|Born||Roberto Bolaño Ávalos
28 April 1953
|Died||15 July 2003
Roberto Bolaño Ávalos (Spanish: [roˈβerto βoˈlaɲo ˈaβalos]) (28 April 1953 – 15 July 2003) was a Chilean novelist and poet. In 1999 he won the Rómulo Gallegos Prize for his novel Los detectives salvajes (The Savage Detectives), and in 2008 he was posthumously awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for his novel 2666, which was described by board member Marcela Valdes as a "work so rich and dazzling that it will surely draw readers and scholars for ages."
Bolaño was born in 1953 in Santiago, the son of a truck driver (who was also a boxer) and a teacher. He and his sister spent their early years in southern and coastal Chile. By his own account, he was a skinny, nearsighted, bookish, and unpromising child. He was dyslexic and was often bullied at school, where he felt as an outsider.
A key episode in Bolaño's life, mentioned in different forms in several of his works, occurred in 1973, when he left Mexico for Chile to "help build the revolution" by supporting the socialist regime of Salvador Allende. After Augusto Pinochet's coup against Allende, Bolaño was arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist and spent eight days in custody. He was rescued by two former classmates who had become prison guards. Bolaño describes this experience in the story "Dance Card." According to the version of events he provides in this story, he was not tortured as he had expected, but "in the small hours I could hear them torturing others; I couldn't sleep and there was nothing to read except a magazine in English that someone had left behind. The only interesting article in it was about a house that had once belonged to Dylan Thomas. . . . I got out of that hole thanks to a pair of detectives who had been at high school with me in Los Ángeles." The episode is also recounted, from the point of view of Bolaño's former classmates, in the story "Detectives." Nevertheless, since 2009 Bolaño's Mexican friends from that era have cast doubts on whether he was even in Chile in 1973 at all.
After an interlude in El Salvador, spent in the company of the poet Roque Dalton and the guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, he returned to Mexico, living as a bohemian poet and literary enfant terrible, "a professional provocateur feared at all the publishing houses even though he was a nobody, bursting into literary presentations and readings," his editor, Jorge Herralde, recalled. His erratic behavior had as much to do with his leftist ideology as with his chaotic lifestyle.
Bolaño moved to Europe in 1977, and finally made his way to Spain, where he married and settled on the Mediterranean coast near Barcelona, on the Costa Brava, working as a dishwasher, campground custodian, bellhop, and garbage collector. He worked by day and wrote at night. From the early 1980s he lived in the small Catalan beach town of Blanes.
He continued with poetry, before shifting to fiction in his early forties. In an interview Bolaño said that he began writing fiction because he felt responsible for the future financial well-being of his family, which he knew he could never secure from the earnings of a poet. This was confirmed by Jorge Herralde, who explained that Bolaño "abandoned his parsimonious beatnik existence" because the birth of his son in 1990 made him "decide that he was responsible for his family's future and that it would be easier to earn a living by writing fiction." However, he continued to think of himself primarily as a poet, and a collection of his verse, spanning 20 years, was published in 2000 under the title Los perros románticos (The Romantic Dogs).
Bolaño had conflicted feelings about his native country, which he visited just once after going into voluntary exile. He was notorious in Chile for his fierce attacks on Isabel Allende and other members of the literary establishment. "He didn't fit into Chile, and the rejection that he experienced left him free to say whatever he wanted, which can be a good thing for a writer," commented Chilean novelist and playwright Ariel Dorfman.
Bolaño's death in 2003 came after a long period of declining health. He suffered from liver failure and was near the top of a transplant list at the time of his death.
Six weeks before he died, Bolaño's fellow Latin American novelists hailed him as the most important figure of his generation at an international conference he attended in Seville. Among his closest friends were the novelists Rodrigo Fresán and Enrique Vila-Matas; Fresán's tribute included the statement that "Roberto emerged as a writer at a time when Latin America no longer believed in utopias, when paradise had become hell, and that sense of monstrousness and waking nightmares and constant flight from something horrid permeates 2666 and all his work." "His books are political," Fresán also observed, "but in a way that is more personal than militant or demagogic, that is closer to the mystique of the beatniks than the Boom." In Fresán's view he "was one of a kind, a writer who worked without a net, who went all out, with no brakes, and in doing so, created a new way to be a great Latin American writer." Larry Rohter of the New York Times wrote, "Bolaño joked about the 'posthumous', saying the word 'sounds like the name of a Roman gladiator, one who is undefeated,' and he would no doubt be amused to see how his stock has risen now that he is dead."
