Swallowing Stones


Venezuelan revolutionary and scholar Oswaldo Barreto Miliani is intrigued by the numerous rumors placing him in the most nefarious situations. Some are amusing, while others are degrading and fantastic. What emerges from this fictional/biographical account is more about what shapes a notable historical figure. For Otto (his later code name) himself, in this novel, makes it clear that his career occurred almost as a series of accidents to which he shaped his scholarly approach to life. Growing up as an unattractive boy and resented for living after his favored brother dies, Otto turns to self-learning. Then he discovers a life-long love of poetry and a keen skill at making speeches. However, his presentations are almost always inflammatory, and Otto is soon labeled a political enemy almost everywhere he goes in Venezuela.

What starts as a megalomaniac pride in rebellion transforms to a revolutionary zeal directed at the tyranny of unjust political leaders. Never totally accepting the principles and theories of Marxist Communism, Otto follows and eventually leads the Communist movement to end the decadent rule of Latin American and African dictators. The narrator provides a fascinating insight into the minds and activities of men such as Hitler, Che Guevera, Ben Barka, and Fidel Castro. Depicted as passionate, brilliant, and effective strategists, they succeed in winning total support of other rebels as well as common people. That most of them are assassinated or become as tyrannical as their deposed forefathers confuses Otto. Shifting with these unpredictable tides, he, however, maintains an integrity that never ceases to believe that justice must prevail.

Oswaldo Miliani resembles the stuff of legends, but Lisa St. Aubin De Terán opens a realistic window into little known Latin American history and politics, well worth reading indeed in this brilliant novel.

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