Monday, March 19, 2007

Review: Amulet by Roberto Bolaño

Just out is a short novel called Amulet, which puts his poetic way with language — at least as rendered, presumably faithfully, by translator Chris Andrews — on vivid display.

The narrator is Auxilio Lacouture, a Uruguayan by birth, who settled in Mexico in the 1960s and may or may not be the mother of Mexico poetry. Throughout this short novel she spools out her memories of the Bohemian life in Mexico City. There are café scenes and dangerous liaisons on the wrong side of town.

But also woven into the novel — it’s driving force, perhaps — is a reflection of a period of political unrest and terror. For a dozen or so days, it seems, Auxilio hid in a women’s restroom in the department of philosophy at the university, becoming the lone survivor of a police roundup of some kind.

These memories keep returning to her consciousness as she tells her tale, visions of hunger, thirst and the moonlight on the white tiles of the washroom. Time collapses and pulls apart, but the narrative often comes back to that moonlight.

Among Auxilio’s acquaintances is a young immigrant poet, Arturo Belano, who apparently is a stand-in for our author, Bolaño.

The spirit of Jorge Luis Borges hovers over this book, and even as it loses itself in a kind of poetic mist, you can find yourself absorbed by its voice and the mysterious charm of its central character. Bolaño and his work are worth discovering.
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