We are in the midst of a welcome Roberto Bolaño zeitgeist in English. The late Chilean author's novel "The Savage Detectives" has been translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer and published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Saturday's "All Things Considered" will carry this piece on the book and Bolaño put together by Mandalit del Barco, who asked me to read some segments of the novel for her report. This was a truly wonderful compliment and an immense honor. Listen tomorrow or on the Web in the future.
"The Savage Detectives" concerns the adventures and exploits of "visceral realist" poet bohemians in 1970s Mexico City. The stories and characters are based largely on Bolaño's experiences and contemporaries. James Wood in The New York Times called it a "marvelous, sad, finally sustaining novel," writing about its setting:
He places us there, in Mexico City, and reminds us of the excitement and boredom, the literary pretentiousness and ignorance, the erotic ambition and anxiety of being a young writer or reader in the company of like-minded friends.
This piece by Carmen Boullosa in The Nation describes her memories of the author, who died in Spain in 2003. The New Yorker went a couple weeks ago with this read on Bolaño by Daniel Zalewski. He describes the back-story to "The Savage Detectives" and Bolaño's activity in the Mexican capital:
He returned to Mexico City in 1974. At a café on Calle Bucareli—Mexico City’s Left Bank—Bolaño met Mario Santiago, a defiant, acidly intelligent poet of Indian extraction. The two men, along with a dozen or so friends, formed a band of literary guerrillas, whom Bolaño christened the infrarealistas. The group's aesthetic, Bolaño later said, was French Surrealism fused with "Dadaism, Mexican style." They published iconoclastic magazines and engaged in myriad forms of provocation, such as shouting out their own poems at readings given by their "enemies" in Latin America’s cultural establishment—in particular, Octavio Paz, the poet who eventually became Mexico’s first Nobel Laureate. Another prominent Mexican writer, Carmen Boullosa, has spoken of her "fear," before approaching a lectern, that infrarealistas might be lurking in the audience: "They were the terror of the literary world."