17 December 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

For the next several weeks we’ll be highlighting a book-a-day from the 25-title Best Translated Book of 2008 fiction longlist, leading up to the announcement of the 10 finalists. Click here for all previous write-ups.



Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano, translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews. (Chile, New Directions)

Nazi Literature in the Americas stands in stark contrast to the other Bolano book on the Best Translated Book of the Year fiction longlist. It’s a quarter of the length, much more concise and focused, and, in some ways, more imaginative. But it didn’t receive anywhere near the same amount of hype and attention that’s being heaped on 2666.

Which is really too bad. For a number of years now (and a number of years to come), New Directions has been publishing Bolano’s shorter works, including By Night in Chile, Distant Star, Amulet, the short story collection Last Evenings on Earth, and the poetry collection Romantic Dogs. They were the first U.S. publisher to start doing Bolano and have done a great job establishing his reputation, building his fan base, etc. And there are a lot of Bolano fans who feel that these shorter works are much stronger than the sprawling, diffuse longer novels.

I think these shorter books are masterful—especially the short story collection and this “encyclopedia” of fascist writers. A very Borgesian novel, Nazi Literature in the Americas is a collection of “entries” on imaginary Nazi writers, magazines, publishers, etc. It’s a very creative book, one in which Bolano not only invents these fascist characters, but describes a lot of their works as well, capturing these authors and their works in a concise, intriguing, typically Bolano, fashion. From the section on Argentine writer Silvio Salvatico, who advocated for

among other things, the re-establishment of the Inquisition; corporal punishment in public; a permanent war against the Chileans, the Paraguayans, or the Bolivians as a kind of gymnastics for the nation; polygamy; the extermination of the Indians to prevent further contamination of the Argentinean race; curtailing the rights of any citizen with Jewish blood; a massive influx of migrants from the Scandinavian countries in order to effect a progressive lightening of the national skin color, darkened by years of promiscuity with the indigenous population; life-long writer’s grants; the abolition of tax on artists’ incomes; the creation of the largest air force in South America; the colonization of Antarctica; and the building of new cities in Patagonia.

He was a soccer player and a Futurist.

And about his works:

From 1930 on, burdened by a disastrous marriage and numerous offspring, he worked as a gossip columnist and copy-editor for various newspapers in the capital, hung out in dives, and practised the art of the novel, which stubbornly declined to yield its secrets to him. Three titles resulted: Fields of Honor (1936), about semi-secret challenges and duels in a spectral Buenos Aires; The French Lady (1949), a story of prostitutes with hearts of gold, tango singers and detectives; and The Eyes of the Assassin (1962), a curious precursor to the psycho-killer movies of the seventies and eighties.

These biographical sketches range are sometimes disturbing, always interesting, and occasionally funny, as in this section, one of my personal favorites:

That was not to be Perez Mason’s last visit to the jails of socialist Cuba. In 1965 he published Poor Man’s Soup, which related—in an irreproachable style, worthy of Sholokov—the hardships of a large family living in Havana in 1950. The novel comprised fourteen chapters. The first began: “Lucia was a black woman from . . .”; the second: “Only after serving her father . . .”; the third: “Nothing had come easily to Juan . . .”; the fourth: “Gradually, tenderly, she drew him towards her . . .” The censor quickly smelled a rat. The first letters of each chapter made up the acrostic LONG LIVE HITLER. A major scandal broke out. Perez Mason defended himself haughtily: it was a simple coincidence. The censors set to work in earnest, and made a fresh discovery: the first letters of each chapter’s second paragraph made up another acrostic—THIS PLACE SUCKS. And those of the third paragraph spelled: USA WHERE ARE YOU. And the fourth paragraph: KISS MY CUBAN ASS. And so, since each chapter, without exception, contained twenty-five paragraphs, the censors and the general public soon discovered twenty-five acrostics. I screwed up, Perez Mason would say later: They were too obvious, but if I’d made it much harder, no one would have realized.

Bolano is the only author who has two books on this year’s longlist, both of which are definitely worth reading.

26 June 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

This is the eleventh Reading the World 2008 title we’re covering. Write-ups of the other titles can be found here. And information about the Reading the World program—a special collaboration between publishers and independent booksellers to promote literature in translation throughout the month of June—is available at the official RTW website. There’s also a podcast discussing RTW available from World Books.

Like a number of other online literary commentators, I’ve been blogging the hell out of Bolano’s 2666, talking it up as one of the “Big Books of BEA,” and one of the most anticipated galleys of the year. (Which really does still trip me out. Amid all the talk of how Americans don’t like foreign literature, shy away from dead authors, don’t like tildes, etc., etc., some schlubs at BEA steal the mock-up of the three-volume paperback from the FSG stand, which, granted, was very pretty, but was filled with blank pages.) I’m more than half-way done with this, and yes, it really is amazing.

