Writing About Writers

Talking From the Grave

Roberto BolaƱo may not have the last word, but here at least is his Final Interview.

Book Cover If there are non-English speaking writers who have made as big an impact on the literary world as the late departed Chilean, Roberto Bolaño, I am not aware of them. The onslaught of posthumous publications, which include The Savage Detectives and 2666 has fed a large appetite of the growing Bolaño audience. And naturally, such is his popularity that there has arisen some controversy about the facts of Bolaño’s life. Last year his widow found it necessary to contest the growing mythology that pictures Bolaño as a maniacal drug addict. And Guatemalan Horacio Castellanos Moya, a writer who claims intimate familiarity with the author, has penned (or keyed) a compelling jeremiad that reaches past the particulars of the necessarily complex elements of Bolaño’s life and focussses on the way Latin American writers are perceived or accepted in the United States. He grumbles:
Every time I’ve found myself on American soil and I’ve made the mistake of admitting that I’m a fiction writer who comes from Latin America, that person will immediately pull out García Márquez, and will do it, what’s more, with a self-satisfied smile, as if he were saying to me, “I know you.” Now, those same North Americans have begun to pull out Bolaño…
If you are interested in furthering acquaintance and understanding of the writer, now comes Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview & Other Conversations (translated by Sybil Perez, Melville House). In addition to his last conversation with Monica Maristain, there are three others, including a 2002 chat with Carmen Boullosa published in Bomb magazine which ends with Bolaño exhorting, “Whatever the case, the important thing is to keep reading it. That’s more important than writing it, don’t you think? The truth is, reading is always more important than writing.”

Marcela Valdes’s introduction to this slender volume agrees:
As a teenager, he reads Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival and is captivated by the idea of a “lay and independent” medieval knight. His own holy grail turns out to be a dead man’s diary he discovers in an abandoned shtetl.

A lay and independent knight: these words could describe both the great detectives and the great writers who wander through the pages of 2666. All of them are loners who devote themselves to reading and swimming in the abyss. Being a writer in this world is as dangerous as being a detective, walking through a graveyard, looking at ghosts.
biopic

Robert Birnbaum is editor-at-large at Identity Theory. All the sketchy details of his life will be (re)fabricated in his memoir-in-progress, Just Talking: How to Do Things With Words. His weblog can be found here. More by Robert Birnbaum

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