Hernán Loyola and Bernardo Reyes do not like each other. Their commonality and conflict stem from Pablo Neruda. I spent a few hours with each of them during consecutive days in Santiago. Both of them have been obsessed with Neruda, for very different ways.
In the early 1950’s, Loyola was working on a thesis at the University of Chile. After a night of revelry he stumbled across an equally inebriated professor. In his candid state, the professor told the young Loyla that his thesis was on a writer that had been studied by hundreds of other people. Instead, he should study Pablo Neruda, who had just returned from 3 years in exile (after the clandestine and Andean crossing that I am investigating) and had published his magnum opus Canto General. The impressionable Loyola heeded the advice and has probably devoted more his work toward Neruda than any other scholar. His magnum opus is collecting and editing the six volume Complete Works of Neruda.
Whereas Loyla’s Nerudian life was choosen in a quick definitive moment, Reyes has carried it around since before his was born. I say carried because for him it is in many ways a burden. He is the grandson of Neruda’s older half-brother Rodolfo, and as far as a know the closest living relative. Augosto Pinochet’s regime changed both of these men’s lives. Loyola is an intellectual communist and had to flee and ended up in Italy, where is still spends half the year. Reyes was in his early twenties and had no such affiliations except for his relationship with Neruda. The right-wing Chilean government made life hard for young Bernardo (his great uncle was stalwart communist), hindering his ability to find work, etc. He wondered way he was receiving such treatment and began investigating Neruda’s life (Neruda’s given last name is Reyes). He has produced two main published works, Portrait of a family, detailing the pre and early life of his great uncle, and more recently a book about Neruda’s only child, a daughter who died at 8. He his some priceless Neruda relics, photographs, possessions etc. but the Neruda foundation has all the rights to the written works.
Given their backgrounds the charges levied against one another are not surprising. Loyola claims that Reyes is not rigorous enough in his research and documentation and is self-centered. Reyes believes that Loyola tries to take all the Neruda glory for himself, proclaiming himself as the only true authority. I’m in no position to judge their accusations, but it’s not too difficult to understand their positions. From Loyola’s perspective, after devoting half a century to studying Neruda, someone 30 years his junior disputes basic facts upon which you’ve rested your work upon (what exactly they are I don’t know). Since Bernardo is exploring his own family history and hence himself, it’s easy to see him as self-absorbed, seeking out information with a bias. On the other hand, Loyola has made much of living off the life and work of Reyes’s famous relative, a leech perhaps, and one will defend their livelihood with great fervency if someone else comes and threatens that. It’s a game of king of the hill.
As a final note, both human beings were very warm and welcoming to me. Hernán took me out to lunch, while Bernardo hosted me at his apartment. Both see the episode of Neruda’s like I am investigating as one of the most interesting and important and both are glad I will be the English language ambassador for it.