Nazi Literature of the Americas, Roberto Bolano
The first book I read by Bolano and it got me hooked. Ostensibly, a review of literature written by various Latin American fascists, it is, like much of work, occasionally funny, slightly surreal, and in the end disturbing and brilliant. One of these vignettes was expanded into the even better Distant Star.
Even in translation, it’s abundantly clear that his writing chops are among the best in the business. Clear, precise writing in the service of the impression, and horror, of life in Chile, Argentina, and elsewhere under dictatorial rule. The level of care in creating these set pieces is extraordinary, with each containing cleverly worked out details of the “artists” horrific oeuvres. I read it in a single sitting it was so good.
One fears that twenty years from now, some clever young person will be doing a version of this book about the United States featuring thinly veiled takes on Alex Jones and Steve Bannon.
As I’ve written elsewhere recently, my tolerance for difficult prose is at a bit of a low right now. But, if its coupled with a fascinating look at the politics of renaissance Italy, the life of the mysterious trouble painter Caravaggio, and the clever use of tennis as a narrative device, I’m willing to make an exception.
This is an odd book, moving back and forth through time, from the modern writer struggling to write a novel, to Caravaggio playing tennis.* Its literary, without being overly serious. Enrique knows the conceits of this book are a bit absurd. He dives deep into that and produces a book that a bit challenging, but also a joy to read. Glad I happened across this one, it was worth the time.
*why must so much of modern literature involve an author. Enough, already.
Lost City Radio
She reads the names of missing and disappears people every night on the radio. Across the country, people tune it to hear the name of their loved ones, disappeared during the war years. She has a name of her own, which she does not read. Her husband, a borderline revolutionary caught up conflict, who disappear into the jungle decades ago. A boy comes to the studio with a list of names, and this list, and this boy, helps piece together what happened to her own life, her own husband.
It’s a serviceable tale, with the kind of details about civil war that come from an author who has seen it up close. The trajectory of the plot becomes obvious early on, and the writing isn’t quite good enough to keep me excited once I knew where it was all going. Worth a look if novels of South America in the war years is your thing, otherwise, look elsewhere for stronger works.
Recommended for the enthusiast