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Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles and Speeches, 1998-2003by Roberto Bolano
That nearly all of Roberto Bolaño's non-fictional and autobiographical writings fit into a single volume is bittersweet. Lucky we are that these works were collected and published (let alone translated by the fabulous Natasha Wimmer), so that neophyte and devotee alike may spy a glimpse of the author beyond his often apocryphal mystique. Unfortunate it remains, however, that these pages make up the sum of what otherwise could have been a much more voluminous collection (had a liver transplant come ready before that fateful 2003 summer).
Between Parentheses, edited by Bolaño's friend and literary executor, Ignacio Echeverría, is divided into six mostly distinct parts. The third and largest of these, from which the book takes its name, is comprised of weekly columns Bolaño wrote for Las Últimas Noticias, a Chilean newspaper. These writings concern themselves almost entirely with forgotten books, neglected and/or underappreciated authors, and the writerly lifestyle. The five other parts feature short pieces, essays (some left unfinished), speeches, and brief vignettes dealing mostly with literature, place, and the personal. Also present is a reprinting of the last interview he gave, to the Mexican edition of Playboy, shortly before his death.
Between Parentheses, above all, demonstrates Bolaño's love of books, seemingly more so as a reader of them than as their writer. He was known to have read widely, and this work offers his opinions (mostly favorable, yet sometimes acerbically critical) on a wide array of books, poets, and authors well-known and obscure. As from some of his other titles, one could cull quite the impressive reading list (spanning continents and centuries) from amongst its pages. Omnipresent is Bolaño's trademark prose style, as his non-fiction reads with the same unique voice that brought so many ardent fans to his fiction. Bolaño seldom strays into the realm of the political, but his few forays are terse and powerful. Amidst his wide knowledge of all things bibliophilic is a singular sense of humor, one that is familiar to readers of both his novels and short stories.
While Bolaño presumably never intended these writings to stand in lieu of a more cohesive autobiographical work (which, given the sentiments contained within the book, is not something he was ever likely to have penned in any proper way), it is nonetheless all we as readers are left with to make sense of him as an individual and lover of great fiction. It seems the late Chilean writer was more than content to let his books stand upon their own merits, as he seemed to have a general disregard for awards, critics, and the like. Between Parentheses is an indispensable collection for those who count Bolaño as a remarkable and important literary figure (one, too, perhaps even more essential for his naysayers, detractors, and other assorted maligners).
Behind this crowd, however, hides the one true patron. If you have patience enough to search, maybe you'll catch a glimpse of what you're looking for. And when you find it, you'll probably be disappointed. It isn't the devil. It isn't the state. It isn't a magical child. It's the void.
Recommended by Jeremy, Powell's City of Books
Synopses & Reviews
Between Parentheses collects most of the newspaper columns and articles Bolaño wrote during the last five years of his life, as well as the texts of some of his speeches and talks and a few scattered prologues. "Taken together," as the editor Ignacio Echevarría remarks in his introduction, they provide "a personal cartography of the writer: the closest thing, among all his writings, to a kind of fragmented 'autobiography.'" Bolaño's career as a nonfiction writer began in 1998, the year he became famous overnight for The Savage Detectives; he was suddenly in demand for articles and speeches, and he took to this new vocation like a duck to water. Cantankerous, irreverent, and insufferably opinionated, Bolaño also could be tender (about his family and favorite places) as well as a fierce advocate for his heroes (Borges, Cortázar, Parra) and his favorite contemporaries, whose books he read assiduously and promoted generously. A demanding critic, he declares that in his "ideal literary kitchen there lives a warrior": he argues for courage, and especially for bravery in the face of failure. Between Parentheses fully lives up to his own demands: "I ask for creativity from literary criticism, creativity at all levels."
"Containing literary criticism, notes about friends and acquaintances and beloved geographical locations, as well as speeches and prologues, this stellar collection of Bolaño's non-fiction creates, as Echevarría states in his introduction, 'a kind of fragmented "autobiography."' Bolaño discusses many of the major Spanish language writers of his time, including Argentineans Roberto Arlt and Osvaldo Lamborghini and fellow Chilean Nicanor Parra, among many, many others (wonderfully ranging widely, from Thomas Harris to Philip K. Dick). Bolaño provides remarkable insight on his own writing, noting 'everything that I've written is a love letter or a farewell letter to my own generation.' His advice to other writers is equally eloquent; 'literature,' he states, 'has nothing to do with national prizes and everything to do with a strange rain of blood, sweat, semen, and tears.' The depictions of the places he's lived and visited are evocative and provide depth and detail into his 'fragmented' life (particularly when he describes the Catalonian town of Blanes and his withdrawl from heroin on the beach). This is exciting writing from a cherished writer. Wimmer won the National Book Critic Circle's "Best Novel of the Year" award for her translation of the author's 2666. "
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
The essays of Roberto Bolano in English at last.
The essays of Roberto Bolao in English at last.
About the Author
Author of 2666 and many other acclaimed works, Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) was born in Santiago, Chile, and later lived in Mexico, Paris, and Spain. He has been acclaimed “by far the most exciting writer to come from south of the Rio Grande in a long time” (Ilan Stavans, The Los Angeles Times),” and as “the real thing and the rarest” (Susan Sontag). Among his many prizes are the extremely prestigious Herralde de Novela Award and the Premio Rómulo Gallegos. He was widely considered to be the greatest Latin American writer of his generation. He wrote nine novels, two story collections, and five books of poetry, before dying in July 2003 at the age of 50.Natasha Wimmer's translation of Roberto Bolano's 2666 won the National Book Award's Best Novel of the Year as well as the PEN Prize.
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