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Amuletby Roberto Bolano
Synopses & Reviews
A tour de force, Amulet is a highly charged first-person, semi-hallucinatory novel that embodies in one woman's voice the melancholy and violent recent history of Latin America.
It is September 1968 and the Mexican student movement is about to run head-on into the repressive right-wing government of Mexico: hundreds of young people will soon die.
When the army invades the university, one woman hides in a fourth-floor ladies' room and for twelve days she is the only person left on campus. Staring at the floor, she recounts her bohemian life among the young poets of Mexico City—inventing and reinventing freely—and along the way she creates a cosmology of literature. She is Auxilio Lacouture, the Mother of Mexican Poetry.
Auxilio speaks of her passionate attachment to young poets as well as to two beloved aged poets, to a woman who once slept with Che Guevera, and to the painter Remedios Varo, recalling visits which never occured. And as they grow ever more hallucinatory, her "memories" become mythologies before completely transforming into riveting dark prophecies.
Hair-raising and enthralling, Amuletis a heart-breaking novel and another brilliant example of the art of Roberto Bolaño, "the most admired novelist," as Susan Sontag noted, "in the Spanish-speaking world."
"Bolao's work fugues again and again around the confluence of fugitive literary movements and tumultuous political upheavals of '60s and '70s Mexico and Chile. Originally from Montevideo, poet Auxilio Lacouture cleans house in Mexico City for two well-known poets and hangs about the university literary scene doing odd jobs. In September 18, 1968, as the army occupies the campus, arresting and killing people, Auxilio is in the deserted bathroom stalls, obliviously reading poetry; later she becomes famous for being the only one who resists arrest that fateful day. Over years without fixed address or employment, she loses her teeth and befriends the teenage Arturo Belano. Belano eventually returns to Chile at the time of the Allende coup and is imprisoned by Pinochet — a political initiation author Bolao experienced himself. Auxilio's first-person narration serves as a medium for lost young voices of revolution, such as the elusive, limping Elena, the Catalan painter Remedios Varo, and Lilian Serpas, who claims she slept with Che Guevara. Auxilio's lyrical prophecies converge in a wrenching tribute to all the voices she has known, tinged with Bolao's luminous pathos." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Not since Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose masterpiece, 'One Hundred Years of Solitude,' turns 40 this year, has a Latin American redrawn the map of world literature so emphatically as Roberto Bolano does with 'The Savage Detectives.' The Chilean-born Bolano moved with his parents to Mexico in 1968, returned to Chile in 1973 only to be caught up in the Pinochet coup d'etat, and settled eventually in... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) Catalonia, Spain. Much of the time before his untimely death in 2003, at the age of 50, he was obsessed with being an outcast. His turn has come to be an icon. Bolano not only wrote exactly what and how he pleased; he also viciously attacked figures such as Isabel Allende and Octavio Paz, accusing them of being conformists, more interested in fame than in art. In poems, stories (some of them included in his 'Last Evenings on Earth'), novellas (such as 'Distant Star' and 'By Night in Chile'), two mammoth narratives (one under review here and '2666,' scheduled for publication next year in English translation), and an essay collection (called, in Spanish, 'Entre parentesis'), he cultivated such a flamboyant, stylistically distinctive, counter-establishment voice that it's no exaggeration to call him a genius. 'The Savage Detectives' alone should grant him immortality. It's an outstanding meditation on art, truth and the search for roots and the self, a kind of road novel set in 1970s Mexico that springs from the same roots as Alfonso Cuaron's film 'Y tu mama tambien.' Its protagonists are Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, fringe poets professing an aesthetics they describe as 'visceral realism.' Their hunt for a precursor by the name of Cesarea Tinajero takes them to the Sonora Desert, portrayed by Bolano as a land of amnesia. As the title suggests, the material has the shape of a detective story, yet one that stretches the genre to its limits. The narration is polyphonic: The first part is told by Juan Garcia Madero, a transient member of the visceral realists. The second is a maze of testimonials by a plethora of people, real and fictional, about the Mexican literary world from 1976 to "96. And the third part returns to 1976 and Garcia Madero, who delivers a denouement as eccentric as it is graphic. The reader reaches the end recognizing that everything is a joke and that words are insufficient to chronicle metaphysical searches such as the one undertaken by this pair of good-for-nothings, who call to mind Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Indeed, Cervantes' masterpiece serves Bolano as pretext and subtext. The entire book is episodic, alternating between