This unusual novel skillfully blends a young manís memories of early childhood years in California and his native Chile, chronicling the most memorable incidents of his formative years through the fifty most important movies of his life, each a vehicle into his past. Now a grown man and a seismologist of note in Chile, Beltran Soler has buried himself in years of scientific studies, enabling a solitary existence, one with few family ties or sustained personal relationships.
On a flight from Chile to Japan, Beltran has a stopover in Los Angeles. There, ensconced in a valley hotel room, he begins a painful journey through the minefield of his childhood. His earliest memories are filled with the warmth of family relationships as many relatives immigrate to California, settling outside L.A. in the San Fernando Valley so reminiscent of their beloved Chilean landscape. Beltranís parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents are his touchstones, even when his father distances himself from wife and children. The extended family is as culturally rich and diverse as any in recent fiction, providing important childhood connections and emotional security.
Yet the bi-cultural lives of the Solers take a toll on the family identity. Fleeing Pinochetís Chile for Nixonís United States, the family acclimates to California, their cultural identity blending with their new lives. They donít want to be viewed as displaced South Americans, ďrelying on nothing but their foundations of supposedly being whiteĒ in denial of their Latino roots, yet they are not accepted as white. Once moved back to Chile, Beltran moves through his adolescence with the awkward grace of any young boy on the path to manhood, filled with confusion and vague longings.
Both grandfathers have a profound influence on Beltranís development: one is a frivolous poseur, the other a demanding, if respected, patriarch. Along with his father, these role models are emotionally distant and unengaged. Although Chile is in constant political upheaval, the family is safely cocooned in their scientific pursuits. It isnít surprising when Beltran looks back over those early critical years and is as far removed from passion as a moviegoer watching the drama unfold on the screen.
Beltran has reached a seminal moment in his life and writes compulsively day after day, confronting long-suppressed memories, the secrets and anguish of a past never acknowledged. The evolution of childhood innocence has left him far removed from loved ones; purging the past, Beltran faces the pain of abandonment that he has so successfully avoided. Clearly, the need to bond, to establish sustaining personal connections, is not constricted by place or culture; there is no passport required for crossing into the state of emotional availability.
With an elegant simplicity, author Alberto Fuguet paints in The Movies of My Life a portrait of loss, the importance of family and the reality of cultural identification. No longer willing to live in isolation, Beltran reaches across the miles to those he loves, returning to the affection of time and place that so defines him.