Thursday, March 20, 2008

Roberto Bolaño

The Nation features three articles on Roberto Bolaño.
A Review of "Nazi Literature in the Americas" by Carmen Boullosa.
When Nazi Literature in the Americas was published in Spain in 1996, Chilean-born Roberto Bolaño captured the attention of Latin American and Spanish critics for the first time. The book consists of thirty entries, ranging from one to twenty-seven pages, each devoted to assessing a writer who has some relation to fascism. These include not just contemporaries of Hitler and Mussolini but members of subsequent generations, down to that of Pinochet. In addition, there is some important back matter: a bibliography of all the works produced by the authors examined, a list of the publishing houses and magazines that brought them out and a quasi glossary that provides snippet descriptions of personalities referred to in the major pieces (and, as well, some who have not been previously mentioned in the book).
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A review of "Entre paréntesis: Ensayos, artículos y discursos" a collection of non-fiction by Marcela Valdes.
Never one to proceed by half-measures, Roberto Bolaño dropped out of high school shortly after he decided to become a poet at age 15. The year was 1968, a time as wild in Mexico City, where Bolaño and his parents were living, as it was in the United States--but much more dangerous. There, student protests, rock 'n' roll and sexual liberation were the pursuits not only of poets but also of activists and leftist guerrillas, and the Mexican government greeted them with a dirty war. Four unlucky students died at Kent State in 1970; some 300 were killed in the Tlatelolco massacre of 1968. Yet for Bolaño, who'd just arrived from a small country town in Chile, the atmosphere of the big city was intoxicating. Years later he recalled that the capital had seemed to him "like the Frontier, that vast, nonexistent territory where freedom and metamorphosis are the spectacles of every day."

Bolaño's own transformation began with a five-year period of isolation. Rather than join the party, he shut himself in his bedroom to consume book after book after book. The poet Jaime Quezada, who came to visit the family when Bolaño was 18, recalls that the young writer was living like a hermit. "He didn't come out of his bed-living-dining-room," Quezada has said, "except to go to the toilet or to comment out loud, pulling on his hair, about some passage in the book he was reading."

Young and broke, Bolaño stocked his shelves by shoplifting from bookstores all over Mexico City. His captures included volumes by Pierre Louÿs, Max Beerbohm, Samuel Pepys, Alphonse Daudet, Juan Rulfo, Amado Nuevo and Vachel Lindsay. But the book that changed his life was Albert Camus's The Fall, in which a lawyer who hangs out at an Amsterdam bar named Mexico City resigns himself to a life of calculated hypocrisy. Bolaño explains in his essay "Who's the Brave One?" that after reading it, he was possessed by a desire "to read everything, which, in my simplicity, was the same as wanting to or intending to discover the mechanism of chance that had led Camus's character to accept his atrocious fate." Bolaño's library was his own private Frontier.

Unlike many passionate young readers--who knock off two books a week when they're in high school but slow down to three or four a year once adulthood hems them in--Bolaño kept reading all his life. Most authors, Bolaño's editor Jorge Herralde observed in his book For Roberto Bolaño (2006), bury themselves in their own work, losing sight of the larger field. But Bolaño loved reading the works of his contemporaries--and he loved talking about what he was reading with his friends. According to Herralde, he was that rare and beautiful animal: "an insatiable reader." This lifelong compulsion, and its fleeting gratifications, formed the foundation of Bolaño's critical rulings, many of which can be found in his posthumous collection Entre paréntesis: Ensayos, artículos y discursos (1998-2003) (Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles and Speeches).
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And the article Un Lio Bestial by Forrest Gander (not fully avalable online).

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