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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Roberto Bolaño

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To purchase Amulet

Title: Amulet
Author: Roberto Bolaño
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 184 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Amulet - US
Amuleto - US
Amulet - UK
Amulet - Canada
Amulet - India
Amuleto - France
Amuleto - Deutschland
Amuleto - Italia
Amuleto - España
  • Spanish title: Amuleto
  • Translated by Chris Andrews

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Our Assessment:

A- : fine and very typical Bolaño

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Boston Review . 7-8/2007 Aura Estrada
El Cultural . 11/07/1999 Joaquín Marco
Financial Times . 14/9/2009 Adrian Turpin
FAZ . 14/3/2003 Walter Haubrich
The Guardian . 12/9/2009 John Banville
The Independent . 16/10/2009 Boyd Tonkin
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 17/10/2002 Uwe Stolzmann
The NY Sun . 17/1/2007 Benjamin Lytal
The Telegraph . 28/8/2009 David Flusfeder
The Times . 11/9/2009 Kate Saunder
Die Zeit . 12/12/2002 Katharina Döbler

  From the Reviews:
  • "Auxilio’s is no inane urban legend about plastic pets turned into monsters. It is a telling legend about an episode in Mexican history, a tragic one that marked both private and public lives. Bolaño’s fiction is located at the frontiers that supposedly separate literature from politics. In Amulet he focuses his literary powers on a single episode and a single voice. Placed within the context of Bolaño’s two most important novels -- The Savage Detectives and the posthumous 2666 -- Auxilio’s story of the university’s occupation becomes a metaphor for the political disasters that plagued Latin America in the ’60s and ’70s, and, more poignantly, a symbol of a time in which passionate conviction and generosity seemed still possible, in both literature and life." - Aura Estrada, Boston Review

  • "Amuleto es, pues, una novela que se pierde por sus excesos o por los caminos abiertos que acaban en ninguna parte. Sin embargo, entre sus páginas, construidas en forma de escenas desordenadas en la cronología, advertimos la capacidad de un auténtico novelista, capaz de distanciarse a través del humor o implicarse por exceso a través de símbolos." - Joaquín Marco, El Cultural

  • "Drifting through bars and cafés like a ghost, the gap-toothed Auxilio is a brilliant creation, a mixture of hopefulness, insecurity and defiance. Only the fragmented and hallucinatory final pages disappoint." - Adrian Turpin, Financial Times

  • "(N)icht die Kühnheit der Sprache oder der Themen ist Bolaños Stärke, vielmehr sind es der Einfallsreichtum, die ironische Weisheit und das wie selbstverständlich anmutende Nebeneinander ganz unterschiedlicher Welten, die den Reiz von Amuleto und seiner anderen Bücher ausmachen." - Walter Haubrich, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "It would be foolhardy to try to isolate the components of a plot in Amulet. (...) (W)e have a sense of floundering in a world with which Bolaño is thoroughly and irreverently familiar but which to us is irremediably foreign. It is rather like being present at a raucous dinner party where one is desperately conscious of missing the point of all the stories and of not getting any of the jokes." - John Banville, The Guardian

  • "Yet, as always with Bolaño, this unsettling tale creates a micro-climate of its own. Read it as a straightforward narrative about young hopefuls crushed under the wheels of poverty and power, and the shuffled time-sequences, the visionary interludes and the distracting shifts of mood and tone will disappoint. Bolaño, however, began his career as a poet and never ceased to think of himself as one. This suite of variations on the lives of "the mother of Mexican poetry" and the wannabe bards she cultivates unfolds as semi-hallucinated episodes in a theatre of memory. The intoxicating atmosphere of Amulet has mystery and melancholy to spare, but absolute beginners in Bolaño's world might be best advised to begin with the superbly eclectic short stories of Last Evenings on Earth." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

  • "His achievement lies not in a triumph of taste or a triumph of effort but in the originality of his confidence. Auxilio gets several fantastical speeches on the doom of South America and its fugitive literature. (.....) Other Latin American writers have traversed this magical terrain, but this reader supposes that very few writers have ever telescoped between fantasy and history so surely" - Benjamin Lytal, The New York Sun

  • "In Amulet, the emphasis is on the remembering rather than the predicament." - David Flusfeder, The Telegraph

  • "Bolaño’s prose is spare but beautifully compacted. Other writers love him because he makes writing seem so important." - Kate Saunder, The Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Amulet is not exactly Bolaño-lite, but can feel like a preparatory work for The Savage Detectives and 2666. Its narrator, Auxilio Lacouture -- "I could say I am the mother of all Mexican poets, but I better not" --, figures in the later work, as does Bolaño's alter ego, Arturo Belano, and it is in Amulet that Bolaño makes his only reference to 2666, a number left unmentioned in the novel that bears that title:

