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Roberto Bolaño
at the
complete review:

biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Name: Roberto BOLAÑO
Nationality: Chilean
Born: 28 April 1953
Died: 15 July 2003

  • Also lived in Mexico and Spain

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Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

  • Monsieur Pain - novel, 1982 (La senda de los elefantes (also published as Monsieur Pain (1999), trans. Chris Andrews (2010))
  • Fragmentos de la universidad desconocida - poetry, 1993
  • The Skating Rink - novel, 1993 (La pista de hielo, trans. Chris Andrews (2009))
  • Nazi Literature in the Americas - fiction, 1996 (La literatura nazi en América, trans. Chris Andrews (2008))
  • Distant Star - novel, 1996 (Estrella distante, trans. Chris Andrews (2004))
  • Llamada telefónicas - short stories, 1997
  • The Savage Detectives - novel, 1998 (Los detectives salvajes, trans. Natasha Wimmer (2007))
  • Amulet - novel, 1999 (Amuleto, trans. Chris Andrews (2006))
  • Tres - poems, 2000 (Tres, trans. Laura Healy (2011))
  • The Romantic Dogs - poems, 2000 (Los perros románticos, trans. Laura Healy (2008))
  • Putas asesinas - short stories, 2001
  • A Little Lumpen Novelita - novel, 2002 Una novelita lumpen, trans. Natasha Wimmer (2014))
  • Antwerp - novel, 2002 (Amberes, trans. Natasha Wimmer (2010))
  • By Night in Chile - novel, 2002 (Nocturno de Chile, trans. Chris Andrews (2003))
  • The Insufferable Gaucho - various, 2003 (El gaucho insufrible, trans. (2010))
  • Between Parentheses - non-fiction, 2003 (Entre paréntesis, trans. Natasha Wimmer (2011))
  • 2666 - novel, 2005 (2666, trans. Natasha Wimmer (2008))
  • Last Evenings on Earth - short stories, 2006 (trans. Chris Andrews))
  • The Unknown University - poetry, 2007 (La universidad desconocida, trans. Laura Healy (2013))
  • The Secret of Evil - short stories, 2007 (El secreto del mal, trans. 2011)
  • Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview - interviews, 2009 (various translators)
  • The Third Reich - novel, 2010 (El Tercer Reich, trans. Natasha Wimmer (2011))
  • The Return - short stories, 2010 (selected from Llamada telefónicas and Putas asesinas, trans. Chris Andrews)
  • Woes of the True Policeman - novel, 2011 (Los sinsabores del verdadero policía, trans. Natasha Wimmer (2012))
  • The Spirit of Science Fiction - novel, 2016 (El espíritu de la ciencia-ficción, trans. Natasha Wimmer (2019))
  • Cowboy Graves - novellas, 2017 (Sepulcros de vaqueros, trans. Natasha Wimmer (2021))

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.
Dates given are of first publication.

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What others have to
say about
Roberto Bolaño:

  • "Der Chilene Roberto Bolaño gehört zu den seltenen Schriftstellern, die dem Leser schon auf der ersten Buchseite Vertrauen einflößen. Nicht weil die Dinge, die er zu erzählen hat, so philanthropisch wären, sondern weil seine Fähigkeiten sich sofort offen darbieten: Genauigkeit, Kürze, Ironie und ein Schweben über seiner eigenen Geschichte. So dass der Eindruck entsteht, er verzichte auf Seufzen und Leidenschaften, wenn er dafür seine makellose Architektur aus der Luft genießen kann." - Paul Ingendaay, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (21/3/2000)

  • "Reading Roberto Bolaño is like hearing the secret story, being shown the fabric of the particular, watching the tracks of art and life merge at the horizon and linger there like a dream from which we awake inspired to look more attentively at the world." - Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review (9/7/2006)

  • "For an American reader, the strangest thing about Roberto Bolaño's novels is the way they combine politics and poetry. I don't just mean that he is a poet who writes about politics, though that happens to be true (...). No, the strangeness comes from the fact that in Bolaño's novels, and to a certain extent in the short stories, virtually all the characters, whether good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, care passionately about both poetry and politics in ways that turn out to be curiously connected. (...) If I had to name a single quality that makes Roberto Bolaño's fiction compelling, it would be his capacity for stringent, hard-nosed sympathy. This is not the same as universal empathy or divinely inspired forgiveness or any of that softheaded crap. Bolaño is never blind to the crimes of humanity and of particular humans; they are, after all, his major subject. But he is able to create fictional works that enter equally into his own mind and the minds of others, even when those others are killers, or hypocrites, or madmen, or literary critics." - Wendy Lesser, The Threepenny Review (Spring/2007)

  • "His fiction, which has only recently been appearing here, can be stylistically elusive, but in essence it is chokingly direct. (...) The key to Mr. Bolaño’s work is an insistence that the writer must keep no scrim of art or craft between him and the brute reality of the world he lives in and addresses. " - Richard Eder, The New York Times (12/4/2007)

