BOOK REVIEW / Learning to live with the General: Death in Chile: A Memoir and a Journey - by Tony Gould; Picador pounds 15.99

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The Independent Culture
IN THE weeks following the ousting and death of Salvador Allende in 1973, the Spectator's 'Cato' saluted the soldiers as a 'pretty responsible bunch', while Eric Hobsbawm in New Society mourned 'the murder of Chile'. The polarisation between those who applauded the end of Latin America's only elected Marxist president and those who were outraged by the derailing of Allende's 'peaceful road to socialism' has since become less clear- cut. This is partly because, despite the well-documented wickness of the Pinochet regime, it did achieve relative economic stability; partly because of the embattled British Left's 're-evaluation' of its own socialist goals. Shocking to say it, perhaps, but the murder - or salvation - of Chile has come to seem neither as bad nor as good as it did on the morning after jets dive-bombed the Moneda Palace.

Tony Gould's previous book, Inside Outsider, was about the writer Colin MacInnes, an exile of sorts even in his proper place; Death in Chile follows a similar thread, though it describes a very different life. Its subject, Cristian Huneeus, was a Chilean of the landed class whom Gould met and liked at Cambridge in the Sixties. When Huneeus died of a brain tumour, Gould decided in 1990 to go in search of the 'Chilean Cristian', to study 'the dilemma of the liberal intellectual in Chile'. The two had all but lost touch after Huneeus returned to Chile, where he combined the management of his father's estate and advertising agency with running a disco, directing Santiago University's humanities department and trying, with limited success, to be a writer.

Gould interviews Huneeus's old friends, enemies and ex-wives (who are both), unveiling a complex and mostly unattractive character. To his enemies, Huneeus's job at the university after the coup, which involved the dismissal of political undesirables, smacked of collaboration with the dictatorship; to his friends he was a pragmatist protecting left-wing sympathisers; others say he had 'a niceness problem'.

For Gould, Huneeus is, in fact, a means of laying bare the human effects of Chile's savagely enforced transition to 'market militarism', of describing how people learnt to live with the General, not the 30,000 who fled the country, but those who stayed.

But Chile is only half the story. Gould prefaces his journey with a rattling account of his own life, from his youthful socialism to his later distrust of 'political indignation in general and the self-righteousness of the extreme left in particular'. En route he makes light of being invalided out of the Gurkhas with polio, has a gleeful dig at his erstwhile BBC employers and skims tantalisingly over his contact with Raymond Williams, Centre 42 et al.

All this is rendered in a succinct, almost desultory style, which at its best achieves a challenging irony, notably on the William Beausire human rights case. The disappearance of this Anglo- Chilean businessman had provoked official protests from two foreign secretaries, Tony Crosland and David Owen. 'But in 1980,' writes Gould, 'with the change of government in Britain, diplomatic relations with Chile were resumed and human rights issues no longer gained ministerial support.' We too learnt to be nice to the General. This very personal history of a broad political process could have been twice as long but should, in any case, be read at least twice.