Francisco Coloane’s Tierra del Fuego may be a collection of nine short stories, but it is also poetry – a 187-page ode to the wild lands and seas of southern Chile. Together, the stories paint the Patagonian landscape, from vast plains crossed by horseback to isolated islands accessed by boats braving harsh storms. The main characters are all fiercely independent adventurers in search of gold and fortune, on the run from political missteps, or simply working in the types of jobs available on rural lands. Some join battles; others are martyrs. Some kill, some save, and all make us sympathize with anyone living far from family and the comforts of home.
Tierra del Fuego teaches us about the connections between humans and nature. These stories are graced with physical descriptions of the landscape but the characters also take on aspects of their surroundings. Analogies and metaphors abound comparing people to nature: men are seals, the wind, the sea, the rocks, even the earth itself.
In reading this collection, I kept sensing the tension between independence and community. The men understood the importance of working together, particularly as crew on a boat or builders on a lighthouse. However, Coloane also shows us how strong an individual’s survival instinct can be – the thoughts and fears we have when there seems to be nothing to lose and no one to whom we feel responsible.
I highly recommend this beautifully unassuming book. Read Tierra del Fuego cover-to-cover, without picking and choosing particular stories, for the sum emotion in this case is certainly greater than its parts.
Favorite passages available at Sensory Sweetness.
(This completes book 2 of 7 for my Challenge. Up next: Minotaur by Benjamin Tammuz).