Category: Roberto Bolano

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.

Advertisements

Thoughts at the halfway point of Amulet

“This is going to be a horror story. A story of murder, detection and horror. But it won’t appear to be, for the simple reason that I am the teller. Told by me, it won’t seem like that. Although, in fact, it’s the story of a terrible crime.”

Don’t be fooled by the idea that just because a Bolano book is shorter than the epic 2666 it is less of a challenge. You need all your concentration here and a mind that is quick to pick up on the facts that are given to you. Miss the fact that this story is set against the background of 1968 repression in Mexico and you are in trouble.

In some ways it helped having read a few years ago, and vaguely remembered the dealings with Mexico, in Mark Kurlansky’s book 1968. That account of a fairly radical year gave me the ability to come to this book with the knowledge that some fairly horrible things were carried out in Mexico in the late sixties as the leaders of the day looked to crush any form of opposition. With the Olympics going to the country the last thing the leaders wanted were public displays of unrest and the universities were targeted to snuff out any potential student opposition.

Bolano puts his main character, a woman who hangs around with poets and professors in the literature department, bang in the middle of that action with her being the last one left inside the university as the army mounts a raid.

As she struggles to understand what is happening around her mind starts to travel through the past and the future.

A review follows soon…

A forehead slapping Bolano moment

Had one of those forehead slapping moments today when the writing of Roberto Bolano started to make a great deal more sense.

What has helped me unlock it is by starting to read the Amulet. Here is a book that concerns a specific event, the terrible events in Mexico in 1968 where opposition was silenced with torture cells and bullets.

But the story unfolds with a woman who moves to Mexico and starts to hang around with poets and literature professors. She finds herself the last one in the University as the army lay siege to the building as she is distracted reading poetry on the toilet. So far so good.

Of course things aren’t quite as simple as that with the action of 1968 surrounded by memories and speculations about poetry, teeth and Mexico.

And that’s when I realised that the point being made is how art reacts to life and how poetry interacts with not just the mundane but the brutal. In 2666 there are several things going on but one of them has to be about the way Mexican society is being torn apart by drugs and how intellectuals are not immune from it. Their search for a reclusive author would have ended in a court room as the German writer became intertwined through his extended family in some killings in Mexico.

In a way it has made me appreciate and understand 2666 a great deal more. perhaps it would have been better to have read The Amulet before but that’s the way reading unfolds sometimes.

book review – 2666

It is with some trepidation that the task of pulling together some coherent thoughts about Roberto Bolano’s 2666 is begun.

What you remember throughout the book are the words of the forward with the explanation of how the original vision had been to publish the five books that make up 2666 separately. After his death Bolano’s family decided that for practical reasons putting them all together made more sense. But the fact they went against the author’s wishes lingers in your mind as you set out on the journey.

The first part concerns itself with three critics, a Spaniard, Italian and German, who have dedicated their academic lives to studying an obscure German author Archimboldi who has never received widespread critical acclaim. As they share a love for his work they also get involved with each other and the introduction of a British female academic who takes two of them as lovers spices it up a bit.

But this is also about the hunt for the lost author and the attempt to pull him out of obscurity not just academically but also literally. The hunt takes them to the last known citing in an industrial town in Mexico. Leaving the aging Italian at home the others head off and find a landscape of dreams, murder and drug trade fuelled madness. They almost lose themselves, particularly mentally, in the hunt for Archimboldi.

Having left the critics the second section turns to one of the Mexican professors they met at the local University. He displays signs of madness and in many respects apart from his connection with the critics from book one he doesn’t appear to be taking the story forward.

But then it starts to become slightly clearer that this is as much about Mexico and the killings of numerous women in Santa Teresa as it is about the reclusive author. The awareness that the priority is shifting to focus on the hundreds of murders in Mexico creeps up on you and rather disappoints because having invested a chunk of time in the critics in part one they clearly have served their purpose and have exited stage left.

Although the question is whether or not they really had. Because of the way the story ends unfinished there are many questions that you circulate round the mind and one of them is whether or not the critics would have reappeared.

Part three concerns an American journalist who is sent to Saint Teresa to cover a boxing match and starts to become interested in writing about the murders. He overlaps with the Mexican professor ion part two by running away with his daughter. But there seems to be little about Archimboldi, nothing about the critics and all about Mexico and murder.

That sets things up for part four where the novel becomes a catalogue of murder descriptions which provide the reader with an insight into the extent of the problem but none of the answers about who is responsible. The potential suspect, who winds up in prison, is a German born computer salesman who happened to have a brief acquaintance with one of the victims. He denies it and importantly the killings continue.

Things go back in time to tell the story of Archimboldi and his emergence as a literary talent. Against a backdrop of the Second World War and his experience on the Eastern front the young German uses the war and his experiences to relaunch himself. He maintains a relationship with his publisher but his constant movement across the globe makes him appear reclusive.

Many times you ask yourself as you plough on through the 900 plus pages where this is going. The problem is that after a while you stop caring about whether or not Archimboldi comes out into the light and if he is able to stop his nephew from going to prison for the murders in Mexico.