Bolaño was survived by his Spanish wife and their two children, whom he once called "my only motherland." (In his last interview, published by the Mexican edition of Playboy magazine, Bolaño said he regarded himself as a Latin American, adding that "my only country is my two children and wife and perhaps, though in second place, some moments, streets, faces or books that are in me....") Bolaño named his son Lautaro, after the Mapuche leader Lautaro, who resisted the Spanish conquest of Chile, as related in the sixteenth-century epic La araucana. His other child, a daughter, was named Alexandra.
||This section may contain original research. (December 2008)|
Although deep down he always felt like a poet, in the vein of his beloved Nicanor Parra, his reputation ultimately rests on his novels, novellas and short story collections. Although Bolaño espoused the lifestyle of a bohemian poet and literary enfant terrible for all his adult life, he only began to produce substantial works of fiction in the 1990s. He almost immediately became a highly regarded figure in Spanish and Latin American letters.
In rapid succession, he published a series of critically acclaimed works, the most important of which are the novel Los detectives salvajes (The Savage Detectives), the novella Nocturno de Chile (By Night in Chile), and, posthumously, the novel 2666. His two collections of short stories Llamadas telefónicas and Putas asesinas were awarded literary prizes. In 2009 a number of unpublished novels were discovered among the author's papers.
By Night in Chile
By Night in Chile is a narrative constructed as the loose, uneditorialised deathbed rantings of a Chilean Jesuit priest and failed poet, Sebastian Urrutia Lacroix. At a crucial point in his career, Father Urrutia is approached by two agents of Opus Dei, who inform him that he has been chosen to visit Europe to study the preservation of old churches – the perfect job for a cleric with artistic sensitivities.
On his arrival, he is told that the major threat to European cathedrals is pigeon droppings, and that his Old World counterparts have devised a clever solution to the problem. They have become falconers, and in town after town he watches as the priests' hawks viciously dispatch flocks of harmless birds. Chillingly, the Jesuit's failure to protest against this bloody means of architectural preservation signals to his employers that he will serve as a passive accomplice to the predatory and brutal methods of the Pinochet regime. This is the beginning of Bolano's indictment of "l'homme intellectuel" who retreats into art, using aestheticism as a cloak and shield while the world lies around him, nauseatingly unchanged, perennially unjust and cruel.
Amulet focuses on the Uruguayan poet Auxilio Lacouture, who also appears in The Savage Detectives as a minor character trapped in a bathroom at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in Mexico City for two weeks while the army storms the school. In this short novel, she runs across a host of Latin American artists and writers, among them Arturo Belano, Bolaño's alter ego. Unlike The Savage Detectives, Amulet stays in Auxilio's first-person voice, while still allowing for the frenetic scattering of personalities Bolaño is so famous for.
Distant Star is a novella nested in the politics of the Pinochet regime, concerned with murder, photography and even poetry blazed across the sky by the smoke of air force planes. This dark satirical work deals with the history of Chilean politics in a morbid and sometimes humorous fashion.
Nazi Literature in the Americas
Nazi Literature in the Americas is an entirely fictitious, ironic encyclopedia of fascist Latin and North American writers and critics, blinded to their own mediocrity and sparse readership by passionate self-mythification. While this is a risk that literature generally runs in Bolaño's works, these characters stand out by force of the heinousness of their political philosophy. The last portrait was expanded into a novel in Distant Star.
The Savage Detectives
In a review in El País, the Spanish critic Ignacio Echevarría declared it "the novel that Borges would have written." (An avid reader, Bolaño often expressed his love for Borges and Cortázar's work, and once concluded an overview of contemporary Argentinian literature by saying that "one should read Borges more.") "Bolaño's genius is not just the extraordinary quality of his writing, but also that he does not conform to the paradigm of the Latin American writer", said Echeverria, former literary editor of El País, Spain's leading daily. "His writing is neither magical realism, nor baroque nor localist, but an imaginary, extraterritorial mirror of Latin America, more as a kind of state of mind than a specific place."
