tom Sawyer inspires visions of leaving home and seizing independence. Even more poignantly, Close Encounters of the Third Kind imaginatively likens the derelictions of Beltran's father Juan with that film's protagonist-who "goes up to the mother ship, abandoning his wife and children to go off into outer space." The heady lure of grade-B disaster films confirms Beltran's fascination with quakes, and various G-rated films strike home, so to speak, provoking the realization that "nothing is as moving as a film about the value of family when one doesn't have one of his own." But the novel is more than lament, as other movie memories embody the Solers' phlegmatic stoicism, as well as ruefully funny universal experiences of adolescent mood swings and the discoveries of sex and first love. An ingenious premise, developed with exemplary warmth and wit:a thoroughly captivating tale. Author tour. Agents: Leylha Ahuile and Carol Mann/Carol Mann Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061737152
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/13/2009
  • Sold by: HARPERCOLLINS
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 1,239,660
  • File size: 470 KB

Meet the Author

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 de Chile.

Alberto Fuguet nació en Santiago de Chile, y pasó su infancia en California. Es uno de los autores latinoamericanos más destacados de su generación y uno de los líderes de McOndo, el movimiento literario que proclama el fin del realismo mágico. Ha sido crítico de cine y reportero policial. Vive en Santiago.

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First Chapter

The Movies of My Life
The tremor didn't come out of nowhere. Actually, nothing in this life does. Everything occurs just as it does in earthquakes: in a snap. We are those who live just a bit at a time.
-- Ana María del Rio, Pandora

How did I come to draw up a list of the movies of my life? Why did it occur to me? Why haven't I done anything other than mentally tabulate list after list since touching down at LAX and the thing I never thought would happen to me happened? How did I come to revisit this endless city in the backseat of an old green Malibu with a white-haired Salvadoran as my driver? What made my head spin in the brightly lit aisles of a store called DVD Planet full of solitary and obsessive freaks? Why have I returned to think -- to live, to feel, to enjoy, to suffer -- about facts and people and films chalked up to the oblivion (superceded, eliminated, erased) of my unconsciousness? Why am I remembering now, after so much time? Why, after years of not going to the movies, of seeing absolutely nothing, have I returned to the days when I used to devour them?

In other words, ¿qué fucking pasa?

What happens is terrible.

Well, not so terrible, but it is for me. I broke my commitment to the university, I've set aside my itinerary, I haven't arrived at the place where they're waiting for me.

I'm in Los Angeles, "Elei," the city of angels, in the San Fernando Valley, on Van Nuys, ver the horizontal fault of the Elysian Park System. What am I doing here?

Why am I still here? Why, instead of being in Tokyo, as was the plan, as we stipulated, am I now shut up in a room at the Holiday Inn with a panoramic view of the 405 freeway, writing like a madman?

It's already been four days like this, on the edge, to the max, sometimes in slow motion, other times in double fast forward. The 6:43 A.M.s, the dawn about to break, the hot Santa Ana winds rippling the surface of the pool below. The ice I went searching for down the hall is now melted. The carpet is covered in Twinkie crumbs and pumpkin seeds.

Have you ever gone into your kitchen, bored, tired, drowsy, like a zombie, with a dry, scratchy throat and verly ripe breath, dying to open a big, 2.5-liter bottle of ice-cold, refreshing Coke and drink it straight from the bottle, but just as you go to open it, without warning it occurs to you that someone (maybe yourself) has shaken it up, but now it's too late (it's always too late), and you unscrew the plastic cap, and BOOM, pafff, swoooooosh ... all the sweet, dark liquid, complete with foam and bubbles, explodes in your face like a fire hydrant in a crash, and you can't do a thing about it except to stand there and take it all in until the eruption subsides?

Well, that's more or less the state I'm in.

Honestly, though, it's worse. But it's not all bad.

Let's say that I'm the bottle of Coke and the person who shook me up is a w man who I'll probably never see again. It was she who looked me straight in the eye, she who made me laugh, talk, doubt, connect. It was she who opened up my mind and let loose the thick, viscous, gooey stuff that memories are made of.


An earthquake never comes alone.
-- Charles Richter

SUNDAY
January 14, 2001
6:43 A.M.
Santiago de Chile

"Hello?"

"Hi, Beltrán. It's Manuela, your sister."

"Ah ... what time is it?"

"Early. Sorry to wake you up. I've been waiting for hours to call."

"The alarm clock was already going off;I'm just a sound sleeper, is all."

"Were you dreaming?"

"I think so."

"How are you?"

"Okay."

"What are you up to these days?"

"Nothing much. I'm leaving on a trip to- night."

"A change of scenery is always good. Vaca- tion?"

"No, no. I'm off to Tokyo. Tsakuba University."

"You've been there before, right? I read that somewhere."

"Years ago, yes."

"At least you'll be somewhere familiar. That's good."

"Yeah, but my Japanese is pretty bad these days."

"Will you be there long?"

"A semester."

"I envy your ability to just pack up and go places."

"One of the few advantages of being alone in life."

"The flight must take forever, I'd guess."

