I know I’m late to the game on this, but last month Melville House published Roberto Bolano: The Last Interview & Other Conversations featuring a conversation with journalist Monica Maristain—which turned out to be Bolano’s best—along with a collection of conversations with other Latin American reporters. (And there’s an introduction by Marcela Valdes, who wrote an amazing piece about him for The Nation back some months ago.)
The book is totally wish-listed for me, but in the meantime if you click here there’s a sample interview available online through Issuu. It’s actually a reprint of a conversation between Carmen Boullosa and Bolano (trans. by Margaret Carson) that appeared in BOMB back in 2002 entitled “Reading Is Always More Important than Writing.”
Carmen Boullosa: In Latin America, there are two literary traditions that the average reader tends to regard as antithetical, opposite—or frankly, antagonistic: the fantastic—Adolfo Bioy Casares, the best of Cortazar, and the realist—Vargas Llosa, Teresa de la Parra. [. . .] In my opinion, you reap the benefits of both: Your novels and narratives are inventions—the fantastic—and a sharp, critical reflection of reality—realist. [. . .] Do you object to this idea, or does it appeal to you? To be honest, I find it somewhat illuminating, but it also leaves me dissatisfied: The best, the greatest writers (including Bioy Casares and his anthithesis, Vargas Llosa) always draw from these two traditions. Yet from the standpoint of the English-speaking North, there’s a tendency to pigeonhole Latin American literature within only one tradition.
Roberto Bolano: I thought the realists came from the south (by that, I mean the countries in the Southern Cone), and writers of the fantastic came from the middle and northern parts of Latin America—if you pay attention to these compartmentalizations, which you should never, under any circumstances, take seriously. Twentieth century Latin American literature has followed the impulses of imitation and rejection, and may continue to do so for some time in the twenty-first century. As a general rule, human beings either imitate or reject the great monuments, never the small, nearly invisible treasures. We have few writers who have cultivated the fantastic in the strictest sense—perhaps none, because among other reasons, economic underdevelopment doesn’t allow subgenres to flourish. Underdevelopment only allows for great works of literature. Lesser works, in this monotonous or apocalyptic landscape, are an unattainable luxury. Of course, it doesn’t follow that our literature is full of great works—quite the contrary. At first the writer aspires to meet these expectations, but then reality—the same reality that has fostered these aspirations—works to stunt the final product. I think there are only two countries with an authentic literary tradition that have at times managed to escape this destiny—Argentina and Mexico. As to my writing, I don’t know what to say. I suppose it’s realist. I’d like to be a writer of the fantastic, like Philip K. Dick, although as time passes and I get older, Dick seems more and more realist to me. Deep down—and I think you’ll agree with me—the question doesn’t lie in the distinction of realist/fantastic but in languages and structures, in ways of seeing. I had no idea that you like Teresa de la Parra so much. When I was in Venezuela people spoke a lot about her. Of course, I’ve never read her.
A man’s country may be cramped or vast according to the size of
his heart. I’ve never found my country too small, though that isn’t
to say my heart is great. And if I could choose it’s here. . .
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