Review of 'My Beautiful Imperial' by Adam Feinstein

I would like to introduce Adam Feinstein. Adam is an acclaimed author and journalist. He has written for the Guardian, the TLS and the New Statesman, and broadcast for the BBC on subjects as diverse as Pablo Neruda and autism. In 2010, he published, A History of Autism: conversations with the pioneers (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010). He founded the international autism magazine, Looking Up, and runs monthly online autism conferences for Autism Cymru, as well as an annual online Awares conference which has been referred to as the ‘finest online event of its kind on the planet’. In July, he published, Autism Works: a guide to successful employment across the entire spectrum (Routledge, 2018).

As if this isn’t enough talent for one person, Adam is also an acclaimed translator, and Hispanist. Adam’s translations from Neruda, Lorca, Benedetti and others have appeared in many publications, including Modern Poetry in Translation and Agenda. His book of translations from Neruda’s Canto General was published by Pratt Contemporary in 2013. He wrote the introduction to the Folio Edition of Jorge Luis Borges’ Labyrinths, which appeared in 2007.

His biography Pablo Neruda: a passion for life was published by Bloomsbury in 2004, and reissued in an updated edition in 2013. It is a wonderfully gripping biography which transports the reader into Neruda’s world. The real art of the book is to make us feel that we are retracing Neruda’s footsteps, and travelling the poet’s journey through life along with him. I would recommend it. Harold Pinter called it ‘a masterpiece’.

Unsurprisingly, Adam was asked to advise on the film Neruda, Oscar-nominated director Pablo Larraín’s recent biographic feature film. Adam is a major authority on film, Latin American cinema in particular. He has written about and given talks around the world on Michael Curtiz - the man who made Casablanca.

When My Beautiful Imperial was published, I was delighted that Adam took the time, not only to read the book but to write such a great review. We all hoped it would be picked up by one of the national papers. Perhaps the book is too Welsh for the English papers, and too English for the Welsh papers? Who knows. Whatever the reason, the review went unpublished. Consequently, I would like to share Adam’s impressions of the novel with you here. Many, many thanks, Adam.

Adam Feinstein’s review of My Beautiful Imperial.

Rhiannon Lewis’s novel, My Beautiful Imperial, is a masterly mixture of grippingly suspenseful historical adventure and character study set amid the political upheaval of nineteenth-century Chile. It is admirably researched - but the facts are introduced tactfully and tastefully. We are swept along not just by the action but by the dialogue, which bristles right from the start - and more than anything else, by the central figure of Davy Davies, the Welsh sailor caught up in the Chilean revolution.

Davies is an utterly memorable creation, erupting with believable life. (The image of him prancing around the room naked in a malaria-fuelled delirium will live long in the memory.) Davies’ doubts, foibles and passions become ours, and the innocence of his love affair with the unhappily married Estella is almost unbearably affecting, at times. But the secondary characters are almost equally vibrant, because Lewis has the enormous gift of summing up a person in a single, telling line: Estella’s husband, Laurence, for example, makes every caring remark sound like a rebuke. We ourselves genuinely care about Davies’ friends and colleagues and share his distaste of his appallingly spiteful, embittered superior, Walker.

In its ability to enthral us at every moment, My Beautiful Imperial has the cohesive perfection of a great Hollywood movie like Casablanca. Indeed, the spontaneous singing of Welsh songs on board the Imperial as the ship faces possible annihilation is as poignant a scene, in its way, as the memorable moment the refugees burst into a chant of the Marseillaise in that legendary film.



 Adam Feinstein

Adam Feinstein

 My well thumbed copy!

My well thumbed copy!

 Adam’s most recent publication

Adam’s most recent publication