Guerrero, at that time of night, is more like a cemetery than an avenue, not a cemetery in 1974 or in 1968, or 1975, but a cemetery in the year 2666, a forgotten cemetery under the eyelid of a corpse or an unborn child, bathed in the dispassionate fluids of an eye that tried so hard to forget one particular thing that it ended up forgetting everything else.
       Much that Bolaño expands upon in The Savage Detectives and 2666 is already present here, but in more manageable form: Amulet is a more controlled work, the excesses (largely) kept in check; as such it also a better introduction to his writing than the later masterpieces.
       Auxilio begins her tale warning that:
     This is going to be a horror story. A story of murder, detection and horror. But it won't appear to be, for the simple reason that I am the teller. Told by me, it won't seem like that. Although, in fact, it's the story of a terrible crime.
       Much of Bolaño's fiction revolves around terrible crimes -- and often around actual ones, as in the serial-killing spree of 2666 -- but here he stays close to historical fact, as the novel revolves around one particular crime, the 1968 crackdown by the Mexican authorities. The worst crime was the massacre at Tlateloco, but Bolaño does not place Auxilio there; instead:
I was at the university on the eighteenth of September when the army occupied the campus and went around arresting and killing indiscriminately. No. Not that many people were killed at the university. That was in Tlateloco. May that name live forever in our memory ! But I was at the university when the army and the riot police came in and rounded everyone up.
       Hiding in a bathroom, she managed to avoid being taken in, and she remained there, in what was also a token act of resistance. She writes during that time of waiting, and she ultimately destroys what she has written, too:
The vanity of writing, the vanity of destruction. I thought, Because I wrote, I endured. I thought, Because I destroyed what I had written, they will find me, they will hit me, they will rape me, they will kill me. I thought, The two things are connected, writing and destroying, hiding and being found.
       She also knows, however: "I am the memory", and while she often only has a vague sense of time ("The year 1968 became the year 1964 and the year 1960 became the year 1956") she presents her memories of that time and what came after, her years among the Mexican poets. It gives a good sense of that era -- including Bolaño/Belano's formative years -- with 1968 marking a life-changing point of lost illusions and hopes.
       1968 is not the only trauma of the times. Auxilio only meets the young Belano in 1970, and he returns to Chile briefly in 1973 -- as Bolaño had --, returning as a different man to Mexico in 1974, having survived a brief period of incarceration. The Chilean crimes of 1973 are only related incidentally, but they are similarly traumatic to what happened in Mexico five years earlier: it's as if Bolaño is still unwilling here to address his own experiences too directly, and instead prefers presenting them in this roundabout manner.
       Auxilio, who comes from Uruguay, seems content to drift along in the Mexican literary scene. She finds herself at the university in 1968 because she hangs out there doing odd jobs, trying to be helpful, occasionally getting paid for some work. She's not ambitious, happy with her adopted role of "the mother of all the poets", while after the events of 1968:
I had known the adventures of poetry, which are always matters of life and death, but when I came back to the streets of Mexico, I was content with everyday life.
       But it is the memory of 1968, of her time in that bathroom and what went through her head, that also keeps resurfacing. Shifting effortlessly from the casual everyday scenes to what bubbles through Auxilio's mind while she waits in the bathroom, Bolaño riffs on everything from history to poetry.
       Though Auxilio flushes what she wrote down the toilet, and though the novel ends not with a poem but a song ("about courage and mirrors, desire and pleasure"), it is a belief in literature, above all else, that seems to give Bolaño hope. Auxilio dismisses the "idiotic prophecies" she dreams of, but the three pages' worth she then lists -- a prose-poem of sorts -- clearly testify to Bolaño's certainty that literature, above all else, will sustain and survive, even as destruction continues constantly. It is science-fiction of the most hopeful sort, as, for example:
     Arno Schmidt shall rise from his ashes in the year 2085. Franz Kafka shall once again be read underground throughout Latin America in the year 2101. Witold Gombroicz shall enjoy great prestige in the environs of Río de la Plata around the year 2098.
     Paul Celan shall rise from his ashes in the year 2113. André Breton shall return through mirrors in the year 2071.
       After The Savage Detectives and 2666, Amulet can seem like a miniature, though it ranges just as wide (not just not at anywhere near the same length). A powerful novel of the events of 1968, and also a charming introduction to the literary world that shaped the writer, Amulet is both satisfying and appealing.
       Well worthwhile -- and a good starting point for those new to Bolaño.

- M.A.Orthofer, 25 May 2009

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Amulet: Reviews: Roberto Bolaño: Other books by Roberto Bolaño under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Chilean author Roberto Bolaño lived 1953 to 2003.

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© 2009-2021 the complete review

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