When Roberto Bolaño died in 2003, aged 50, he could not have suspected that, a couple of years later, he would be hailed worldwide as both the prophet and redeemer of Spanish-language fiction. Prophet, his hagiographers declared, because his early books, which had come and gone unnoticed by critics and readers alike, prepared the way for a new kind of novel; redeemer, these same enthusiasts said, because Bolaño himself effected the change in his last books, notably 2666, which was hailed by the New York Times as "a landmark in what's possible for a novel".Read More
And yet a reader coming upon Bolaño for the first time and opening Nazi Literature in the Americas, originally published seven years before his death, might ask what all the fuss is about. A compendium of fictional literary lives that purports to trace major and minor examples of rightwing, conservative and reactionary literature in the Americas, Nazi Literature is at first mildly amusing but quickly becomes a tedious pastiche of itself. Like a joke whose punchline is given in the title, the humour is undermined, and all that is left is a series of names, dates and titles that, since they don't come across as funny, become merely irritating.
Fictional lives are something of a Latin American speciality. A history of Latin American literature could be compiled following that genre alone: the classic example is Jorge Luis Borges's A Universal History of Infamy, based on real characters and inspired by Marcel Schwob's Imaginary Lives, in turn suggested by Aubrey's almost imaginary Brief Lives. Bolaño, no doubt aware of this illustrious ancestry, prefers to ignore it: not only the models, but their wit and discernment as well.
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Latin American Literature