"Reading is like thinking, like praying, like talking to a friend, like expressing your ideas, like listening to other people's ideas, like listening to music, like looking at the view, like taking a walk on the beach." — Roberto Bolaño (2666)
"Poetry and prison have always been neighbors." — Roberto Bolaño (The Savage Detectives)
Roberto Bolaño’s writing fascinates and enthralls me. His stories engulf me and wrap me with his themes and characters. He is currently my favorite author right now. Upcoming, I will write future posts for some of my other favorite authors.
Bolaño was a Chilean writer, who moved to Mexico City during 1968, where student protests and the government crackdown at UNAM left quite an impression on young Roberto. In 1973, he returned to Chile to participate in the country’s new socialist government. After only a few months since arriving, Allende was overthrown through a military coup led by Pinochet. Bolaño was arrested, accused of being a Mexican spy/terrorist, but is quickly let go, and returns to Mexico.
In 1977, he moved to Europe and continues his life of vagabond poet. He lived mostly in Spain. During his early forties, he turned to writing more fiction than poetry because he felt he needed to make money to support his son. In 2003, he passed away due to liver failure.
The life that Bolaño led or wants us to believe he led is clearly described in his writing. His novels revolve around criminals, corrupt governments, sadistic fascists, nationalists, exiles, ex-patriots, and drug addicts, but above all, in all of his novels are the poets. The poet’s excess and immersion into chaos in order to find his/her voice like Rimbaud or Morrison.
Bolaño is a lefty poet who saw himself as a detective/journalist/rock star. And if we can believe his novels, he lived like each. His novels often read like an autobiography, in particular Savage Detectives. Here Bolaño describes poets of Mexico City during the late 60’s up through the 70’s, and “real visceralismo”, a poetry movement in Mexico during the twenties.
But his novels are also filled with imagination, such as Nazi Literature in the Americas, where Bolaño creates an array of writers and poets from the Americas with a right wing if not complete fascist leaning. Each character described seems so believable and plausible which gets one thinking that perhaps each character is simply a reference to an actual author that did really exist. And if Roberto Bolaño has actually read any of these authors’ work? The book reads like a reference guide with short biographies, but each story completely destroys the common notion of the liberal poet/artist, but what about the conservative artists. After all, Hitler failed art school.
Roberto Bolaño is a Beat poet for Chileans, for Mexicans, for Latin Americans, for Spanish speakers, for orphans of the world with no country or movement of their own. His work continues to be published posthumously, which may or may not be a good thing, but Bolaño will continue to remind and inspire future writers and poets to continue to struggle while also reminding that artists cannot simply check their politics at the door if they truly want to break on through. All while avoiding being dogmatic and coming off as preachy.