Happy publication day to author S R Wilsher!
Synopsis of The Glass Diplomat
In 1973 Chile, as General Augusto Pinochet seizes power, thirteen-year-old English schoolboy Charlie Norton watches his father walk into the night and never return. Taken in by diplomat, Tomas Abrego, his life becomes intricately linked to the family.
Despite his love for the Abrego sisters, he’s unable to prevent Maria falling under the spell of a left-wing revolutionary, or Sophia from marrying the right-wing Minister of Justice.
His connection to the family is complicated by the growing impression that Tomas Abrego was somehow involved in his father’s disappearance.
As the conflict of a family divided by politics comes to a head on the night of the 1989 student riots, Charlie has to act to save the sisters from an enemy they cannot see.
From a dictator in my last book review on this book blog to a diplomat, who serves under a dictator. But this diplomat is a glass diplomat. That’s certainly an interesting concept that gets you thinking even before you start reading the book. Glass as an adjective suggests fragility or transparence, but also hints that, once broken, sharp and dangerous edges are left that can do harm.
The diplomat in question is Tomas Abrego, who takes our hero, Charlie, under his wing.
The background is that Charlie’s father owns a factory in Santiago, and spends more and more time there. Charlie goes to join him from England during school holidays. During one visit some menacing men in suits and soldiers visit. Charlie overhears his father refusing to turn his factory over to the manufacture of military items. Not long after Charlie’s father disappears and this is when Tomas Abrego steps in. Tomas has two daughters, Maria and Sophia, and from now on the lives of the three young people become firmly interwoven.
This novel is strongly character driven, and we meet some fascinating personalities in the book. Good or bad, they’re all flawed, all human, all very convincing. Each reflects their culture, and each has their own set of judgement values. What’s right for one is wrong for another.
Charlie’s life is something of a balancing act. He walks along a knife-edge where the two cultures of Chile and the West meet. It’s also where two families meet, his own and his ‘adopted’ one. He treads carefully between the two sisters too.
Charlie develops throughout the novel as he gradually gains full understanding of what is going on around him. Early on he is slow to react, and there are losses as a result. But later he becomes decisive, assured and confident in his own morality and with his new philosophy. He remains vulnerable, however, and is a sympathetic but admirable figure, one we quickly warm to and continue to care about.
And what of Tomas, our diplomat? Charlie, at his mercy to begin with, ends up being the one with the power. Tomas has manipulated others all his life, mainly with threats and acts of violence, but eventually he is the one manipulated. His power is finally shattered like glass.
This is a totally absorbing novel, throwing stark light on what happens in dictatorships. Diplomacy has a rather different meaning.
It didn’t occur to me to write until I was twenty-two, prompted by reading a disappointing book by an author I’d previously liked. I wrote thirty pages of a story I abandoned because it didn’t work on any level. I moved on to a thriller about lost treasure in Central America; which I finished, but never showed to anyone. Two more went the way of the first, and I forgave the author.
After that I became more interested in people-centric stories. I also decided I needed to get some help with my writing, and studied for a degree with the OU. I chose Psychology partly because it was an easier sell to my family than Creative Writing. But mainly because it suited the changing tastes of my writing. When I look back, so many of my choices have been about my writing.
I’ve been writing all my adult life, but nine years ago I had a kidney transplant which interrupted my career, to everyone’s relief. It did mean my output increased, and I developed a work plan that sees me with two projects on the go at any one time. Although that has taken a hit in recent months as I’m currently renovating a house and getting to know my very new granddaughter.
I write for no other reason than I enjoy it deeply. I like the challenge of making a story work. I get a thrill from tinkering with the structure, of creating characters that I care about, and of manipulating a plot that unravels unpredictably, yet logically. I like to write myself into a corner and then see how I can escape. To me, writing is a puzzle I like to spend my time trying to solve.
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