Thoughts on Roberto Bolaño

Since Christmas I have been only reading –besides one failed attempt otherwise– the great Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. I finished his 900 page epic, 2666, a few months ago and have since torn through his smaller novels, Nazi Literature in the Americas, By Night in Chile, and Amulet. It’s just one of those reading sprees where you cannot –and I repeat, emphatically– cannot read anything but your current author. It is so bad that I made it through 500 pages of The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing before putting it down in favor of another Bolaño novella. What is wrong with me?
So on my way over to Fremont Coffee (where I am right now), I decided it was time to put Bolaño behind me. I have read through all of his currently published novels (he died in 2003 at the age of 50, and not all of his work has been translated), and needed to peel myself away, it just isn’t okay to ignore the myriad of perfectly entertaining/capable authors out there. But when you get on a role, there is just no other capable voice out there…
So I walk into one of Fremont’s local bookshops, and my eyes immediately catch a familiar font on a displayed hardcover book.
“The Skating Rink” it said, and I slowly–with a mixture of excitement and horror–lowered my eyes to the author’s name:

Roberto Bolaño

Damnit. This book wasn’t supposed to be released until September, and here it is right in front of my face just as I am attempting to escape the icy claws of Chile’s finest novelist.
A cool 24 dollars later I stumbled out of the shop, defeated. I am an addict. I cannot resist Roberto.
For the record I rarely buy new books, let alone hardbacks! They are usually overpriced, but alas I cannot put a price on Bolaño.
Also for the record, I carried The Skating Rink around the store for a few minutes while browsing other Latin American authors. But fate had it that there was no (?) Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who is probably the only one that could rip me away from Bolaño.

When asked of my (undeniable) obsession, I struggle to describe my facination with his writings. My sister Becky introduced me to him in 2007 when she bought me his critically acclaimed, The Savage Detectives (which Amber is currently reading…she is next…)–a complex, fragmented narrative that follows two young Mexican poets and their travels throughout the world, all from the perspective of their friends and acquaintances. Needless to say I was hooked after this. The only way I can describe his writing is alive, it just breathes life. His stories are unique, unusual, and humorous, but underneath it all is an overwhelming sorrow for the current state of Latin America–Mexico especially. From Amulet (p. 13):

The dark night of the soul advances through the streets of Mexico City sweeping all before it. And now it is rare to hear singing, where once everything was a song. The dust cloud reduces everything to dust. First the poets, then love, then, when it seems to be sated and about to disperse, the cloud returns to hang high over your city or your mind, with a mysterious air that means it has no intention of moving.

His writing carries this heavy burden throughout, yet also rejoices in the spirit of Latin America and its youth’s naivety and freedom.

So anyways, I am excited to start my new Bolaño book, juts as soon as I finish Amulet (which is amazing). And I apologize for my gushing, its not something I am proud of.

[Edit: Actually “The Skating Rink” was supposed to be released in August 2009…how convenient!]



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5 responses to “Thoughts on Roberto Bolaño

  1. I gather gushing to be against the ethos of your generation, or? I have experienced similar new favorite author-jags, but I'm a slow reader so encountering an NFA can take me out of the mainstream for decades. I read all of John Barth, which it's lucky I did this when I was young and unencumbered…I wouldn't have a prayer now with a job and a family. More recently I get in stretches where I feel like reading only Joseph Mitchell, who unfortunately left us with just five books, so I sometimes read all the stories in "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon" or "The Bottom of the Harbor" again. Refresh my 1930s Lower Manhattan street life and Hudson River clamming acumen.

  2. Yeah I guess gushing is against the ethos of my generation in some ways. It is always good to be objective, but in certain cases (like Bolano), I just can't help it. If I didn't gush I wouldn't be enjoying it to its full capacity. I haven't read Barth, but I do remember you mentioning Joseph Mitchell before–I should get a hold of one of his books, maybe it can pry me away from this latin american fiction binge.

  3. I doubt that Mitchell has the necessary torque for the job. I found Mitchell when I was available and out looking, not while in the thrall of another. Objectivity is ove . The impulse to see things "as they are in their true form" is the tyranny of an age that thinks of itself as scientific (because we have invented some nifty tools, and we did the moon thing). I love the fact that you're arse-over-teakettle about this author. When someone gushes whom I know to be intelligent and… and… what's the word… perspicacious?…then I am put on alert that something is really worth paying attention to. I'm more interested in Bolano (pardon me, I've run out of tildes) because of your gushing. Still and all, I respect and admire the disinclination to pursuade that brandontheweaver has so succinctly expressed in the comment above.

  4. Scott,The author of one of my favorite blogs mentioned your man RB in a recent post in the context of an airborne military operation that ended up coating Los Angeles with a lot of metal dust. Check it out at

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