The central section of The Savage Detectives presents a long, fragmentary series of reports about the trips and adventures of Arturo Belano–an alliteratively named alter-ego, who also appears in other stories & novels–and Ulises Lima between 1976–1996. These trips and adventures, narrated by 52 characters, take them from Mexico DF to Israel, Paris, Barcelona, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vienna and finally to Liberia during its civil war in the mid-nineties. The reports are sandwiched at the beginning and end of the novel by the story of their quest of Cesárea Tinajero, the founder of "real visceralismo", a Mexican avant-garde literary movement of the twenties.
The aspiring 17-year-old poet García Madero tells us first about the poetic and social scene around the new "visceral realists." He later closes the novel with his account of their escape from Mexico City to the state of Sonora. Bolaño called The Savage Detectives "a love letter to my generation."
The novel 2666 was published in 2004. Allegedly a first draft submitted to his publisher prior to his death, the text of 2666 was the major preoccupation of the last five years of his life.
At more than 1,100 pages (898 pages in the English-language edition), the novel is divided in five "parts", four and a half of which were finished before Bolaño's death. Focused on the mostly unsolved and still ongoing serial murders of Ciudad Juárez (Santa Teresa in the novel), the apocalyptic 2666 depicts the horror of the 20th century through a wide cast of characters, including the secretive, Pynchon-like German writer Archimboldi – whom four literary critics are engaged on a quest to find.
In March, 2009, The Guardian newspaper reported that an additional Part 6 of 2666 was among papers found by researchers going through Bolaño's literary estate.
Last Evenings on Earth
Last Evenings on Earth is a collection of fourteen short stories narrated by a host of different voices primarily in the first person. A number are narrated by an author, "B.", who is – in a move typical of the author – a stand-in for the author himself.
The Romantic Dogs
Bolaño has stated that he considered himself first and foremost a poet and took up fiction writing primarily later in life in order to support his children. The Romantic Dogs is his first collection of poetry to be translated into English, appearing in a bilingual edition in 2008 under New Directions and translated by Laura Healy.
The Skating Rink
Set in the seaside town of Z, on the Costa Brava, north of Barcelona, The Skating Rink is told by three male narrators, revolving around a beautiful figure-skating champion, Nuria Martí. When she is suddenly dropped from the Olympic team, a pompous but besotted civil servant secretly builds a skating rink in a local ruin of a mansion, using public funds. But Nuria has affairs, provokes jealousy, and the skating rink becomes a crime scene.
Considered by his literary executor Ignacio Echevarría to be the big bang of the Bolaño universe, the loose prose-poem novel was written in 1980 when Bolaño was 27. The book remained unpublished until 2002, when it was published in Spanish as Amberes, a year before the author's death. Antwerp contains a loose narrative structured less around a story arc and more around motifs, reappearing characters and anecdotes—many of which went on to become common material for Bolaño: crimes and campgrounds, drifters and poetry, sex and love, corrupt cops and misfits. The back of the first New Directions edition of book contains a quote from Bolaño about Antwerp: "The only novel that doesn't embarrass me is Antwerp."
English translation and publication
Bolaño's first American publisher, Barbara Epler of New Directions read a galley of By Night in Chile and decided to acquire it, along with Distant Star and Last Evenings on Earth, all translated by Chris Andrews. By Night in Chile came out in 2003 and received an endorsement by Susan Sontag; at the same time Bolaño's work also began appearing in various magazines which gained him broader recognition among English readers.
By 2006 Bolaño’s rights were represented by Carmen Balcells, who decided to place his two bigger books at a larger publishing house; both were eventually published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (The Savage Detectives in 2007 and 2666 in 2008) in a translation by Natasha Wimmer. At the same time New Directions took on the publication of the rest of Bolaño’s work (to the extent that it was known at the time) for a total of 13 books, translated by Laura Healy (two poetry collections), Natasha Wimmer (Antwerp and Between Parentheses) and Chris Andrews (6 novels and 3 short story collections).
The posthumous discovery of additional works by Bolaño has thus far led to the publication of the novel The Third Reich (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011, translated by Wimmer) and The Secret of Evil (New Directions, 2012, translated by Wimmer and Andrews), a collection of short stories. A translation of the novel Woes of the True Policeman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, translated by Wimmer) was released on November 13, 2012.
In the final decade of his life Bolaño produced a significant body of work, consisting of short stories and novels. In his fiction the characters are often novelists or poets, some of them aspiring and others famous, and writers appear ubiquitous in Bolaño's world, variously cast as heroes, villains, detectives and iconoclasts.
Other significant themes of his work include quests, "the myth of poetry", the "interrelationship of poetry and crime", the inescapable violence of modern life in Latin America, and the essential human business of youth, love and death.
In one of his stories, "Dentist", Bolaño appears to set out his basic aesthetic principles. The narrator pays a visit to an old friend, a dentist. The friend introduces him to a poor Indian boy who turns out to be a literary genius. At one point during a long evening of inebriated conversation, the dentist expressed what he believes to be the essence of art:
"That's what art is, he said, the story of a life in all its particularity. It's the only thing that really is particular and personal. It's the expression and, at the same time, the fabric of the particular. And what do you mean by the fabric of the particular? I asked, supposing he would answer: Art. I was also thinking, indulgently, that we were pretty drunk already and that it was time to go home. But my friend said: What I mean is the secret story.... The secret story is the one we'll never know, although we're living it from day to day, thinking we're alive, thinking we've got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn't matter. But every damn thing matters! It's just that we don't realize. We tell ourselves that art runs on one track and life, our lives, on another, we don't even realize that's a lie."
Like large parts of Bolaño's work, this conception of fiction manages to be at once elusive and powerfully suggestive. As Jonathan Lethem has commented, "Reading Roberto Bolaño is like hearing the secret story, being shown the fabric of the particular, watching the tracks of art and life merge at the horizon and linger there like a dream from which we awake inspired to look more attentively at the world."
When discussing the nature of literature, including his own, Bolaño emphasized its inherent political qualities. He wrote, "All literature, in a certain sense, is political. I mean, first, it’s a reflection on politics, and second, it’s also a political program. The former alludes to reality—to the nightmare or benevolent dream that we call reality—which ends, in both cases, with death and the obliteration not only of literature, but of time. The latter refers to the small bits and pieces that survive, that persist; and to reason." 
Bolaño's writings repeatedly manifest a concern with the nature and purpose of literature and its relationship to the life. One recent assessment of his works discusses his idea of literary culture as a "whore".
Among the many acid pleasures of the work of Roberto Bolaño, who died at 50 in 2003, is his idea that culture, in particular literary culture, is a whore. In the face of political repression, upheaval and danger, writers continue to swoon over the written word, and this, for Bolaño, is the source both of nobility and of pitch-black humor. In his novel "The Savage Detectives," two avid young Latino poets never lose faith in their rarefied art no matter the vicissitudes of life, age and politics. If they are sometimes ridiculous, they are always heroic. But what can it mean, he asks us and himself, in his dark, extraordinary, stinging novella "By Night in Chile," that the intellectual elite can write poetry, paint and discuss the finer points of avant-garde theater as the junta tortures people in basements? The word has no national loyalty, no fundamental political bent; it's a genie that can be summoned by any would-be master. Part of Bolaño's genius is to ask, via ironies so sharp you can cut your hands on his pages, if we perhaps find a too-easy comfort in art, if we use it as anesthetic, excuse and hide-out in a world that is very busy doing very real things to very real human beings. Is it courageous to read Plato during a military coup or is it something else?
Stacy D'Erasmo, The New York Times Book Review, February 24, 2008
- Will H. Corral, "Roberto Bolaño: Portrait of the Writer as Noble Savage". World Literature Today LXXXI. 1 (November-December 2006). 51-54.
- Roberto Bolaño, Sybil Perez, Marcela Valdes. Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview: And Other Conversations. Brooklyn, NY, Melville House Publishing, 2009.
- Celina Manzoni. Roberto Bolaño, la literatura como tauromaquia. Buenos Aires, Corregidor, 2002.
- Patricia Espinosa H. Territorios en fuga: estudios criticos sobre la obra de Roberto Bolaño. Providencia (Santiago), Ed. Frasis, 2003.
- Jorge Herralde. Para Roberto Bolaño. Colombia, Villegas Editores, 2005.
- Celina Manzoni, Dunia Gras, Roberto Brodsky. Jornadas homenaje Roberto Bolaño (1953–2003): simposio internacional. Barcelona, ICCI Casa Amèrica a Catalunya, 2005.
- Fernando Moreno. Roberto Bolaño: una literatura infinita. Poitiers, Université de Poitiers / CNRS, 2005.
- Karim Benmiloud, Raphaël Estève (coord.). Les astres noirs de Roberto Bolaño. Bordeaux, Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 2007.
- Edmundo Paz Soldán, Gustavo Faverón Patriau (coord.). Bolaño salvaje. Canet de Mar (Barcelona). Ed. Candaya, 2008. (Includes DVD with documentary, Bolaño cercano, by Erik Hasnoot.)
- Will H. Corral, Bolaño traducido: nueva literatura mundial. Madrid, Ediciones Escalera, 2011.
- Myrna Solotorevsky, 'El espesor escritural en novelas de Roberto Bolaño' . Rockville, Maryland, Ediciones Hispamérica, 2012. ISBN 978-0-935318-35-7.
- Alison Flood (2009-03-13). "Report of Bolaño's NBCCA triumph". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
- Goldman, Francisco. "The Great Bolaño", New York Review of Books, 19 July 2007
- Rohter, Larry. 'A Writer whose Posthumous Novel Crowns an Illustrious Career', New York Times, August 9, 2005
- Schama, Chloe. 'Dust and Literature',The New Republic, May 8, 2007[dead link]
- "American PEN reproduction of "Dance Card"". Pen.org. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
- Rohter, Larry (2009-01-27). "Roberto Bolaño’s Fictions Might Include His Own Colorful Past". NYTimes.com. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
- "Bolaño's Voyage: "Last Evenings on Earth" by Donald Long". Barcelonareview.com. 2007-03-26. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
- "Roberto Bolano – 2666, etc « BookCourt". Bookcourt.org. 2008-11-16. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
- Rohter, Larry. 'A Writer whose Posthumous Novel Crowns an Illustrious Career,' New York Times, August 9, 2005
- By STACEY D’ERASMO (2008-02-24). "D'Erasmo, Stacey. "The Sound and the Führer", The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Feb. 24, 2008". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
- Durán-Merk, Alma (2010): Representaciones de la experiencia migratoria en la literatura: Los detectives salvajes de Roberto Bolaño. Opus: Augsburg, onlinne available under: http://opus.bibliothek.uni-augsburg.de/volltexte/2010/1660/.
- Tremlett, Giles 'Two new Bolaño novels found among papers left after death', The Guardian, March 10, 2009
- This Week in Fiction: The True Bolaño - interview with Barbara Epler. "The Book Bench", The New Yorker website, 16 January 2012.
- Goldman, Francisco. "The Great Bolaño", New York Review of Books, July 19, 2007
- "The Departed", by Jonathan Lethem in the New York Times Book Review, November 9, 2008
- Boullosa, Carmen. "Roberto Bolaño", BOMB Magazine Winter, 2002. Retrieved on [7-25-2012.]
- By STACEY D’ERASMO (2008-02-24). "Nazi Literature in the Americas - Roberto Bolaño - Book Review - New York Times". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
Saubhik De Sarkar.Roberto Bolañor Kabita.Kolkata,India,Naya Dashak,2012
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Roberto Bolaño|
- "The Caracas Speech", Roberto Bolaño accepting the Rómulo Gallegos Prize, translated in Triple Canopy
- "Literature + Sickness = Sickness" translated in News from the Republic of Letters
- Entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction
-  Literary Game, in Souciant