Nazi Literature In The Americas
by Roberto Bolaño
Well, you can't say I'm not giving him a fair crack of the whip. After the thrill of The Savage Detectives came the bruising of 2666 and finally the damp squib that was Amulet; with each successive read pushing me further and further away and even thinking that it might be time for someone to point out that thing about the emperor and his clothes. But I thought I'd give him another chance and Picador do keep producing these rather lovely editions. Presented as a kind of encyclopaedia of fictitious writers with some kind of fascist bent the book is apparently a wicked satire on literary pretension and hypocrisy at both ends of the political spectrum. I say apparently because unless you are sufficiently well versed in the literary figures of the Americas then for the most part this book is like being told joke after joke where you don't understand the punchline. It's a bit like those people who laugh at obscure Shakespearean references and jokes during a performance which lead you to think 'you have made abundantly clear that you understand the cultural hilarity of him having a white hair upon his chin but even when you understand it, it isn't that funny'.
For a philistine like me there are odd moments where the jokes are pretty base and accessible as with Ernesto Perez Mason and his subtle use of acrostics to hide secret messages within his writing.
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.
Elsewhere there is the odd pithy line ('A Mexican poet inclined to mysticism and tormented phraseology.') that raises a smile but it isn't until the raised eyebrow is lowered and the arch authorial tone dropped into something more personal with the final portrait that I found something to latch onto. Narrated overtly by 'Bolaño' the thirty or so pages that make up The Infamous Ramirez Hoffman combine art and violence to chilling effect and tap into that era of quiet terror at the beginning of Pinochet's regime in Chile. With just that little bit more narrative, and an end to the detachment that defines the rest of the book he suddenly lights up the whole endeavour. Throughout the book, and indeed throughout Bolaño's other writings he shows an extraordinary imagination in creating these fictitious 'real people'. This book comes with an Epilogue For Monsters which lists all the figures, publishers and even book titles in Bolaño's imagined world. By then I had lost patience however and where I have recently found Borges stimulating and Sebald moving, Bolaño eludes me yet. If anyone would like to suggest the title that may appeal more to me then the comment box awaits...