Saturday, December 19, 2009

By Night in Chile - Roberto Bolaño

Roberto Bolano has been getting considerable admiration in the English speaking world, after his translations are made available, in the past few years. There are comparisons of him to Marquez and Borges in stature. 2666, the book released last year in English, posthumously, was a huge success, with rave reviews around the globe. I too, did buy the copy of 2666, along with the rest of the world, but haven't summed up enough courage to start reading the mammoth book ( 800 pages only). Instead , decided to start of with a shorter one as an appetizer to the literary world of Bolano.

I haven't seen or read any other novel which is written in one paragraph. 130 pages of this monologue, is in one non-stop paragraph. Sebastian Urrutia Lacroix, a Chilean priest, member of Opes Dei ( right-wing orthodox Christian group), a failed poet and a literary critic, on his death bed ( or so he believes) recounts his life, during the course of the night.

"I am dying now. But I still have many things to say" , begins, Urrutia, taking the readers through multiple disjointed often dreamy sequences of the important events of literary and political importance, witnessed by him. After the initial pages where he talks about his life and the introductions to the church ,

"At the age of fourteen, I entered the seminary, and when I came out again, much later on, my mother kissed my hand and called me Father..... I protested , saying Don't call me Father, mother, I am your son.."
His acquaintance with the literary world was through the literary critic, called Farewell (with homosexual tendencies) , at whose villa, he was introduced the greats like Pablo Neruda and other established and upcoming poets and writers of Chile. The discussions with Farewell ranged from the poets and novelists of Chile and Argentina to the Artists and Paintings of the modern Europe.

"What use are books, they are shadows, nothing but shadows. And I : like the shadows you have been watching ? Farewell: Quite. And I: There is a very interesting book by Plato on precisely that subject. Farewell : Dont be an idiot. And I: What are those shadows telling you, Farewell, what is it ? Farewell: They are telling me about multiplicity of reading. And I : Multiple, perhaps, but thoroughly mediocre and miserable".
A starving Guatemalan painter in the Paris suburb, the German writer and the representative of the nation in Paris, Ernst Jünger comes in the thoughts among many real and imaginary characters of Chile. He was also selected by the Opes Dei, to take a tour of Europe and study about the preservation of Churches and report back, during which he meets various priest across multiple countries, practising falconry to get rid of the pigeon, whose dropping can cause considerable damage to the architecture.

After the death Allende and the fall of socialist Goverment, General Pinochet took over the control of the country. Urrutia, was entrusted with the mission of taking secret classes to the Military junta, about the nuances of communism. His association with a wannabe writer Maria Canvales, who , with her American husband hosts extravagant parties at their residence participated by 'who is who' of the Chilean literary world. However, these parties did not last long after the fall of the regime and the revelation of the basement torture and interrogation camp conducted by the American for the Junta.

Fitting to the presentation of the novel ( a single paragraph), these thoughts and rants are continuous and jumping from one incident to other with no chronological sequence or structure. Even during these delirious rants, he is aware of the importance of silences..
''Yes, one's silences, because silences rise to heaven too, and God hears them, and only God understands and judges them, so one must be very careful with one's silences.'' His own silences, he adds, ''are immaculate.''
I thought, Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix is an anti-ego of what Bolano is (I've seen reports that Urrutia Lacroix is modeled on a real figure, the priest and right-wing literary critic José Miguel Ibañez Langlois) . A right wing orthodox, collaborating with the Pinochet Regime, ranting over the various political and literary icons of Chile and Europe.

This novel is beyond the delirious rant of a dying man. It is more complex than that and Bolano, is not spending time discussing his personal side of the story. His target is elsewhere, could be the pretentious academia of literary world, or the establishment with their secret interrogation cells, where you unknowingly being part of. With the narrator going through his memoirs over the history of Chile , the quest for wizened youth linger.. "I can picture the wizened youth's face. I cannot actually see him, but he is there in my mind's eye." and "Where is the wizened youth? Why has he gone away? And little by little the truth begins to rise like a dead body."

This book demand a second read , may be after getting familiarised with Bolano. This may not be the best of Bolano, but an important book and a fantastic introduction to an outstanding writer.

I haven't read a novel in one paragraph ! And of course, the end was great : " And then the storm of shit begins."

By Night in Chile
Roberto Bolaño ( translated from Spanish by Chris Andrews )
The Harvill Press
130 Pages
Rs 600 ( phew !!)

Further read : NY Times, Guardian

No comments: