Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Events conspired to make Memoirs an eagerly awaited book. Neruda, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971, had also been a member of the Communist Party of Chile since July 8, 1945. He had been active in Allende’s presidential campaign in 1970 and was named ambassador to France when the Popular Unity Party won the election. In the last years of his life, he labored both as a poet and as a practical politician to keep the Marxist government in power and to prevent civil war. The very dramatic situation—Neruda’s completion of his autobiography, the overthrow of the Popular Unity government, Allende’s violent death, and the poet’s own death, all virtually coinciding—assured a sizable and expectant audience for the posthumously published Memoirs.

While indispensable to a study of Neruda’s life and work, Memoirs is not a major contribution to the genre of autobiography. Critics have noted that Neruda’s expansive tone is belied by his reticence concerning many subjects—a reticence that leaves gaping ellipses in his narrative. On page 130, for example, Neruda reveals that in 1937 he was living in Paris with Delia del Carril. She is next mentioned on page 216; it is 1952, and Neruda is leaving her for Matilde Urrutia. His only child, Malva Marina—who was born in Madrid on October 4, 1934, and died eight years later in Europe—is never mentioned at all. Memoirs cannot, therefore, be considered...

(The entire section is 445 words.)