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Nazi Literature in the Americas (1996)

by Roberto Bolaño

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,0772818,997 (3.87)63
A tour de force of black humor, composed of short biographies of imaginary pan-American authors, providing sketch character portraits that are often pathetically funny, sometimes surprisingly moving, and on occasion, authentically chilling.
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» See also 63 mentions

English (24)  Spanish (2)  French (2)  All languages (28)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
This book is deceptively short. It is a series of biographies, some of them as short as one or two pages, of poets and authors who have adopted either antisemitic or right wing ideologies. The depths of the character's lives and the extent of the underground fascist literary scene implied by these chunks of text would require a sprawling epic to accurately convey if this were a standard novel. But this format allows Bolaño to compress a large amount of content into little pieces.
I've always been a big fan of fake nonfiction, so this would have gotten a good review from me even if it were a series of invented biographies of pastry chefs or fly fishermen. But instead this book is populated by monsters. These subjects all share shades of thoroughly unpleasant, chillingly psychotic, or pitiably deluded.
I'm a lefty and Bolaño is a lefty so it would be a cheap interaction for him to write and me to read something that just makes fun of the other side. But after a while it becomes clear that this isn't a book about ideology or Nazism at all. This book is about alienation. Most of the subjects are pushed further and further down the deep end by the opprobrium of the literary establishment and their peers. They end their lives wasting away of disease or drink somewhere, alone and forgotten. It is clear that these characters could easily be Bolaño or one of his real-life friends. ( )
  ethorwitz | Jan 3, 2024 |
Every single review I've read of this book mentions Borges. There are no exceptions, because to not mention him would be unthinkable - this collection of capsule biographies of imaginary fascist/right-wing authors would never have been written without the existence of Borges' prior work like A Universal History of Infamy, which itself was based on similar prior experiments. However, I think Bolaño sort of missed the point on why Borges used the format of fictional book reviews. Borges did it out of laziness, by his own admission (also economy - why write a whole book when you can just give people the gist in a few pages?), but the device also allowed him to keep the very interesting and subtle philosophical questions he was exploring (e.g. the notions of authorship and authenticity in Pierre Menard) grounded in some sort of reality.

Philosophy puts people to sleep fairly easily, but if it's clothed in a narrative or something closer to what people expect in a work of fiction, it's both more interesting and more relevant. Bolaño's book, which is the only one of his I've read, for some reason leaves out the philosophy entirely and so I confess I really don't get the point of it - why am I reading yet another two-page summary of the life of a no-name poet whose fascism is only mentioned briefly, and whose life is connected to any of the others only vaguely, if at all? What broader picture is supposed to emerge from these lives and the ties between them? That some of these lives extend into the near future is surely supposed to mean something, but what?

Some of the longer ones are fairly involved and hint at what could have been interesting stories on their own (such as the two Schiaffino brothers). Unfortunately, except for the final biography, which is written in a narrative style that feels like a compressed version of a potentially interesting full-length crime novel (it actually was later turned into his novel Distant Star), it just comes off as writing for its own sake; there's pretty much nothing beyond the concept to make the book worth reading. None of the authors have much to say, and except for occasional brief lists of themes or ideas or imagery, there's very little description of what they wrote. The fascism or Nazism of the writers is completely incidental and doesn't add up to anything, which is odd considering Bolaño's own history as a prisoner of Pinochet. You could write something like "this is a series of meditations on fascism" if you wanted to trick people into thinking there was something more going on here, but there really isn't. The main item on display is Bolaño's writing style, which is dry, detached, and subtly ironic, but still fairly clinical and so even a warmth that could have breathed some life into these characters is absent.

I will say that Bolaño is exceptionally well-read, to judge by the lists of authors the various protagonists either read, meet, or are compared to, so it's certainly possible to be impressed by the detail he crams into each life. I wouldn't say any of them exactly leap of the page, but they are all pretty good imitations of what could have been real people, and if you're the kind of person who enjoys reading obituaries you will appreciate his skill in making each creation feel unique. Borges once wrote "There is a kind of lazy pleasure in useless and out-of-the-way erudition." There's tons of that useless erudition here, but I don't see the pleasure. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
You'd have to know a few right wingers to like this as much as I did.

"'In answer to a question about the puzzling abundance of Germanic elements in the work of a Central American author, he once said, 'I have been tormented, spat on, and deceived so often- the only way I could go on living and writing was to find spiritual refuge in an ideal place... In a way, I'm like a woman trapped in a man's body...'" ( )
  uncleflannery | May 16, 2020 |
An amazing book which kept me riveted the entire way. I finished it in a single sitting. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Probably not the best introduction to Roberto Bolano's body of work. A series of faux biographies of right wing writers. ( )
  orkydd | Feb 2, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
Nazi Literature in the Americas is a real curiosity; it has a surface simplicity, but few readers will be able to pin down a general unease about the book's purpose and meaning...Bolaño's impressive novel triumphs by displaying a power of imagination and a quiddity we are not inclined to allow any of his imaginary writers.
 

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roberto Bolañoprimary authorall editionscalculated
Andrews, ChrisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
塔, 円城解説secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Berenberg, Heinrich vonÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A tour de force of black humor, composed of short biographies of imaginary pan-American authors, providing sketch character portraits that are often pathetically funny, sometimes surprisingly moving, and on occasion, authentically chilling.

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