Nevertheless, it’s a mistake to overlook the fantastic Bolano books New Directions has published in favor of 2666 and The Savage Detectives. All of the ND books—By Night in Chile, Distant Star, Amulet, and especially Last Evenings on Earth—are a testament to Bolano’s range and ability.

Nazi Literature in the Americas is no exception. This is one of my favorite titles from this year’s group of Reading the World books. I still giggle about the idea of recommending this to public radio listeners, since the title is somewhat misleading. Or not really—this is an encyclopedia of fascist writers, magazines, books, publishers, etc. But it’s all invented, and not at all the weighty, serious tome that the title suggests.

I wrote a review of this a few months back, and rather than re-heap the praise, I’d rather just reprint one of my favorite sections:

That was not to be Perez Mason’s last visit to the jails of socialist Cuba. In 1965 he published Poor Man’s Soup, which related—in an irreproachable style, worthy of Sholokov—the hardships of a large family living in Havana in 1950. The novel comprised fourteen chapters. The first began: “Lucia was a black woman from . . .”; the second: “Only after serving her father . . .”; the third: “Nothing had come easily to Juan . . .”; the fourth: “Gradually, tenderly, she drew him towards her . . .” The censor quickly smelled a rat. The first letters of each chapter made up the acrostic LONG LIVE HITLER. A major scandal broke out. Perez Mason defended himself haughtily: it was a simple coincidence. The censors set to work in earnest, and made a fresh discovery: the first letters of each chapter’s second paragraph made up another acrostic—THIS PLACE SUCKS. And those of the third paragraph spelled: USA WHERE ARE YOU. And the fourth paragraph: KISS MY CUBAN ASS. And so, since each chapter, without exception, contained twenty-five paragraphs, the censors and the general public soon discovered twenty-five acrostics. I screwed up, Perez Mason would say later: They were too obvious, but if I’d made it much harder, no one would have realized.

4 March 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Our latest review is of Roberto Bolano’s Nazi Literature in the Americas, the fourth Reading the World 2008 title to be reviewed on Three Percent. This was highly anticipated and totally lives up to the hype.

4 March 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

To be honest, there isn’t a whole lot that I feel I have to say about Nazi Literature in the Americas, the latest Bolano book to make its way into English except that everyone should run out, buy it, and read it multiple times because it really is that good. Since New Directions published By Night in Chile in 2003, Bolano has been on a meteoric rise and was essentially canonized when FSG brought out The Savage Detectives last year. So I don’t really feel it’s necessary to recap Bolano’s short life and accomplishments here—besides Ben Kunkel did a much better job than I ever could in this piece that appeared in the “London Review of Books.”: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n17/kunk01_.html

Of course, Bolano had already been canonized in the Spanish speaking world before his work was ever published in English, and that process seemed to have started in earnest in 1996 with the Spanish-language publication of this encyclopedia of imagined fascists. In many ways, this is the book where the torch of Latin American “experimental” writing has clearly been passed. Of the titles translated so far—including The Savage DetectivesNazi Literature is the most aggressively plotless, forgoing the ideas of climax and denouement and instead creating an entire universe of authors, books, publishers, and, well, fascists, for the reader to peruse.

In a way, this is a concept book gone mad—something that in the hands of a lesser author could easily come off as being too cute by half—that is mesmerizing, obsessive, and incredibly fun to read. Organized into sections with names like “Forerunners and Figures of the Anti-Enlightenment,” and “The Many Masks of Max Mirebalais,” and “Magicians, Mercenaries and Miserable Creatures,” Nazi Literature in the Americas contains short bios of thirty imaginary authors who range from being merely misguided right-winger to extremely frightening fascists. (Not to mention all the publishers, magazines, secondary figures, and books listed in the “Epilogue for Monsters.”) Each bio opens with the birth and death dates (some of which are set in the future) and in a handful of pages sketches out the life and works of the author in question. Some characters—or their publishing houses or magazines—resurface, but this is one of those rare books that can truly be read at random, in any order, and will still offer up the same pleasures.

And it’s accurate to call this a pleasurable book. Despite the unsavory characters populating it, the language, the invented books, the sheer imagination present on every page is stunning and enjoyable.

