Have you ever gone on a trip with someone loatheable? I have… in Ireland… and the beauty of the country could not eclipse the nagging annoyance of the person I was with. That was what reading Travels in a Thin Country felt like. Wheeler manages to come across as both smug and self conscious (in a bad way). I also doubt that her research was extensive. The whole thing felt like a biased walk through Chile by a Salvador Allende lover.
I do happen to know a few things about Chile. My mother is a Chilean, my father lived in Chile for a few years, and I minored in Latin American Studies at University. I’ve had the chance to travel in Chile, stay with actual Chileans, not just a bunch of ex pats. My family continues to live in Chile and a various assortment of siblings/parents go for a few weeks every year. I have a love of Chile that is easily offended when outsiders (read: Wheeler) swoop in and offer answers to questions they don’t quite understand. Granted Wheeler traveled in Chile about 15 years ago, and certainly it wasn’t the Chile we see today, but I didn’t get the sense that she got to know the people on any kind of a personal level. She mainly talks about where her next drink is coming from.
I remember my father telling me of his tangible fear when he and my mother were walking near Pinochet’s summer home in Vina Del Mar. My mother had lived briefly in a home that used to be on the property when she was younger, and they encountered armed guards who menacingly showed them their weapons. My mother recalls people going out into the streets to fight against the military, and the fear of being taken. Despite these events, there was never any desire to romanticize the time of Allende. Wheeler spends a LOT of time worshiping the memory of Allende. Even though she spent six months in Chile, Wheeler’s book reveals that she was very much a tourist. She didn’t scratch the surface, she didn’t seek greater understanding, she sought to find enough to fill a book and nothing else.