We’ve had García Márquez, Cortázar, Vargas Llosa, and Borges as some of the greatest authors of Latin American literature. Add another name to that well too known cannon: Bolaño. Considered a spawn of Borges, in his books the Chilean-born, Mexico-City based Roberto Bolaño does something that makes all lovers of literature squeal with joy: He writes about literature within literature with all its vileness, whether on the streets of Mexico City infested with prostitutes, in the country house of a man going mad, in the apartment of the mother of all poets, or in the tiny streets of Paris where a famous serial killer lives.
I had heard the name Bolaño before, as much as any of the other names mentioned above, but never knew what it entailed. He is frightening, but God if I don’t love being confused and frightened by him! And it seems that the Estados Unidos have been catching on to this as well the past three years. Bolaño, who passed away five years ago at the age of 50 from liver failure, has had most if not all of his works translated faster than you can saw post-boom literature. And there is more work for you gente to look out for, because it’s going to happen quick. In November, his posthumous novel, 2666 will finally be released in English by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and translated by Natasha Wimmer who also worked on The Savage Detectives (2005).
With all its anticipation, The New York Review of Books’s James Wood recently wrote, "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 Santa Teresa—a fictional Juárez—on the U.S.-Mexico border, where hundreds of young factory workers, in the novel as in life, have disappeared."
There is also a bilingual edition of his poetry coming out around the same time in late November by New Directions Publishing: Romantic Dogs originally, Los perros románticos: Poemas de 1980-1998.
In case you’ve never read anything by Bolaño, here’s the opening passage from Distant Star (originally published in Spanish in 1996) :
"I saw Carlos Wieder for the first time in 1971, or perhaps 1972, when Salvador Allende was President of Chile. At that stage Wieder was calling himself Alberto Ruiz-Tagle and occasionally attended Juan Stein’s poetry workshop in Concepción, the so-called capital of the South. I can’t say I knew him well. I saw him once or twice a week at the workshop. He wasn’t particulalry talkative. I was. Most of us there talked a lot, not just about poetry but politics, travel (little did we know what our travels would be like), painting, architecture, photography, revolution and the armed struggle that would usher in a new life and a new era, so we thought, but which, for most of us, was like a dream, or rather the key that would open the door into a world of dreams, the only dreams worth living for. And even we were vaguely aware that dreams often turn into nightmares, we didn’t let that bother us. "
For more information on Bolaño check out this article about Natasha Wimmer, the lady who’s been translating his works.