CHILE (**)

Antonio Skarmeta – The Days of the Rainbow

If the whole country was shaken by violence, how could joy look believable?”

This is the story of how a 15 minute ad helped end 15 years of tyranny. A great book for campaigners, for advertisers, for communicators, or indeed for anyone who wants to believe change is possible. 

Setting: Chile, during the last days of the Augusto Pinochet’s brutal military regime, and the national referendum on its rule that it called under international pressure.

A black-listed ad agent is invited by the Minister of Security to lead the ad campaign to keep Pinochet. He refuses, goes home and where he is convinced to work for the “No” to Pinochet campaign.

This story is also told by a great 2012 movie starring Gael Garcia Bernal, which was recommended to me by the great linguist Anat Schenker-Osorio as an example of how positive communication wins. Inspiring activist and family friend Sue Lukes then directed me to this far-too-little known book. The story also inspired me to revisit the way I do my job, and think about my family history.

That brushstroke of democracy that Pinochet had allowed had broken the dam. The strategy that seemed a harmless game had sparked the longing for a future and happiness.

Why you should read it: For the portrait of a society under the evil spell of repression, brought back to life.

In the charming story of unlikely inspiration, adman Adrian Bettini struggles with how to give Chileans the courage to come out and vote in the plebiscite. He walks around the capital Santiago, seeing behind the facade of apparent prosperity of the “defeated mass, wrapped in own-out coats and frayed scarves”:

In that mixture of bank clerks, store managers, financial executives, and secretaries too much makeup and miniskirts so short they provoked long gazes from men, he believed he could feel the truth of a city destroyed by violence.

In parallel to Bettini’s story, we also see his daughter’s boyfriend respond to the abduction of his father, and philosophy teacher, from the classroom in front of this very eyes.

What is the best book from Chile? Isabel Allende is obviously a towering figure in Chilean literature. For a more artistic take turn on the Pinochet era to Ariel Dorfman. For a modern take on how Chile is dealing with its past, there is Alejandro Zambra . His  Ways of Going Home (2013) turns between the late Pinochet era and present day.

 

It is composed of gloomy scenes under a dictatorship where things are left unsaid and silence speaks volumes.

It loses the thread a little when it jumps to the passive present day author who seems to spend most of the novel dealing with writer’s block:

“I like that my characters don’t have last names. Its a relief…Instead of writing, I spent the morning drinking beer and reading Madame Bovary.”

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