Nazi Literature in the Americas

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Nazi Literature in the Americas
Naziwik.jpg
First edition (Spanish)
Author Roberto Bolaño
Original title La literatura nazi en América
Translator Chris Andrews
Country Chile
Language Spanish
Publisher Seix Barral (Spanish
New Directions (English)
Publication date
1996
Published in English
2008
Media type Print (Cloth)
Pages 237
ISBN 8432247529

Nazi Literature in the Americas (La literatura Nazi en América in Spanish) is a work of fiction by the Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. It was published in 1996. Chris Andrews’ English translation was published in 2008 by New Directions and was shortlisted for the 2008 Best Translated Book Award.

Summary[edit]

Nazi Literature in the Americas presents itself as an encyclopedia of right-wing writers. The book is composed of short biographies of imaginary Pan-American authors. The literary Nazis—fascists and ultra-right sympathizers and zealots, most from South America, a few from North America—portrayed in that book are a gallery of self-deluded mediocrities, snobs, opportunists, narcissists, and criminals. About Nazi Literature in the Americas, Bolaño told an interviewer:

(Its) focus is on the world of the ultra right, but much of the time, in reality, I'm talking about the left.... When I'm talking about Nazi writers in the Americas, in reality I'm talking about the world, sometimes heroic but much more often despicable, of literature in general.[1]

Although the writers are invented, they are all carefully situated in real literary worlds: Bolaño's characters rebuff Allen Ginsberg’s advances in Greenwich Village, encounter Octavio Paz in Mexico City, and quarrel with José Lezama Lima in Cuba.

Forerunners to this type of fictional writer biographies can be seen in the short stories of Jorge Luis Borges, particularly "Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote" and "An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quain".

Contents[edit]

  • The Mendiluce Clan

Presents the Argentinian poetess Edelmira Thompson de Mendiluce, her son Juan Mendiluce Thompson, and her daughter Luz Mendiluce Thompson. Edelmira, among other ventures, attempts to create a room based on Edgar Allan Poe's essay "Philosophy of Furniture" and founds The Fourth Reich in Argentina, a literary magazine and publishing house which publish works by several of the writers appearing later in the book. Juan is a novelist and politician while Luz is a talented but troubled poet who suffers failed marriages, struggles with alcoholism and overweight, and is eventually doomed by her love for a much younger woman.

  • Itinerant Heroes or the Fragility of Mirrors
    • Ignacio Zubieta
    • Jesús Fernández-Gómez
  • Forerunners and Figures of the Anti-Enlightenment
    • Mateo Aguirre Bengoechea
    • Silvio Salvático
    • Luiz Fontaine Da Souza
    • Ernesto Pérez Masón
  • Poètes Maudits
    • Pedro González Carrera
    • Andres Cepeda Cepeda, known as The Page
  • Wandering Women of Letters
    • Irma Carrasco
    • Daniela de Montecristo
  • Two Germans at the Ends of the Earth
    • Franz Zwickau
    • Willy Schürholz
  • Speculative and Science Fiction
    • J.M.S. Hill
    • Zach Sodenstern
    • Gustavo Borda
  • Magicians, Mercenaries and Miserable Creatures
    • Segundo José Heredia
    • Amado Couto
    • Carlos Hevia
    • Harry Sibelius
  • The Many Masks of Max Mirebalais
    • Max Mirebalais, alias Max Kasimir, Max von Hauptman, Max Le Gueule, Jacques Artibonito
  • North American Poets
    • Jim O'Bannon
    • Rory Long
  • The Aryan Brotherhood
    • Thomas R. Murchison, alias The Texan
    • John Lee Brook
  • The Fabulous Schiaffino Boys
    • Italo Schiaffino
    • Argentino Schiaffino, alias Fatso
  • The Infamous Ramírez Hoffman

This section differs in tone from the rest of the book, rather than being delivered as a dry encyclopedic entry it is narrated by a character, named Bolaño, who was a witness to some of the events. The story was later expanded into the novella Distant Star, with the name of the protagonist changed to Alberto Ruiz-Tagle. this is explained in the introduction to the novel thus:

