My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Somewhere in the midst of this book, Bolaño spells out in explicit words what I suspected to be the undercurrents from the word go:
….a novel about order and disorder, justice and injustice, God and the Void.
So there I was – witnessing a swashbuckling cavalcade of ideas, overflowing from the chariot of Bolaño’s mind; irreducible owing to their weight, hypnotic owing to their flight.
My first Bolaño could not have been a better book. 30 essays written as biographies of fictitious authors, who lived under the tremulous skies of Nazism and dabbled in poetry and science fiction, magical realism and political sagas, span the length and breadth of the written word; presenting an inclusive, although explosive, picture of Bolaño’s thoughts that bodes well with establishing acquaintance with his ideologies too, perhaps.
The fascist authors, who are mostly Argentine or American languishing under pallidity and the arcane, display a wide array of literary faith: perseverance and manipulation, suppression and connivance, displacement and return, satire and humor; they push originality and also fall prey to plagiarism, they spark the rebel and turn victim too. The aspect, however, that secured my curiosity the tightest was the masterful amalgamation of real places, events and people into these imaginary lives. While there is generous reference to Trotskyism, Falangism, Peronism and the likes, there are veiled questions on the theocratic and Episcopalian diktats. There is generous mention of Borges and Cortázar who are known to have influenced Bolaño in many inspirational ways.
Of course, the ingenuity of story-telling that had to befall Bolaño later in his writing career was visible in many of these essays, three of which, I took in with a chortle and awed smirk: in one work, the chapters, so begin, that joining the first letter of each chapter spell HITLER!; in another, a poem is written as a series of maps which upon further deciphering, reveal verses that point to their placement and use and in the last, a book is called Geometry that deploys variations like the barbed-wire fence, to join unrelated verses and provoke meaning out of the criss-cross.
Oh there were far too many captivating things in this book and it turned out to be indeed a spectacle close to a chariot ride: slow and heavy at the beginning, loading the substantial thoughts one after another, gingerly finding foothold to attain stability, rolling the bearings forward and backward, hoisting the protagonists while narrating their significance to the ride, hopping cautiously for the initial furlongs and then, gaining speed with a wicked kick and speeding away with the confidence of a wise, chuckling driver.
Let me sign off with one of the many flabbergasting paragraphs highlighting Bolaño’s boundless imagination that left my jaw drop with sheer pleasure:
..the action unfolds in a distorted present where nothing is as it seems, or in a distant future full of abandoned, ruined cities, and ominously silent landscapes, similar in many respects to those of the Midwest. His plots abound in providential heroes and mad scientists; hidden clans and tribes which at the ordained time must emerge and do battle with other hidden tribes; secret societies of men in black who meet at isolated ranches on the prairie; private detectives who must search for people lost on other planets; children stolen and raised by inferior races so that, having reached adulthood, they may take control of the tribe and lead it to immolation; unseen animals with insatiable appetites; mutant plants; invisible planets that suddenly become visible; teenage girls offered as human sacrifices; cities of ice with a single inhabitant; cowboys visited by angels; mass migrations destroying everything in their path; underground labyrinths swarming with warrior-monks; plots to assassinate the president of the United States; spaceships fleeing an earth in flames to colonize Jupiter; societies of telepathic killers; children growing up all alone in dark, cold yards.