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Distant Star

1 rating: 5.0
A book by Roberto Bolano

"The melancholy folklore of exile" pervades this novel, which describes the divergent paths of three young Chilean poets around the time of Pinochet's coup. At university, the unnamed narrator and his friend are fascinated by a mysterious … see full wiki

Author: Roberto Bolano
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
1 review about Distant Star

If You Don't Already Rage ...

  • Apr 16, 2009
  • by
... at the memory of the Pinochet murder-regime in Chile --with its Christian sadism and its Chicago capitalism, installed by the CIA -- then Roberto Bolaño is the author you need to read, and this short novel, "Distant Star", is a good place to start. It's not a pleasant afternoon's sort of book, though, as I must warn you, nor is it easy to digest unless you start with some knowledge of Latin American literature.

There are hideous acts of violence that occur in this book, but they are subdued by distance and by indirect narration; since a good part of Bolaño's moral stance toward Pinochetism is based on revulsion from sadistic violence, it's very proper that the violence he recounts should NOT be vivid and thrilling. There are also passages of revolting scatology - near the end, when the narrator traces his political nemesis, Carlos Wieder, though a school of writers who claim that they can only 'create' the new literature by literally defecating and urinating on the classics. My stomach churned at this chapter, but Bolaño had to make his point.

Carlos Wieder is a spy planted among the young intellectuals and poets of Chile, in fact an air force officer, a stunt pilot who writes his "poems' in the sky over Chile once the Pinochet coup is successful. His first sky-poems are in Latin, the opening text of Genesis. Soon enough he begins to sky-write in Spanish: "Death Is Responsibility", "Death is Cleansing", "Death is Chile". Meanwhile he's the leader of a right-wing death squad that rapes and murders the women poets with whom Wieder had consorted under a false name. His 'artistic' aspirations lead him to photograph his victims pornographically, and his ego betrays him into organizing an exhibit of these photos as evidence of the 'new poetics' he champions. And that, dear reader, is as much of the plot of this novel as I intend to share.

The atrocities of Pinochet's Chileño-fascism are not the whole theme of "Distant Star." It is also a pain-ridden exploration of the nature of poetry and literature in Chile and in modern times at large. The portions of the book that anatomize writers "we" have never heard of, whole schools of literature "we" have never encountered, WILL confuse, defuse, or bemuse most Anglophone readers. One gets the impression, and I think it's a valid one, that 'revolutionary' idealism and poetry are inseparable. In Bolaño's Chile, there's a poet behind every banner or placard.

The obvious comparison is between Bolaño and the Argentine Julio Cortázar. Based on "Distant Star', the only Bolaño I've read, the two share many preoccupations but Cortázar is the more masterful stylist and the deeper thinker. Bolaño is more immediate, more sensual, and at times more lurid. I'd place him on a spectrum of "metaphysical violence" about half way from Cortázar to the Mexican Carlos Fuentes. Whatever you find in Bolaño, it won't be "magic realism" or any form of melodrama. Rather, he offers a gritty integrity and indifference to mere entertainment that few English writers would dare to publish.

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