In the final chapter of my novel Nazi Literature in the Americas I recounted, in less than twenty pages and perhaps too schematically, the story of Lieutenant Ramirez Hoffman of the Chilean Air Force, which I heard from a fellow Chilean, Arturo B. […] He was not satisfied with my version […] So we took that final chapter and shut ourselves up for a month and a half in my house in Blanes, where, guided by his dreams and nightmares, we composed the present novel.[2]
  • Epilogue for Monsters
    • Secondary Figures
    • Publishing Houses, Magazines, Places...
    • Books

Quotes[edit]

"That was not to be Pérez Masón’s last visit to the jails of socialist Cuba. In 1965 he published Poor Man’s Soup, which related — in an irreproachable style, worthy of Sholokov — the hardships of a large family living in Havana in 1950. The novel comprised fourteen chapters. The first began: “Lucia was a black woman from...”; the second: “Only after serving her father...”; the third: “Nothing had come easily for Juan...”; the fourth: “Gradually, tenderly, she drew him towards her...” The censor quickly smelled a rat. The first letters of each chapter made up the acrostic LONG LIVE HITLER. A major scandal broke out. Pérez Masón defended himself haughtily: it was a simple coincidence. The censors set to work in earnest, and made a fresh discovery: the first letters of each chapter’s second paragraph made up another acrostic—THIS PLACE SUCKS. And those of the third paragraph spelled: USA WHERE ARE YOU. And the fourth paragraph: KISS MY CUBAN ASS. And so, since each chapter, without exception, contained twenty-five paragraphs, the censors and the general public soon discovered twenty-five acrostics. I screwed up, Pérez Masón would say later: They were too obvious, but if I’d made it much harder, no one would have realized.[3]"

Critical reception[edit]

Stacey D'Erasmo, in a review for The New York Times, describes Nazi Literature in the Americas as:

“a wicked, invented encyclopedia of imaginary fascist writers and literary tastemakers, is Bolaño playing with sharp, twisting knives. As if he were Borges’s wisecracking, sardonic son, Bolaño has meticulously created a tightly woven network of far-right littérateurs and purveyors of belles lettres for whom Hitler was beauty, truth and great lost hope."[4]

Michael Dirdra, of The Washington Post found that the novel, "very much deserves reading: It is imaginative, full of a love for literature, and, unlikely as it may seem, exceptionally entertaining."[5] John Brenkman of The Village Voice sees the book as both a satire and an elegy, stating,

"Nazi Literature in the Americas is first of all a prank, an act of genius wasting its time in parodic attacks on a hated sort of writer. But beyond that, it produces an unsettling mix of overt satire and covert elegy. The reductive force of summary after summary starts to have an effect that transcends the satire; the book begins to convey a sense of the vanity of human endeavor and the ease with which a lifetime's work might be flicked into oblivion by a witty remark."[6]

Giles Harvey, writing for The New Yorker, included the novel in his list of Bolaño's best work, explaining that:

"This mock reference book of imaginary right-wing litterateurs — including soccer-hooligans-cum poets and a sci-fi novelist who excitedly envisages Hitler’s Reich triumphing in the United States — is every bit as fun as it sounds. Like David Thomson’s Biographical Dictionary of Film or, indeed, Philip Rees’s non-fictional Biographical Dictionary of the Extreme Right, Nazi Literature is not a book to read straight through, but rather to dip into whenever the mood (in this case a rather dark, antisocial mood) takes you."[7]

In a dissenting opinion Alberto Manguel, writing for The Guardian, finds the novel 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 [...] It is not enough to invent a character and lend it a name and a bibliography and a few circumstantial details; something must justify its existence on the page, which otherwise risks resembling an annotated phonebook."[8]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Goldman, Francisco (July 19, 2007) "The Great Bolaño." New York Review of Books; Volume 54, Number 12.
  2. ^ Bolaño, Roberto. Distant Star, New York: New Directions, 2004. Introduction.
  3. ^ Bolaño, Roberto. Nazi Literature in the Americas New York: New Directions. pp. 55-56.
  4. ^ D'Erasmo, Stacey (24 February 2008). "The Sound and the Führer". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  5. ^ Dirdra, Michael (2 March 2008). "Nazi Literature in the Americas". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  6. ^ Brenkman, John. "To Have and Have Nazi". The Village Voice. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 
  7. ^ In the Labyrinth: A User's Guide to Bolaño by Giles Harvey "The Book Bench", The New Yorker Website, 19 January 2012.
  8. ^ Manguel, Alberto (6 February 2010). "Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Chris Andrews". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 11 August 2011. 

External links[edit]