Ghost writer - Page 2

Roberto Bolaño travels from the grave to the future with Nazi Literature

It presents brief bios and bibliographies for 30 imaginary right-wing writers from North and South America.

Although Nazi Literature was first published in 1996, it follows its catalog of writers past that date and into the future: Willy Schürholz, for example, born into a mysterious, walled-off community of Germans within Chile, is a solitary poet who sets out "countless variations on the theme of a barbed-wire fence crossing an almost empty space," and eventually publishes a book of children's stories that idealize "a childhood that was suspiciously aphasic, amnesic, obedient and silent." Its nameless boy protagonist "displaced Papelucho as the emblematic protagonist of children's and teen fiction in Chile," while Schürholz himself ends up in Africa working as a photographer and guide until his death — in 2029.

Bolaño's writers interact with recognizable historic and literary worlds; they are wandering Colombians who fight for the fascists in Spain; they are aristocratic Argentines handled by Hitler as infants; they are Beat-influenced North American poets who, after being hit on by Allen Ginsberg, flee to panicked careers filled with homophobic and anti-Semitic invective, becoming enormously successful in the process. They write stories, poems, and novels with titles like Cosmogony of the New Order, I Was Happy with Hitler ("misunderstood by the Right and the Left alike"), and The Children of Jim O'Brady in the American Dawn. In Bolaño's hands, these biographies are hilarious. At the same time, they are often surprisingly moving and sometimes terrifying.

Throughout Bolaño's translated work, from By Night in Chile (New Directions, 144 pages, 2003), the monologue of a dying priest, to The Savage Detectives (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 592 pages, 2007), which follows a group of avant-garde poets in Mexico in the '70s along their downward-spiraling paths, he is concerned with the sometimes surprising intermingling of radical and conservative literary and political realities. If Bolaño's monsters are occasionally ridiculous and moronic, it is to his credit that they are also always complicated, and sometimes brilliant and romantic. His Nazi writers are not so different from his non-Nazi writers; they are ambitious or derivative or avant-garde in equal measure. They fall tragically in love and develop drinking problems alongside their leftist peers. Bolaño's clear-sighted examinations of social context underline the insight that literature isn't innocent — an invigorating insight in our own cultural moment, when the very act of reading or writing is usually considered harmless but inherently ennobling.

Perhaps Bolaño's most seductive, fascinating, and terrifying monster is the Chilean poet Carlos Ramírez Hoffman. Bolaño readers will recognize his story as that of Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, elaborated in more detail in Bolaño's second novel to be translated into English, Distant Star (New Directions, 149 pages, 2004). His tale is worth revisiting for those readers, as it functions differently as the conclusion to Nazi Literature. The book suddenly becomes more intimate, more frightening, and more ambiguous, as Bolaño appears for the first time as a character and becomes personally linked to the fate of Ramírez Hoffman. "Bolaño," like the author of the same name, is arrested and briefly imprisoned by the Pinochet dictatorship after the coup in 1973. While Ramírez Hoffman transforms himself into a torturer, a murderer of women, and a skywriter, Bolaño watches the ephemeral poems appear in the sky from the prison yard. The story of the narrator's obsession with the traces of this enigmatic antihero's literary career becomes a discomfiting m

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