POKING FUN AT MEDIOCRITY, SATIRISING TERROR; NAZI LITERATURE IN THE AMERICAS by Robert Bolano, Translated by Chris Andrews (Picador, [Pounds Sterling]16.99)

The Evening Standard (London, England), January 14, 2010 | Go to article overview

POKING FUN AT MEDIOCRITY, SATIRISING TERROR; NAZI LITERATURE IN THE AMERICAS by Robert Bolano, Translated by Chris Andrews (Picador, [Pounds Sterling]16.99)


Byline: ANDREW NEATHER

THE fame of Chilean-born novelist Roberto Bolano has been almost entirely posthumous in the Englishspeaking world. The first translation of any of his novels appeared a few months before his death from liver disease in 2003, aged 50, and it was last year's publication here of his sprawling posthumous masterpiece, 2666, that made him a worldwide phenomenon. Yet he published his first novel only in 1993, after years as a "poet and vagabond".

In other words, his life was almost as idiosyncratic as some of the writers he sketches in Nazi Literature in the Americas, first published in 1996. The subjects of this deadpan survey of 31 far-Right authors are, however, entirely imaginary, as are the meticulously noted publication details for their works.

For this is an extended bibliographic fantasy. Many of the writers are obscure, such as Brazilian anti-Enlightenment philosopher Luiz Fontaine da Souza, author of a fivevolume refutation of Sartre's Being and Nothingness, greeted critically with "sepulchral silence". A few are deranged, such as the maniacal Haitian plagiarist and Hitler admirer, Max Mirebalais. But all are fictional.

The obvious comparison for such bookish fantasia is with Bolano's idol, Borges. Yet there is a hard undercurrent here, an uneasy sense of very bad things happening beneath the surface. The writers publish and squabble but occasionally we are reminded of the torturers and death squads exercising power in much of postwar South America, as in Chile 1973-1990.

Thus the Chilean Carlos Ramirez Hoffman is an absurd figure, tracing poems in the sky with the vapour trail of his plane, yet is also clearly implicated in terrible crimes. …

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