Dirda on Bolano

We’ll be posting our own glowing review of Nazi Literature in the Americas later this week, but in the meantime, here’s a bit from Michael Dirda’s review in this week’s Washington Post

Let me admit, straight off, that any reviewer might feel hesitant before recommending a book called Nazi Literature in the Americas. At the checkout, the bookstore clerk will almost certainly look twice at the title — and then avoid looking at you. Certainly, it would be politic to leave the dust jacket at home if you like to read on the subway; and even then, you might want to invest in one of those anonymous wrap-around opaque covers. When friends casually ask the title of the book you’re carrying, you’ll want to have an explanation prepared in advance. [. . .]

One of the pleasures of Bolano lies in his subtle humor: He’ll mention “an irreproachable style, worthy of Sholokhov” — and expect the reader to recognize the sarcasm. Irma Carrasco’s sonnets are described as “fearlessly probing the open wound of modernity. The solution, it now seemed to her, was to return to sixteenth-century Spain.” Actual writers repeatedly interact with imaginary ones. Many leading figures of Latin American literature — Adolfo Bioy Casares, Manuel Mujica Lainez, Ernesto Sabato and Osman Lins, among others — are regularly vilified. Juan Mendiluce Thompson scornfully describes Borges’s stories as “parodies of parodies,” adding that his “lifeless characters were derived from worn-out traditions of English and French literature, clearly in decline, ‘repeating the same old plots ad nauseam.’ “ The joke here, of course, is that Borges’s stories are precisely these things. In a way. [. . .]

Next year Farrar Straus Giroux promises a translation of Bolano’s magnum opus 2666, while New Directions will be publishing seven more of his earlier books. This is a lot of attention for a dead writer, born in Chile, long resident in Mexico and buried in Spain. But Roberto Bolano is worth discovering, worth reading — and even worth all the trouble of having to explain why it is that you are toting around a book called Nazi Literature in the Americas.

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