I am not a great football fan but I must admit that this World Cup business looks very different when you are in Latin America.
I visited an ethnic Kuna community in the San Blas islands just as the football got under way and children were out in force, many of them barefoot but wearing Brazilian shirts as they played makeshift games on the island´s airstrip (there is only one flight a day so the rest of the time, it becomes a play area!)
In Panama city, cars are decked out with Colombian or Venezuelan flags. Flat screen tvs have appeared in shopping malls and coffee shops, attracting audiences cheering for Uruguay or Mexico or Argentina or Chile. There is widespread desire for the Cup to stay in Latin America.
As I am trying to track down and read children´s literature from Central and South America at the moment, I was delighted to come across this month a very powerful book by Chilean writer, Antonio Skármeta, The Composition (illustrated by Alfonso Ruano) which not only has a football crazy protagonist but also addresses what life is like for children living during a dictatorship. And, heaven knows, so many Central and South American countries have suffered under dictatorships.
Skármeta spent many years during the Pinochet dictatorship in Germany - you may know him as the screenwriter of the film Il Postino which tells the story of the friendship between Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and his postman. You may be as surprised to learn as I was that the book is set entirely on an island in Chile, not in Italy. The film was great - the books sounds even better.
The Composition opens with Pedro´s disappointment that his parents have given him a plastic soccer ball for his birthday instead of a white leather ball with black patches, like the ones real soccer players use.
The streets are full of soldiers with machine guns. Pedro´s parents are fearful and distressed. They huddle around the radio, listening to foreign radio stations, turned on at a very low volume. One day when he is playing soccer on the street, he sees soldiers arrest the father of one of his friends. When he asks his parents if he is for or against the government, his mother tells him that children are not for or against anything.
At school, an army officer announces a cash prize for the best composition on the children "What My Family Do At Night". What will Pedro do?
The writing is subtle and humorous and effectively shows how children are capable of understanding situations and making moral decisions.
It is only at the last page when Pedro´s father says "We´d better get a chess set then", that we learn that Pedro wrote in his composition that he plays soccer and does his homework and his parents sit on the sofa and play chess all evening.
From July, I will be a little less "scattered" - after almost two years in Panama, I am moving back home to Spain (with I hope frequent visits to England and Ireland). Now if I could only get a decent first draft of my book finished before I leave...
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