Malva was the daughter of Pablo Neruda the Chilean poet. Born with hydrocephalus and soon disowned by her father, she lived with a foster family in the Netherlands until her death at eight years old, during the Second World War.
In her novel, the poet Hagar Peeters has imagined the dead Malva picking up the pen that slipped from her father’s hand as he died. Peeters gives the girl a voice, and a fascinating life, and has Malva telling the story of her father who, as a revolutionary poet, had to deal with a reactionary Chilean regime. In the afterlife, Malva meets such kindred spirits as Oskar (Die Blechtrommel), James Joyce’s daughter Lucia (a declared schizophrenic) and Arthur Miller’s son Daniel (Down’s Syndrome) – with whom she wisely and wittily comments on life on earth.
Also with them, Malva tries to find an answer to the question which troubles her: how could Neruda, the irreproachable hero who stood up for the forgotten and downtrodden, have denied the existence of his own daughter? She asks Hagar Peeters, whose own father was a journalist in Chile at the time of Neruda’s death and was present at his funeral, to be her ghost writer and help resolve the issue. In the end, it is Socrates who takes up the matter with the great poet.
In Peeter’s poetic hands, Malva is a remarkable and original novel; rather, it is a remarkable and original combination of novel and autobiography, since it involves the author’s own father.