Over the last few years, Roberto Bolaño's reputation, in English at least, has been spreading in a quiet contagion; the loud arrival of a long novel, "The Savage Detectives," will ensure that few are now untouched. Until recently there was even something a little Masonic about the way Bolaño's name was passed along between readers in this country; I owe my awareness of him to a friend who excitedly lent me a now never-to-be-returned copy of Bolaño's extraordinary novella "By Night in Chile." This wonderfully strange Chilean imaginer, at once a grounded realist and a lyricist of the speculative, who died in 2003 at the age of 50, has been acknowledged for a few years now in the Spanish-speaking world as one of the greatest and most influential modern writers. Those without Spanish have had to rely on the loyal intermittence of translation, beginning with "By Night in Chile" (2003), two more short novels — "Distant Star" (2004) and "Amulet" (2007) — and a book of stories, "Last Evenings on Earth" (2006), all translated by Chris Andrews and published by New Directions.
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