The Ant, 1998 (transl. 2021)

The Ant is a nickname for Delia Del Carril, second of Pablo Neruda’s three wives, and the title of her biography, by Fernando Saez, translated into English by Jessica Sequeira and published by Fiction Advocate, a small alternative press producing e-books and excellent quality paperbacks. As an enthusiastic follower of Jessica Sequeira’s work, I early ordered and read The Ant and considered a long reflective review comparing Delia to Joyce’s Nora, whose fictional biography I read and reviewed back in April (Nora: A Love Story of Nora and James Joyce, by Nuala O’Connor, 2021, Harper Perennial). There’s almost no basis for comparison. Delia was a wealthy and influential scion world’s away from poor Nora, and she would be cast aside by Pablo, her junior by two decades, for the younger Matilde. But Delia and Nora were born the same year, 1884, and both married men who grew to gigantic proportion in the country of books. Both were dedicated to and sacrificed for their husbands, who, it might be argued, scarcely deserved their affection. But that is love. That Pablo was no saint should come as no surprise to anyone who has read his poetry or his Memoirs. Likewise, Joyce was no saint, at least not one likely to be canonized in the eyes of Holy Mother Church. Yet both Pablo and Joyce seemed to possess boundless capabilities (some might say disabilities) for love and love’s expressions. Time is the great canceller of the postage stamp that is literature. “Neruda participated in a bohemia of bars and poverty” (86) – places from where Joyce also drew a good amount of inspiration. “Could there have been two people any more different [than Pablo and The Ant]? It’s difficult and risky to explain the origins of an interest, the unthinkable reasons that bring a couple together and make love possible. The mystery of why him, and why her, can lead to a number of questions without answer, in which there is surely more absurdity than logic” (89). “More absurdity than logic” – how’s that for a definition of literature? But don’t we go to literature to find the logic that might displace the absurdity of our lives? In any case, apart from the absurdity of the love story, there are good, practical reasons for reading Saez’s The Ant: to further our understanding and appreciation of 20th Century thought and expression; for an inside view of the history of politics, art, economics, and the geography of Chile and Argentina; and it details the ins and outs of the lives of artists and the families and friends they choose to live and correspond with. It’s possible that Delia and Nora might have met one another. They may have both been in Paris at the same time, where circles of expatriates, artists, and bohemians of both wealth and poverty often overlapped. If they did meet, would they have recognized one another? What would their talk have been about?

5 Comments

    1. Thanks for reading and comment, Patricia. Worlds within worlds. I probably should have spent more time on a proper review of The Ant, a most enjoyable and enlightening and really scholarly study but in prose lucid and clear. Joyce is mentioned but once in The Ant, and the comparison/contrast to Nora is not something that’s in the book, yet I think a dialog between Nora and Delia (fabricated, of course) might illuminate the women’s predicament in that world of men they were born into. Though Delia never succumbed, and her life is a remarkable example of independence and artistic temperament (which can be a curse as well as a blessing). And still though there’s the privilege issue that differs so much for her from Nora. They were both existential migrants from their presumptive beginnings.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I think that some of us at least, “go to literature” with the hope that we will “find the logic that might displace the absurdity of our lives.” A mirror. A pattern. A path that, even forgotten, was once forged. The reassurance that it is do-able. This life.

    As for a “more proper review”, that’s why the book’s description, the blurb, are for.
    We can’t read outside the frame of mind that is our intellect. Reading is like threading a new strand through a tightly woven carpet. Follow it again, describe it, and you will have to include the older strands it crossed, the past knots it forged its way through.

    Thus, I enjoyed this review, presented through your point of view, as a reader, for it revealed new ways to enjoy this biography. As for the mere fictional encounter between Delia and Nora, the possibility that it happened stirs my imagination and adds one extra reason to want to read this book.

    Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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