Sunday, May 18, 2008

Roberto Bolaño

In the last few years, a few of Roberto Bolaño's books have emerged in English, the work of translator Chris Andrews. Bolaño is a Chilean poet who produced a few of the most amazing novels about Mexico I have ever read. His masterpiece is due to come out in November, supposedly a 1200 page work based on the grim reports of hundreds of murdered women in Ciudad Juarez, not quite finished at the time of his death in 2003. Everything I've read by him has been stunning, stripped down to its essence by a novelist who remained a poet at heart. The Savage Detectives begins:

"I've been cordially invited to join the visceral realists. I accepted, of course. There was no initiation ceremony. It was better that way."

What follows is the history of a fictional gang of poets from Mexico City who go through ups and downs as they fan out around the world. It is part detective story, part interview, and part diary, a story that defines Mexico City by following its residents as they emigrate to Africa, Europe, Israel, America... (I never saw my hometown until I stayed away too long) Some look back fondly on their encounters with the visceral realists, while some lament time wasted; others deny the existence of the poets claiming them to be itinerant drug dealers and thieves. What unfolds is a beautiful tale of the search for the founder of visceral realism.

Nazi Literature in the Americas is a fictional chronology of right wing authors all over the Americas. It reads like an encyclopedia, offering short biographies of each writer, tied sometimes strenuously to fascism in some way or another. Each author gets a short vignette, somewhere in between a page and 10 pages, where their life's work is described. It winds up forming an incredibly interesting portrait of the Western Hemisphere and fascism, with real authors and poets mingling with Bolaño's intricately woven conceptions. The only book I could even begin to compare it to is Jorge Luis Borges' A Universal History of Iniquity.

Everything I have read by him defies categorization. His works shed light on the labyrinth that is Mexico City, though most take place elsewhere. It fits perfectly that a city defined by the thousands of people moving there every day should be described so well in stories about people moving away.