If anything this book is about mystery. The mystery of the Mexican landscape and the impact on a town by the drugs trade. The mystery of academic ambition and the reclusive writer. But also the mystery of writing with the story something that you never quite capture like a heat haze on one of the highways on the outskirts of the Saint Teresa that Bolano describes so well.

By the end you feel frustrated, puzzled and tired. But there are ideas and images that you take away that make the investment of time worth while. The problem is waiting for the puzzlement to go away and the more positive thoughts to collate. That can take almost as much time as reading the book.

book review – 2666

It is with some trepidation that the task of pulling together some coherent thoughts about Roberto Bolano’s 2666 is begun.

What you remember throughout the book are the words of the forward with the explanation of how the original vision had been to publish the five books that make up 2666 separately. After his death Bolano’s family decided that for practical reasons putting them all together made more sense. But the fact they went against the author’s wishes lingers in your mind as you set out on the journey.

The first part concerns itself with three critics, a Spaniard, Italian and German, who have dedicated their academic lives to studying an obscure German author Archimboldi who has never received widespread critical acclaim. As they share a love for his work they also get involved with each other and the introduction of a British female academic who takes two of them as lovers spices it up a bit.

But this is also about the hunt for the lost author and the attempt to pull him out of obscurity not just academically but also literally. The hunt takes them to the last known citing in an industrial town in Mexico. Leaving the aging Italian at home the others head off and find a landscape of dreams, murder and drug trade fuelled madness. They almost lose themselves, particularly mentally, in the hunt for Archimboldi.

Having left the critics the second section turns to one of the Mexican professors they met at the local University. He displays signs of madness and in many respects apart from his connection with the critics from book one he doesn’t appear to be taking the story forward.

But then it starts to become slightly clearer that this is as much about Mexico and the killings of numerous women in Santa Teresa as it is about the reclusive author. The awareness that the priority is shifting to focus on the hundreds of murders in Mexico creeps up on you and rather disappoints because having invested a chunk of time in the critics in part one they clearly have served their purpose and have exited stage left.

Although the question is whether or not they really had. Because of the way the story ends unfinished there are many questions that you circulate round the mind and one of them is whether or not the critics would have reappeared.

Part three concerns an American journalist who is sent to Saint Teresa to cover a boxing match and starts to become interested in writing about the murders. He overlaps with the Mexican professor ion part two by running away with his daughter. But there seems to be little about Archimboldi, nothing about the critics and all about Mexico and murder.

That sets things up for part four where the novel becomes a catalogue of murder descriptions which provide the reader with an insight into the extent of the problem but none of the answers about who is responsible. The potential suspect, who winds up in prison, is a German born computer salesman who happened to have a brief acquaintance with one of the victims. He denies it and importantly the killings continue.

Things go back in time to tell the story of Archimboldi and his emergence as a literary talent. Against a backdrop of the Second World War and his experience on the Eastern front the young German uses the war and his experiences to relaunch himself. He maintains a relationship with his publisher but his constant movement across the globe makes him appear reclusive.

Many times you ask yourself as you plough on through the 900 plus pages where this is going. The problem is that after a while you stop caring about whether or not Archimboldi comes out into the light and if he is able to stop his nephew from going to prison for the murders in Mexico.

If anything this book is about mystery. The mystery of the Mexican landscape and the impact on a town by the drugs trade. The mystery of academic ambition and the reclusive writer. But also the mystery of writing with the story something that you never quite capture like a heat haze on one of the highways on the outskirts of the Saint Teresa that Bolano describes so well.

By the end you feel frustrated, puzzled and tired. But there are ideas and images that you take away that make the investment of time worth while. The problem is waiting for the puzzlement to go away and the more positive thoughts to collate. That can take almost as much time as reading the book.

2666 – post V

The last section takes you off at a slight tangent telling you the life story of the german writer that connects the three critics, the town in Mexico and the other marginal characters.

But it is not until you have waded through a large number of pages you understand how be is connected, be relation, to the crimes in Mexico.

But it is at that point that the book finishes with a postscript that seems rather apologetic explaining that the reason for the book feeling unpolished is as a result of the author’s untimely death. That leaves the reader in the wonderful position of being able to dream up their own ending and the answers to the main questions you are left grappling with. But after 900 pages it also leaves you feeling slighty cheated. The journey might have been interesting and no doubt there were things learnt on the way that were useful but the final destination isn’t quite what you expect. After such an investment in time that doesn’t feel quite like the reward it should.

A review will follow soon..

2666 – post IV

The fourth part of 2666 is the longest and so far the most difficult to read.

If the aim was to get across a sense of the confusion and corruption that surrounds the mass killings in Saint Teresa then it works. But it is often brutal reading with the murders described in a repetitvely graphic way. That is nothing to the hideous things that happen in the prisons. Inside a german computer seller waits to see if the police charges of murder will stick.

Meanwhile others ranging from mediums to congress women are looking for the truth but not coming any closer to it.

The picture of a Mexico that is bring destroyed by drugs, corruption and crime is vivid and after a while it starts to drag you down a bit. You are now left starting the final part not only searching foe a lost german author but also wondering if the killer can be found. Maybe they are one and the same. We shall see…