Monday, 5 September 2011

Nazi Literature in the Americas (Roberto Bolano)

--The blurb--
"The rich seam of Nazi literature has, until now, been sadly under-explored. Here for the first time acclaimed novelist and poet Roberto Bolano provides a long-overdue and meticulously researched survey of the writers who have contributed to pan-American Nazi literature. Carefully documenting the lives, politics and literary works of these writers in exhaustive and compelling detail, this is the definitive account of the writers who have shaped the literary landscape of the Americas."

--The review--
This book's deliberately reactionary and taboo-breaking title is probably what encourages most readers to pick it up, inciting in people a dormant and perhaps slightly morbid interest not only in Nazism but also the desire for insight into the minds of those who not only believed in the principles espoused by Hitler but also wrote about them. The blurb implies that what you are getting is a historical and biographical document, and to a degree this is believable. However, readers' suspicions are aroused when some of the writers' dates of death are significantly in the future (2013+). At first we wonder if this is a typo; then, after several occurrences and a bit of Googling, we realise that the whole thing is nothing more than an immense fiction.

It is the lateness with which we work out the fictional nature of the book that leads us to mistrust the author and causes our attention to wander. We become increasingly disengaged and uninterested, especially given the narcissistic, unsuccessful and depressive personalities of the characters described; when repeated over and over with only a few variations, it all begins to wear rather thin and it lacks wit all the way through. And once we have had time to digest the notion of this being fiction disguised as fact, Nazi Literature In The Americas seems even more pointless; why not present it more transparently as fiction? Why not link the characters more explicitly to Nazism and Nazi literature (in most of the characters' cases, their links to Nazism and Nazi literature are tenuous to non-existent) if that was what you wanted to do? The upshot is that the author's aims become increasingly confused and ill-thought-through. The spew of praise on the inside and outside covers is therefore very difficult to believe in.

As an attempt at satire and commentary it is weak at best. As one Amazon reviewer puts it, "unless you are sufficiently well versed in the literary figures of the Americas then for the most part this book is like being told joke after joke where you don't understand the punchline". Equally, the author is inconsistent (switching out of the third person and into the first for the telling of the final character's story) and frequently leaves stories unfinished in a way that does not fit in well with either fiction, history or biography. I understand that his more stolid works of fiction are better, and at some point in the future I would be open to attempting these. However, there's definitely more than one reason that this book was found with a £3.99 sticker over its £16.99 price tag, so it's going straight onto the "to sell" pile.

other works by Roberto Bolano
By Night in Chile (2003)
Distant Star (2004)
The Savage Detectives (2007)
Amulet (2007)
The Skating Rink (2008)
2666 (2008)
Antwerp (2010)
Monsieur Pain (2010)
The Third Reich (2011)
*NB Many of these works were published posthumously.

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