  • "(H)e cultivated such a flamboyant, stylistically distinctive, counter-establishment voice that it's no exaggeration to call him a genius. (...) Literature for him was a mania, if not also a form of martyrdom. (...) 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: Bolaño had the courage to look at the world anew." - Ilan Stavans, The washington Post (6/5/2007)

  • "The most important test that Bolano triumphantly sails through as a writer is that he makes you feel changed for having read him; he adjusts your angle of view on the world. His vision can be disturbing and dark but it is not cold: humour and compassion are never far away." - Ben Richards, The Guardian (23/6/2007)

  • "Bolaño’s fiction is located at the frontiers that supposedly separate literature from politics." - Aura Estrada, Boston Review (6-7/2007)

  • "Bolaño’s desperado image is a large part of his appeal. His revolutionary politics and the personal risk they entailed, the movement he founded, his poverty, exile and addiction, his death in his prime: the combination of these elements is foreign to the increasingly professionalised career of the contemporary writer. Bolaño’s dishevelled, wandering characters are, more profoundly than they are left-wing, anti-bourgeois, which is to say disdainful of comfort, security and success: an attitude more than a politics, but the attitude is deeply felt. (...) But Bolaño would not be so strange or significant a writer if he had not found a way of handling his dangerous calling with simultaneous reverence and irony. And ‘calling’ is the word: there is never any question in Bolaño of another vocation. He is a writer for whom what Nietzsche said about music would seem to go without saying about literature: without it, life would be a mistake." - Benjamin Kunkel, London Review of Books (6/9/2007)

  • "The word has no national loyalty, no fundamental political bent; it’s a genie that can be summoned by any would-be master. Part of Bolaño’s genius is to ask, via ironies so sharp you can cut your hands on his pages, if we perhaps find a too-easy comfort in art, if we use it as anesthetic, excuse and hide-out in a world that is very busy doing very real things to very real human beings. Is it courageous to read Plato during a military coup or is it something else ?" - Stacey D’Erasmo, The New York Times Book Review (24/2/2008)

  • "Roberto Bolano is worth discovering, worth reading -- and even worth all the trouble of having to explain why it is that you are toting around a book called Nazi Literature in the Americas." - Michael Dirda, The Washington Post (2/3/2008)

  • "It's no exaggeration to say that Bolaño has become a T.S. Eliot or Virginia Woolf of Latin American letters. His influence on the younger generation of writers is considerable, and it derives as much from his fierce, lapidary opinions as it does from his fiction's style and imagination." - Marcela Valdes, The Nation (31/3/2008)

  • "In a burst of invention now legendary in contemporary Spanish-language literature, and rapidly becoming so internationally, Bolaño in the last decade of his life, writing with the urgency of poverty and his failing health, constructed a remarkable body of stories and novels out of precisely such doubts: that literature, which he revered the way a penitent loves (and yet rails against) an elusive God, could meaning­fully articulate the low truths he knew as rebel, exile, addict; that life, in all its gruesome splendor, could ever locate the literature it so desperately craves in order to feel itself known. Is a lifetime spent loving poems in a fallen world only a poor joke? Bolaño sprints into the teeth of his conundrum, violating one of the foremost writing-school injunctions, against writer-as-protagonist (in fact, Bolaño seems to make sport of violating nearly all of the foremost writing-school rules, against dream sequences, against mirrors as symbols, against barely disguised nods to his acquaintances, and so on)." - Jonathan Lethem, The New York Times Book Review (12/11/2008)

  • "The great subject of his oeuvre is the relationship between art and infamy, craft and crime, the writer and the totalitarian state. In fact, all of Bolaño's mature novels scrutinize how writers react to repressive regimes." - Marcela Valdes, The Nation (8/12/2008)

  • "Bolaño is an uncompromising writer. He alternates between brisk vignettes and passages of meandering opulence. His prose is short on adjectives and sometimes deliberately infelicitous but it can also beguile. It is studded with aphorisms, many of them calculated to invite passionate disagreement. Deranged similes are a hallmark of his writing" - Henry Hitchings, Financial Times (8/12/2008)

  • "Well beyond his sometimes nomadic life, Roberto Bolaño was an exemplary literary rebel. To drag fiction toward the unknown he had to go there himself, and then invent a method with which to represent it. Since the unknown place was reality, the results of his work are multi-dimensional, in a way that runs ahead of a critic's one-at-a-time powers of description. Highlight Bolaño's conceptual play and you risk missing the sex and viscera in his work. Stress his ambition and his many references and you conjure up threats of exclusive high-modernist obscurity, or literature as a sterile game, when the truth is it's hard to think of a writer who is less of a snob, or -- in the double sense of exposing us to unsavory things and carrying seeds for the future -- less sterile." - Sarah Kerr, The New York Review of Books (18/12/2008)

