Friday, November 30, 2007

Reading Roberto Bolaño

"The inseparable dangers of life and literature, and the relationship of life to literature, were the constant themes of Bolaño's writings and also of his life, as he defiantly and even improbably chose to live it. By the end of that life, Bolaño had written three story collections and ten novels. The last of these novels, 2666, was not quite finished when he died of liver failure in 2003, which did not prevent many readers and critics from considering it his masterwork. It is an often shockingly raunchy and violent tour de force (though the phrase seems hardly adequate to describe the novel's narrative velocity, polyphonic range, inventiveness, and bravery) based in part on the still unsolved murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juárez, in the Sonora desert of Mexico near the Texas border. (2666 is currently being translated into English and is due to be published next year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.)
Yet the writer with whom Spanish-language critics have often compared Bolaño is the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, renowned for his singular bookishness, and for the metaphysical playfulness, erudition, and brevity of his entirely asexual writings. With those comparisons critics have wanted, partly, to emphasize their sense of Bolaño's significance, for Borges is probably the only Latin American writer of the past century whose greatness seems uncontested by anybody, though the more you read Bolaño, the more interesting and appropriate the comparison between the two writers becomes. Bolaño revered Borges ("I could live under a table reading Borges"). He would have been happy, Bolaño told an interviewer, to have led a life like Borges's—relatively sedentary, devoted to literature and a small circle of like-minded friends, "a happy life." But Bolaño lived most of his life in another manner. "My life," he said, "has been infinitely more savage than Borges's."

Extracted from The New York Review of Books, July 19, 2007


Cold Bacon said...

awesome colors.

zipthwung said...

Another garden of forking paths. Well, I'm pruning this one. Expect a topiary.

Cold Bacon said...

a popcorn topiary!

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