Roberto Bolano – 2666, etc

  • Both editions of 2666 by Roberto Bolano are currently BookCourt Best Sellers and so we’re selling them at 20% off their shared list price of $30.00. Our price for each is $24.00. (click here for the list)
  • Composed in the last years of Roberto Bolaño’s life, 2666 was greeted across Europe and Latin America as his highest achievement, surpassing even his previous work in its strangeness, beauty, and scope. Its throng of unforgettable characters includes academics and convicts, an American sportswriter, an elusive German novelist, and a teenage student and her widowed, mentally unstable father. Their lives intersect in the urban sprawl of SantaTeresa—a fictional Juárez—on the U.S.-Mexico border, where hundreds of young factory workers, in the novel as in life, have disappeared.

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  • 2666 – Reviewed by Jonathan Lethem for the New York Times (click here)
  • Read the first chapter of 2666 (click here)

Roberto Bolaño Ávalos (April 28, 1953 — July 15, 2003)

Bolaño was born in Chile and raised in Mexico. He later emigrated to Spain, where he died aged 50. His early years were spent in southern and coastal Chile; by his own account he was a skinny, nearsighted and bookish but unpromising child. He sufferred from dyslexia as a child, and was often bullied at school, where he felt an outsider. As a teenager, though, he moved with his family to Mexico, dropped out of school, worked as a journalist and became active in left-wing political causes.

He returned to Chile just before the 1973 coup that installed Gen. Augusto Pinochet in power, and, like many others of his age and background, was jailed (see later).

For most of his youth, Bolaño was a vagabond, living at one time or another in Chile, Mexico, El Salvador, FranceSpain, where he finally settled down in the early 1980s in the small Catalan beach town of Blanes. and

Bolaño was a heroin addict in his youth and died of chronic Hepatitis, caused by Hepatitis C, with which he was infected as a result of sharing needles during his “mainlining” days. He had suffered from liver failure and was on a transplant list.

He is survived by his Spanish wife and their two children, whom he once called “my only motherland.” (In his last interview, published by the Mexican edition of Playboy magazine, Bolano said he regarded himself as a Latin American, adding that “…my only country is my two children and perhaps, though in second place, some moments, streets, faces or books that are in me…”)

Bolaño named his only son Lautaro, after the Mapuche leader Lautaro, who resisted the Spanish conquest of Chile, as related in the sixteenth-century epic La araucana.

A crucial episode in Bolaño’s life, mentioned in different forms in several of his works, occurred in 1973, when he left Mexico for Chile to “help build the revolution.” After Augusto Pinochet’s coup against Salvador Allende, he was arrested; Bolaño spent eight days1 in custody, and was rescued by two former classmates who had become prison guards. He describes his experience in the story “Dance Card.” Bolano was arrested during a road check and imprisoned for a few days on suspicion of being a “Mexican terrorist”. He was neither tortured nor killed, as he’d expected, but “in the small hours I could hear them torturing others; I couldn’t sleep and there was nothing to read except a magazine in English that someone had left behind. The only interesting article in it was about a house that had once belonged to Dylan Thomas. . . . I got out of that hole thanks to a pair of detectives who had been at high school with me in Los Ángeles.”

In the 1970s, Bolaño became a Trotskyist and a founding member of infrarrealismo, a minor poetic movement. Although deep down he always felt like a poet, in the vein of his beloved Nicanor Parra, his reputation ultimately rests on his novels, novellas and short story collections.

After an interlude in El Salvador, spent in the company of the poet Roque Dalton and the guerrillas of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front, Bolaño returned to Mexico, living as a bohemian poet and literary enfant terrible – a professional provocateur feared at all the publishing houses even though he was a nobody, bursting into literary presentations and readings, his editor, Jorge Herralde, recalled. A lot of his behavior had to do as much with his leftist ideology as with his chaotic, heroin-addicted lifestyle.

Bolaño finally made his way to Spain, where he married and settled on the Mediterranean coast near Barcelona, working as a dishwasher, a campground custodian, bellhop and garbage collector, while he wrote.

In an interview Bolaño stated that his decision to shift to fiction at the age of 40 was because he felt responsible for the future financial well-being of his family, which he knew he could never secure from the earnings of a poet. He continued to think of himself primarily as a poet, and a 20-year collection of his verse was published in 2000 under the title The Romantic Dogs. He turned to narrative fiction and abandoned his parsimonious beatnik existence, Jorge Herralde confirmed after his death, because the birth of his son in 1990 made him decide that he was responsible for his family’s future and that it would be easier to earn a living by writing fiction.

As regards his native country, which he visited just once after going into exile, Bolaño had conflicted feelings. He was notorious in Chile for his fierce attacks on Isabel Allende and other members of the literary establishment. He didn’t fit into Chile, and the rejection that he experienced left him free to say whatever he wanted, which can be a good thing for a writer, said the Chilean novelist and playwright Ariel Dorfman.

Six weeks before he died, Bolaño’s fellow Latin American novelists hailed him as the most important figure of his generation at an international conference he attended in Seville. He counted among his closest friends novelists Rodrigo Fresán and Enrique Vila-Matas. Roberto emerged as a writer at a time when Latin America no longer believed in utopias, when paradise had become hell, and that sense of monstrousness and waking nightmares and constant flight from something horrid permeates ’2666′ and all his work, said Fresan. His books are political, but in a way that is more personal than militant or demagogic, that is closer to the mystique of the beatniks than the Boom.

Bolaño was extraordinarily prolific, but Jorge Herralde reports that not much remains unpublished: a volume of poetry tentatively called The Unknown University and one more collection of short stories.

Bolaño joked about the posthumous, saying the word sounds like the name of a Roman gladiator, one who is undefeated, and he would no doubt be amused to see how his stock has risen now that he is dead.

Rodrigo Fresan has observed that Roberto was one of a kind, a writer who worked without a net, who went all out, with no brakes, and in doing so, created a new way to be a great Latin American writer.

Praise for 2666:

  • “Bolaño’s masterwork . . . 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 near the Texas border.” —FRANCISCO GOLDMAN, The New York Review of Books
  • “Not just the great Spanish-language novel of [this] decade, but one of the cornerstones that define an entire literature.” —J. A. MASOLIVER RÓDENAS, La Vanguardia
  • “One of those strange, exquisite, and astonishing experiences that literature offers us only once in a very long time . . . to see . . . a writer in full pursuit of the Total Novel, one that not only completes his life’s work but redefines it and raises it to new dizzying heights.” —RODRIGO FRESÁN, El País
Read and learn about Roberto Bolano on Wikipedia (click here)
NYRB article on Roberto Bolano (click here)
New Yorker article on Roberto Bolano (click here)
Why Bolano Matters – The Millions Blog (click here)

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