Roberto Bolaño – "Nazi Literature in the Americas"

For those who do not know, Roberto Bolaño, a Chilean, passed away in 2003. Like many in America or in the English speaking world, New Directions let us in on the secret with By Night In Chile and Distant Star (which is actually an elaboration of the final story in Nazi Literature in the Americas”). His other works, very quickly, include the short-story collection, Last Evenings on Earth and the haunting, Amulet. His better known works include the Romulo Gallegos winner The Savage Detectives and the magical, mysterious 2666.

“Nazi Literature in the Americas” reads like a history (but not in a bad way). Bolaño creates dozens of personalities, each with intricate details and interesting character traits that even a third-party (Bolaño) can convey gently. Each character exists throughout North and South America in the twentieth-century, some not dying until 2040 (which Bolaño uses to hint that these people still exist into the later twenty-first century).

As the title suggests, each character is tied, in Bolaño fashion, to fascist literary movements in their respective time period and country. Edelmira Thompson de Mendiluce, the first chronicled in the novel, is a bourgeois Argentine who met Hitler in the 1930’s and was sympathetic to the cause ever since. Max Mirebalais, is a poor Haitian who steals from other European poets and crafts “many masks,” which he uses to create an ideology of hate. Argentino Schiaffino is a thug from Buenos Aires who loves soccer and violence and believes in the hierarchy of races and is on the run most of his life for murder.

One gets the point. The problem is, this doesn’t half convey the textual density and complexity of the work. The way the characters interact within each others stories, how one influences the other, etc. The depth that Bolano went through to create this world is astonishing (as his epilogue with a glossary of names, places, publishers, books, and miniature biographies of minor characters in the stories indicates).

The beauty, in the end, is that each is not a follower of Hitler or Aryan supremacy. Most are misguided and some are playing games even with themselves. The real world is ever present in Bolaño’s world and the presence of these characters moving, most of the time at odds with the real world, is fascinating. The trick is that each characters intolerance is shown in different ways – not directed at Hitler or other fascist leaders, but in the culture of fascism that still exists today – even as it did in 1996 when this novel was published.

As he says of literature, it “is a surreptitious form of violence, a passport to respectability, and can, in certain young and sensitive nations, disguise the social climber’s origins.” Something one must always keep in mind.

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~ by Daniel on May 7, 2008.

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