  • "Chilean by birth, but a post-nationalist if ever there was one, he led the life of a nomad, much of it on the edges of society, doing menial jobs as a nightwatchman, a dishwasher, an agricultural labourer, until his last decade, when he settled in the nondescript Catalan resort of Blanes and published a book a year, as well as a clutch of short stories and poetry, and some incendiary criticism. The story of his early life, his arrest in Chile after the Pinochet coup, his career as a proto-punk poet in Mexico City, his marginal lifestyle, have all contributed to the legend." - Richard Gwyn, The Independent (9/1/2009)

  • "There is an endearing bookishness to all of Bolaño’s work. (...) One message throughout Bolaño’s work is that literature matters. The reason for his public contempt for writers he saw as mediocre (he attacked, for example, the work of Isabel Allende every chance he got) is that they are betrayers of the highest purpose. (...) It seems likely that Bolaño’s posthumous fame will last. He wrote his long, beautifully balanced, digressive sentences with a precise sense of possibility and truth." - David Flusfeder, The Telegraph (28/8/2009)

  • "The Chilean Roberto Bolaño, who died of liver disease in Spain in 2003, at the scandalously early age of 50, was one of the most interesting and energetic of Márquez's literary heirs. Although Márquezian magic realism turned out not to be quite the artistic revolution it first seemed, Bolaño was the Latin American writer who found, if not new directions, then certainly new uses for prematurely aged tropes. The strength and originality of his vision lies in the devastating scepticism which he brought not only to magical realist methods but to the very springs of fiction itself. His work is the crossroads where Márquez meets Burroughs and Borges meets Mailer, resulting in a riotous dust-up." - John Banville, The Guardian (12/9/2009)

  • "Bolaño pflegte einen elektrisierend neuen, dialektischen Stil, der Imagination mit Sachlichkeit, Kälte mit Empathie, Realismus mit Parodie, Reflexion mit Narration, Komik mit Utopie, Ironie mit Verzweiflung, Wahnsinn mit Trauer verband." - Andreas Breitenstein, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (12/9/2009)

  • "He attracted a multitude of hangers-on who felt intrigued by the literary legend -- the vagabond Chilean turned Mexican bohemian poet, who crossed the ocean to become, in Catalonia, one of the most original of postwar European novelists -- but also wary of the looming bulk of these twin monuments." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent (16/10/2009)

  • "Riefe man die Bücher, die er geschrieben hat, zu Charakterzeugen seines Lebens auf, käme heraus: Roberto Bolaño war ein Frechdachs, ein Empörer, ein Mann mit einem noblen Herzen, ein hoch amüsanter, wild verzwirbelter chilenischer Macho, der die Frauen und die Bücher liebte. Leider musste er mit 50 Jahren sterben. Seine eigenen Bücher fassen nach dem kalten Glutkern der Hölle, dem zuckenden Herzen der Grausamkeit. Der Mann aber, der danach fasst, ist empfindsam, voller Abscheu gegenüber Brutalitäten, ein Empörer, der sich nie damit abfinden will, dass die Welt so scheußlich ist, wie sie ist. Ich folge dem Erzähler Bolaño meistens bedingungslos. Seine Bücher haben bei mir von Anfang Vertrauen erweckt." - Sibylle Lewitscharoff, Die Welt (19/12/2009)

  • "No doubt Bolaño was a skilful writer and wrote at least a couple of books that are well worth reading. Distant Star and By Night in Chile are two excellent, forceful novels; the rest are light, playful experiments, not very successful, with little intelligence and less ambition." - Alberto Manguel, The Guardian (6/2/2010)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

  • Incredibly rich, varied output
  • Great command of his material
  • Love of literature, but refusal to take authors (himself included) too seriously

  • Ridiculous author-cult around him, and widespread obsession with his life
  • A considerable amount of violence
  • Works can seem sprawling, excessive, indulgent

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the complete review's Opinion

     The posthumous rise of Roberto Bolaño has been amazing, but here is an author who lives up to the hype (well most of it -- it depends which part of the hype you hear). 2666 is clearly one of the greatest books of the decade (and, presumably eventually of the century), and likely to take its place as the most influential to emerge from Latin America since García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude. Nazi Literature in the Americas the unlikeliest of brilliant showpieces -- and The Savage Detectives has been widely hailed as well. Then there are the stories -- and Bolaño was first (if perhaps not foremost) a poet. And there's a surprising amount of variety to his work.
     A great deal is being written about Bolaño -- and more, much more, is sure to follow -- but the best course of action is just to immerse oneself in his work. It's pretty much all very worthwhile.

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Roberto Bolaño: Roberto Bolaño - stories at The New Yorker: Roberto Bolaño - stories and other writings elsewhere: Roberto Bolaño's books at the complete review:: See also:

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