Friday, April 03, 2009

Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano

Bolano is having a posthumous renaissance now that so much of his work is being translated into English, and I read about half of his novel The Savage Detectives and about half of this collection of stories (though some might not call it a collection of stories) both with pleasure--though apparently not enough interest to get all the way through. That fact, though, has more to do with personal preferences (so much Pratchett to read now!) and limited time.

So this book is a collection of profiles of fictional writers (as in made up people not writers of fiction) with Nazi sympathies. And while that may seem like a concept built for shock value--it's surprising unshocking. Instead it's really really funny. One of Bolano's big interests seems to be looking at the lives of writers, of movements, of non-writers interest in writers...but by choosing Nazi writers instead of say Leftist writers or Catholic writers or any other designator that has supporters and foes in equal measure, he eliminates the sense of making an overly obvious political statement. While the world obviously still contains Nazi sympathizers, there's no way readers will think this book is taking a pro-Nazi position or that it would really bother to take an anti-Nazi position, so you have to look deeper for significance. And the parts I read had a lot to do with why people write (and Bolano can be quite judgemental about this) and why people read...

What interested me most though was how the structure of a character profile--a mini biography--can absolutely work as a short story structure. These characters are at times endearing, disturbing, entirely mockeable... and despite the encylopedia type structure of the book, despite the lack of a "story" in terms of a building plot, you care about them.

1 comment:

Rafe said...

I read a few of the profiles/chapters while waiting for an event to start at Books and Books, and I found them hilarious. I especially enjoyed his generic distinctions (who knew there was so much fictional Nazi science fiction?). But for whatever reason, after about an hour of reading random selections and enjoying them immensely, I had no desire to buy the book and read the rest; I guess once I had the joke, there wasn't much to keep me going. It might be fun to teach in a class on the postmodern novel, though.