book review – Amulet – Roberto Bolano

“I felt as through i was being wheeled into an operating room. I thought: I am in the women’s bathroom in the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature and I am the last person left. I was heading for the operating room. I was heading for the birth of History.”

What happened in Mexico in 1968 is often overlooked as the other worldwide events of that year jostle for attention. Students across the world protested in May that year with Paris in particular taking centre stage in the movement against the ancient regime. Elsewhere Martin Luther King was assassinated and the Vietnam war was raging.

In Mexico the response to the student protest and the threat it might derail the Olympics was a crackdown that included the Tlatelolco massacre where student and civilian protesters were massacred in Mexico City. That is the background to Amulet which charts the impact of the crackdown on the students from the view point of a slightly detached but intimately involved observer.

Auxilio Lacouture is a Uruguayan who moves to Mexico and dedicates her life to seeking out poets both those that have been discovered and found fame as well as those that are yet to make an impact. She refers to herself as the mother of poets and moves between the homes of writers and the university literature department where she spends a great deal of her time.

The moment that changes everything is the storming of the university by the army and the 12 days that Auxilio spends hidden in the toilet while the students and lecturers are carted off into poi lice vans and for some to beatings and captivity.

As she looks up from her book of poetry she was reading in the toilet stall and realises something has changed she starts to wander free from her physical location through her memories. But she sees things that are yet to happen and meets people that have long since died creating vivid meetings that exist in her mind only. The hallucinatory journey creates a flavour to the writing that makes it difficult to pin down exactly what is happening.

As a result to a degree you let it wash over you with the end result that you feel as a reader how acutely things have changed as a result of the repression. The watershed in terms of history and attitude means that some of the poets she dreams of will never become the people they should and those that have died will never have to see what Mexico has done to its own children.

The final scenes, which again bring back the sense of a hallucination, are incredibly powerful reminding you that those that die for a cause not only go to death with those beliefs but because of their example leave an indelible mark that is there for all to see. That is the amulet that is passed from one generation to the next.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s