discussions of literature, misadventures and stories within stories. Middle-class angst is ubiquitous. Sex is performed — and depicted — prodigally. The scenes of Garcma Madero's initiations into a world of frenzied hedonism are the best of their kind I've read. There's a hilarious episode in which the visceral realists attempt to kidnap Paz, who is accurately portrayed as stiff and formal. The cumulative effect of these satirical episodes is astonishing. Everyone in them is looking to understand what motivates Belano and Lima, but fails to do so. It's a Rashomon-like quest, in which truth is evasive, ultimately unattainable. That, indeed, is the tone of the entire novel. As Belano and Lima try to find Tinajero, we readers try to understand them as characters. Yet Bolano doesn't want us to. He fills them with contradictions, including disappointment when they finally find Tinajero. What matters isn't the solution to the puzzle but the effort of assembling its pieces. One piece comes early in the novel's second part, when a mythical female, Auxilio Lacouture (Bolano's names are at once trite and magical), makes an appearance. She's a Uruguayan who moved to Mexico in the "60s, became involved in the student uprising of 1968, and who presents herself, irreverently, as the 'Mother of Mexican Poetry.' This section takes up fewer than a dozen pages, but after 'The Savage Detectives' first came out in Spanish, Bolano expanded the material into a rather plotless and meandering novella, 'Amulet,' which was first published in 1999 and has now been gorgeously rendered into English by Chris Andrews. By far the most hallucinatory element in 'The Savage Detectives' (and in '2666') is its bizarre, exquisite prose. Having spent years studying linguistic varieties across the Americas, I've never come across a chameleon talent like Bolano's. He writes in a Mexican Spanish with an Iberian twist but an impostor's accent. How ironic that the best Mexican novel of the last 50 years should have been written by a Chilean. Bolano started writing at the age of 18. He was an unredeemed smoker, ate poorly and slept irregular hours. Literature for him was a mania, if not also a form of martyrdom. His last decade of life was remarkably prolific. Starting in 1993, he published almost a book a year, sometimes more. His early fiction dealt with topics such as the death of the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo in Paris and the excesses of fascism in Chile. He rewrote a story by Borges and imagined an encyclopedia of Nazi authors in Latin America. He refused stipends from the literary establishment, submitting his manuscripts to contests in order to get the little money he needed to go on. In his late teens, he made an irrevocable decision: never to enter a classroom again. After that, everything he learned came via reading. Indeed, I'm convinced that Bolano worked his deepest revolution as a reader: He chose his own predecessors, rejected best-sellers, enjoyed carving out a career against the wishes of the literary status quo. Isn't it ironic then that the escritor maldito, the accursed writer, the ultimate pariah, is now being firmly positioned in the spotlight? Of course, it was inevitable. Too many mediocre books are being published, and a courageous voice, angry and heretical, remains rare. What distinguishes a genius isn't intelligence — there's plenty of that around; nor is it the degrees one receives from distinguished schools. It isn't even the polish of one's style. The classics are often imperfect, and 'The Savage Detectives,' though inexhaustible, is messy and perhaps overly ambitious. Only one thing matters: Bolano had the courage to look at the world anew. Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His new book, 'On Love,' will be published in the fall." Reviewed by Michael DirdaRon CharlesIlan Stavans, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
A tour de force, is a highly charged first-person, semi-hallucinatory novel that embodies in one woman's voice the melancholy and violent recent history of Latin America.
is a monologue, like Bolano's acclaimed debut in English, . The speaker is Auxilio Lacouture, a Uruguayan woman who moved to Mexico in the 1960s, becoming the "Mother of Mexican Poetry," hanging out with the young poets in the cafés and bars of the University. She's tall, thin, and blonde, and her favorite young poet in the 1970s is none other than Arturo Belano (Bolano's fictional stand-in throughout his books). As well as her young poets, Auxilio recalls three remarkable women: the melancholic young philosopher Elena, the exiled Catalan painter Remedios Varo, and Lilian Serpas, a poet who once slept with Che Guevara. And in the course of her imaginary visit to the house of Remedios Varo, Auxilio sees an uncanny landscape, a kind of chasm. This chasm reappears in a vision at the end of the book: an army of children is marching toward it, singing as they go. The children are the idealistic young Latin Americans who came to maturity in the '70s, and the last words of the novel are: "And that song is our amulet."
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.The poet Chris Andrews has translated many books by Roberto Bolaño and César Aira for New Directions.
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