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 Detectives—Nazi 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
227 pages, $23.95
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