"Yeah, but they gave me a whole afternoon to relax in Los Angeles."

"California?"

"Yes."

"You could go out to Encino. Or Inglewood. I still remember Ash Street."

"I don't think so, Manuela. You remember the pictures, not the place. They're two different things. We were just kids."

"Anyway, you could go . . ."

"I'm just going to lie down in the hotel room the travel agency got me. It's part of the package;I don't have to pay for a thing. I'm not going out anywhere. Why would I?"

"You've never gone back? You, who travels so much?"

"To California?"

"Yes, where we used to live."

"No. Well, I've been up north. Twice to San Jose and once to Palo Alto. I've had lay vers in L.A., but I never went out in the city."

"Weird, huh?"

"I don't know. . . . Maybe."

"Sometimes I enjoy going back."

"We were different people, Manuela. Kids. All that happened so long ago. It's not so hard to have good childhood memories. Those are the ones that stick with us."

"I guess."

"Perhaps. What do I know."

"I couldn't resist the temptation to visit." The Movies of My Life. Copyright © by Alberto Fuguet. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide Introduction

Beltrán Soler is a thirty-something seismologist preparing to depart his native Chile for a semester at a university in Tokyo when an unexpected phone call from his estranged sister Manuela throws him off course. Manuela reveals that their grandfather Teodoro, himself an esteemed seismologist, has perished of natural causes during a quake in El Salvador.

The news of his grandfather's death and his surprise reconnection with his sister send Beltrán into an emotional tailspin, and he begins to reflect on incidents in his childhood that led to his fascination with earthquakes and the forces of plate tectonics. On the Los Angeles leg of his flight to Tokyo, Beltrán strikes up a friendship with Lindsay Hamilton, an avowed movie junkie sitting across the aisle from him in first class, who stirs up memories of his other primary fixation: movies.

During his layover in L.A., Beltrán winds up missing his connecting flight to Japan. Partly as a result of his conversation with Lindsay, Beltrán begins to amass a list of the fifty most important movies of his life -- the ones that affected him most during his adolescence. In recalling the circumstances that accompanied his viewing these films, Beltrán undergoes a catharsis of sorts that enables him to reflect on his divided childhood, which he spent in Encino, California, and in Santiago, Chile.

From The Poseidon Adventure to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, to kitsch-filled disaster films such as Earthquake! and cult classic sci-fi films of the '70s like Logan's Run, Beltrán comes to terms with his obsession withthe films that define him, as well as the history of his eccentric and dysfunctional family.

Discussion Questions

  1. Who is Beltrán Soler Niemeyer? What fascination does his résumé reflect? At the outset of The Movies of My Life, what reason does he give for remembering the movies of his life? Who does he hold responsible for this flood of memory?

  2. What is evident from Beltrán's phone calls with his sister, Manuela? How would you characterize his relationship with his family?

  3. How does Beltrán feel about Los Angeles? Does he romanticize the city through the movies he views? (For example, consider It's a Wonderful Life, filmed in his Encino neighborhood.) How does he feel about Chile? How do you know? What are some details of his life in Chile that hint at his feelings about his native country?

  4. Of the many movies Beltrán remembers, would any of his choices make it on your own "movies of my life" list? Which ones? What movies would you add to your list? Do you remember with whom you saw movies, as Beltrán so often does?

  5. How does Beltrán feel about earthquakes? How many quakes has he experienced? Were you surprised by his account of his laughter during the February 8, 1971 quake in Encino? What, if anything, does that episode reveal about his personality?

  6. In his account of recreating The Poseidon Adventure with his Encino friends, Beltrán writes of his neighbor Drew Wasserman: "His life was a movie, and, outside of the theater, it didn't make much sense." What does this mean and to what extent might this statement be true of Beltrán?

  7. Did you find any of Beltrán's accounts of the movies especially amusing or poignant? Discuss his portrayal of viewing Earthquake with his seismologist grandfather, or his descriptions of the adolescent sexual exploration that he undergoes as a result of being smitten with Jacqueline Bisset in The Deep. Consider his rendering of seeing Rollercoaster with his father and his friend Zacarías Enisman.

  8. How does Beltrán first meet Federica Montt? How is this encounter echoed later in Beltrán's life? How does Beltrán's relationship with Federica change? In what way does Federica represent the unattainable woman in Beltrán's world?

  9. Did it surprise you to realize that The Movies of My Life purports to be three days' worth of recollections recorded by Beltrán? What did you think about the anecdotal way in which he conveyed the story of his life?

About the Author

Born in Santiago de Chile in 1964, Alberto Fuguet lived in California until he was thirteen. His critically acclaimed novels, Mala Onda/Bad Vibes; Tinta Roja; and Por Favor, Rebobinar; established him as one of the most prominent Latin American authors of his generation. He is also known as one of the leaders of the literary movement McOndo. Named after the fictional town of Macondo -- the creation of magical realist Gabriel García Márquez in One Hundred Years of Solitude -- McOndo proclaims the death of magic realism. Fuguet lives in Santiago.

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