- Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
First a disclaimer: I am not an anthropologist. I am an English software engineer, living in Chile, trying to learn a little more about the people I live with.
About half the book describes the lives of people - largely women - living in a poblacion (a poor area) of Santiago. This is interspersed with background information and (what I assume is) anthropological interpretation. I cannot really comment on the analysis as it uses a technical vocabulary and make references to people I haven't read (for what it's worth, from my uneducated POV, it sometimes states the obvious, sometimes provides insight, and sometimes seems like bull).
The descriptions of life in the poblacion are often harrowing. I live in a rich area of Santiago and have little direct experience of some of the things described (for example, I know no-one that uses pasta base). But where the text does cross my experience it rings completely true. And it is well-observed, with an eye for detail that can sometimes be amusing.
Many of the descriptions included transcribed conversations and direct quotes. These are in English; the translation is very literal, often favouring homonyms over accuracy ("contento" is translated as "content", not "happy"; perhaps in some contexts that would be correct, but there are many more examples). If you speak Spanish then it is easy to "hear" was actually said (in the original language), but if you speak only English then some parts may be misleading or confusing. I am sure Clara Han's Spanish is better than mine (I don't see how someone could write a book like this without being completely fluent) so I wonder if this is deliberate.
One obvious absence is the experience of men. It's unfair to call this a criticism of the current book, which stands as a complete work, but I think that viewpoint could have taught me more.
I hesitate to say that I am enjoying this book, but I am glad to be reading it (slowly; I have not yet finished) and I am thankful that Clara Han took the time to do this work. I strongly recommend it to anyone who wonders what life is like here for the people you meet as nanas and mayordomos. It helps explain current politics and anger. On the other hand, it also makes some attitudes (even) harder to understand... [update: this is addressed, tangentially, later in the book].