That was not to be Perez Mason’s last visit to the jails of socialist Cuba. In 1965 he published Poor Man’s Soup, which related—in an irreproachable style, worthy of Sholokov—the hardships of a large family living in Havana in 1950. The novel comprised fourteen chapters. The first began: “Lucia was a black woman from . . .”; the second: “Only after serving her father . . .”; the third: “Nothing had come easily to Juan . . .”; the fourth: “Gradually, tenderly, she drew him towards her . . .” The censor quickly smelled a rat. The first letters of each chapter made up the acrostic LONG LIVE HITLER. A major scandal broke out. Perez Mason defended himself haughtily: it was a simple coincidence. The censors set to work in earnest, and made a fresh discovery: the first letters of each chapter’s second paragraph made up another acrostic—THIS PLACE SUCKS. And those of the third paragraph spelled: USA WHERE ARE YOU. And the fourth paragraph: KISS MY CUBAN ASS. And so, since each chapter, without exception, contained twenty-five paragraphs, the censors and the general public soon discovered twenty-five acrostics. I screwed up, Perez Mason would say later: They were too obvious, but if I’d made it much harder, no one would have realized.

Although I don’t think there are any games that intricate in Nazi Literature, it is a book that exemplifies the best of what, for lack of a better term, constitutes “experimental literature.” It challenges conventions of what a work of fiction should look like while still being engaging on a number of levels. In short, Bolano is the heir to the long, grand tradition of daring, innovative Argentine writers. And everyone really should run out, buy, and read this book.

Nazi Literature in the Americas
by Roberto Bolano
Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews
New Directions
227 pages, $23.95
978-0-8112-1705-7

10 January 08 | Chad W. Post | Comments

Joshua Cohen has one of the first (hopefully of many) reviews of Roberto Bolano’s Nazi Literature in the Americas in yesterday’s Jewish Daily Forward.

A surprise to probably no one, the book sounds awesome:

Nazi Literature in the Americas, first published in Spanish in 1996, is not a work of nonfiction, though it reads as an encyclopedic history, or a biographical dictionary of criminous thought. [. . .]

What Bolaño has given us is a mock reference text, an indispensible companion to the work of collaborationist poets and novelists in the Americas — writers who, whether actively or through aesthetic allegiance, kept company with the Nazi cause. Included and representative are entries on “The Mendiluce Clan”: Edelmira Thompson de Mendiluce, an austere “lady poet”; Juan Mendiluce Thompson, her son, an angry novelist who denounced Julio Cortázar and his mentor Borges, “whose stories, so he claimed, were ‘parodies of parodies’”; and Luz Mendiluce Thompson, the family’s obese poet-daughter, who cherishes throughout her life a photograph of her baby self being cradled by Hitler.

One of the best aspects of the review is the passing reference to a joke manifesto Bolano once wrote:

Bolaño seems to have summarized his own life in the prankish manifesto for the literary movement he founded, “Infrarealism”: “Experience at full tilt, self-consuming structures, stark raving contradictions . . .”

Later in this document (of which Bolaño was the sole author and signatory), he wrote: “Risk is always elsewhere. The true poet is always leaving himself behind.”

12 December 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments [1]

Galleys of Bolano’s Nazi Literature in the Americas have been circulating for a few months now, and everyone I’ve talked with absolutely loves the book. Publishers Weekly has the first actual review I’ve seen of this, and the reviewer tends to agree:

The title chosen by Bolaño (1953–2003) for this slim, fake encyclopedia is not wholly tongue-in-cheek: given the very real presence of former (and not-so-former) Nazis in Latin America following WWII, this book, despite being fiction, still had j’accuse-like power when first published in 1996. The poets described herein, though invented, seem—even at their most absurd—plausible, which is the secret to this sly book’s devastating effect. [. . .] The wild inventiveness of Bolaño’s evocations places them squarely in the realm of Borges—another writer who draws enormous power from the movement between the fictive and the real.

31 October 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments [3]

Over at the Literary Saloon it appears that Michael Orthofer has received a galley of Nazi Literature in the Americas, the next Bolano book to be published in English. It’s due out from New Directions in February, which is a mere 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . . 4 months away. (A third of a year! Good God!)

Well, it’s never too soon to start the hype, and Orthofer does a great job of writing selling-type copy:

First of all, it comes with an epigraph by Augusto Monterroso, which already goes a long way in winning us over.

The book itself is a sort of mock-encyclopedia of imagined author-lives, complete with an extensive bibliography (a closing section titled ‘Epilogue for Monsters’). At just over two hundred pages it looks the right size not to be too wearing, and this seems exactly the sort of thing Bolaño’s talents are suited for.

An excerpt is available in the latest Virginia Quarterly Review and if you have access to back issues of Grand Street, an excerpt appeared in issue 70, back in 2002.

31 July 07 | Chad W. Post | Comments

For all Spanish readers, Letras Libres has a review by Rodrigo Fresan of the last two books by Roberto Bolano to be published posthumously.

Hopefully New Directions will bring these out after they finish doing all the others . . . And in case you’re wondering, Nazi Literature in the Americas, is the next one ND is releasing. It’s scheduled to be available in February 2008. An excerpt is already available at the ND site.

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