Chilean Literature

Roberto Bolano’s 2666: The Part About Fate

“All right, then,” said the white-haired man. “I’ll tell you three things I’m sure of: (a) everyone living in that city is outside of society, and everyone, I mean everyone, is like the ancient Christians in the Roman circus; (b) the crimes have different signatures; (c) the city seems to be booming, it seems to be moving ahead in some ineffable way, but the best thing would be for every last one of the people there to head out into the desert some night and cross the border.” p. 267

Quincy Williams is called Oscar Fate. He is a political journalist from New York sent by his editor to cover the Pickett-Fernandez fight in Santa Teresa. But, he’d rather write about the women being killed. He proposes “a sketch of the industrial landscape in the third world, a piece of reportage about the current situation in Mexico, a panorama of the border, a serious crime story, for fuck’s sake.”   p. 295 His editor isn’t interested.

Fate meets several people in this section; one of them is Guadalupe Roncal, a Mexican reporter. The others include Rosa Amalfitano, daughter of Amalfitano from Part 2, and her boyfriend, Chucho Flores.

Chucho Flores is, to me, a terrifying person. The whole encounter he has with Rosa, after he sees her kissing goodbye to a classmate with whom she’s had a soda, absolutely chilled me.

“Suddenly someone she hadn’t heart approach her said: you whore. The voice startled her and she looked up, thinking it was a bad joke or that she’d been mistaken for someone else. Standing there was Chucho Flores. Flustered, all she could do was tell him to sit down, but Chucho Flores, his lips barely moving, told her to get up and follow him. She asked him where he planned to go. Home, said Chucho Flores. He was sweating and his face was flushed. Rosa told him she wasn’t going anywhere. Then Chucho Flores asked her who the boy was who had kissed her.

“A classmate,” said Rosa, and she noticed that Chucho Flores’s hands were shaking. “You whore,” he said again.

And then he began to mutter something that Rosa couldn’t understand at first, but after a moment she realized he was repeating the same words over and over again: you whore, uttered with teeth clenched, as if saying it cost him a huge effort.” p. 335-6

Maybe there is more than one way some men kill women, using their words or attitude or power as much as violence. Fortunately, Rosa leaves Chucho for Fate, and I leave this part with one final thought:

“No one pays attention to these killings, but the secret of the world is hidden in them.” p. 348

The secret of the world…no wonder this novel is almost 900 pages long. It’s a rather large topic to uncover, but I wonder if the core of it doesn’t lie somewhere in respect for one another.

In late February, The Part About the Crimes and The Part About Archimboldi, where I hope, as a Russian professor of mine once said, “All shall be revealed.”

Roberto Bolano’s 2666: The Part About Amalfitano

Professor Amalfitano is crazy. He hangs a book of geometry on the clothesline (which perhaps is one of the smartest things to do with such a book). He constructs very simple geometric figures and labels each vertex with names of famous people such as Aristotle, Thomas More, Plato, Diderot and Mendelssohn, “dictated by fate or lethargy or the immense boredom he felt thanks to his students and the classes and the oppressive heat that had settled over the city.” He hears a voice which begs him not to be a queer.

It reminds me vaguely of the film A Beautiful Mind.

My favorite character in this section is not Amalfitano. It is the dean’s son, Marco Antonio Guerra, who says two such fascinating things I leave them here to ponder:

“People see what they want to see and what people want to see never has anything to do with the truth. People are cowards to the last breath. I’m telling you between you and me: the human being, broadly speaking, is the closest thing there is to a rat.” p. 219

Now, I don’t for a minute thing that the human begin is the closest thing there is to a rat. But, I do think there is far too much cowardice. It is indeed far easier to see what we want to see, and it takes much courage to look at truth.

Then later he tells Amalfitano,

“I used to read everything, Professor, I read all the time. Now all I read is poetry. Poetry is the one thing that isn’t contaminated, the one thing that isn’t part of the game. I don’t know if you follow me, Professor. Only poetry–and let me be clear, only some of it–is good for you, only poetry isn’t shit.” p. 226 

I wonder why Bolano has one of his characters propose such a thing; is prose not his favorite medium? I think a very small part of him is mocking the great writers, and even his own efforts. But that’s just a supposition on my part, with no textual support any where.

Plus, I’ll take prose over poetry, or geometry, any day.

Tomorrow, thoughts on The Part About Fate.

Monsieur Pain by Bolano

Although Monsieur Pain is written by a writer from Chile, I read it for Paris In July because the setting is Paris, 1938.

It is the first novel I have ever read written by Roberto Bolano, and it remains as murky in my mind as Haruki Murakami’s works did when I first began reading him. Perhaps one reads him more for the atmospheric qualities, the surrealistic and the noire aspects, more than the plot. I don’t have a single astute thing to say, as my mind is reeling, except that this was a fascinating novel of mood…one that left me as confused and as unsure as Monsieur Pain was himself.

It does not escape me that his name, Pain, so resembles the English word “pain”, although the French translation is “bread”. Much to think about here…

Paris, 1938. The Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo is in the hospital, unable to stop hiccuping. His wife calls on an acquaintance of her friend Madame Reynaud; the mesmerist Monsieur Pain. A timid bachelor, Pain is in love with the widow Reynaud, and agrees to try to use his powers to help save the poet’s life. But then two mysterious Spanish agents intervene, determined to keep him from treating the patient.

Terrible anxiety enters the story–along with another practitioner of the occult sciences, tarot cards, nightmares, Mme Curie, WWII, hopeless love, and an assassination. Poor Monsieur Pain, haunted and guilty, wanders the crepuscular, rainy streets of Paris…(inside flap)
Have you read Bolano? Is he as difficult to define as I am finding?