Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Roberto Bolaño: Antwerp

Sam Munson reviews Roberto Bolaño's Antwerp.
Displayed prominently on the back cover of Antwerp, the latest of the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño’s works to appear in English, is a quote from the author himself: “The only novel that doesn’t embarrass me is Antwerp.” The quote seems tailor-made to answer a common desire in literary culture: to know authors in their unspoiled youth. Antwerp, after all, is Bolaño’s earliest prose work, written in the early 1980s though not published in Spanish until 2002. It is rigorously experimental in form, and makes no concessions to anything other than his own idiosyncratic taste. And perhaps grasping after the purity of youth is a natural part of formulating any literary-biographical arc, especially one so aesthetically charged as Bolaño’s. His career in English began in 2003, the year of his death (a Bolaño-esque touch in itself) with the publication of his short 2000 novel By Night in Chile, a pseudo-memoir by a cowardly and very intelligent cultural servitor of Augusto Pinochet. In the ensuing seven years, his work has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the estimation of American critics and readers, due largely to his long novels The Savage Detectives and 2666, published in 2006 and 2007 (though written almost a decade apart): complex, daringly executed books that take as a dual theme the bestial nature of our modern life and the ultimate powerlessness of art.
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