On September 29, 1920, a young poet named José Domingo Gómez Rojas died after weeks of mistreatment in jail in Santiago, Chile. Raymond Craib's compelling microhistory narrates and tries to understand this young man's death at the hands of Chile's “savage state.” Narrating back from Gómez Rojas's massive funeral, over four chapters Craib offers not a biography of the tragic poet but instead a nuanced portrait of four frenzied months in Santiago in 1920, an X-ray of the context that makes explicable Gómez Rojas's arrest, imprisonment, and death.

As that context unfolds chapter by chapter, we learn first about a cohort of radicals in Santiago who mobilized against increasing economic deprivations driven by the collapse of the nitrate industry, inflation, and a focus on agricultural exports. Seizing on rapidly exploding anti-Peruvian sentiment, the Chilean state passed a residency law meant to advance...

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