Sunday, January 09, 2011

Amulet - Roberto Bolaño

"This is going to be a horror story. A story of murder, detection and horror. But it won't appear to be, for the simple reason that I am the teller. Told by me, it won't seem like that. Although, in fact, it's the story of a terrible crime." starts the book. The book indeed is that of horror and murder. Based on the real incident of massacre of students and the curb of the demonstration by the Mexican authorities. Bolano, does not refer to the murder directly, but the theme hover around this, coming back to the fate again and again, through the experience of Auxilio Lacouture, a Uruguan expat in Mexico city, self proclaimed " mother of all Mexican poets".

During the eventful days of students uprising, locked herself , in the "cubicle of the ladies "lavatory on the fourth floor of the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma in Mexico City (UNAM), where she has been trapped by an army occupation of the campus", thus demonstrating a solitary protest ( according to her),she become part of the resistance by her own way. It is this eventful 12-15 days( which she does not remember exactly), that takes her through the life, half in delirium due to the solitary confinement and the tiredness due to lack of food, get us through the fable of her time during those years and that of the socio-political life in Mexico City.

Auxilio, came to Mexico city, from Montevideo, few years before 1968. It could be 1967 or 65 or as early as 63, she does not remember. All she know was the poets Leon Felipe and Pedro Garfias were alive ( both of them died in 1968) and she was working at their home doing odd jobs and other errands for them. It is this acquaintance with the great poets made her stake the claim of mother of all Mexican Poets. She did not have a proper job. Apart from spending her time in the taverns and coffee bars with young and wanna be poets, she works at the university, at her own will on mostly free or for occassional wages given on temporary work at various functions at the University.

It is also important to know the events that happened in 1968 at Tlateloco in Mexico City. There were general unrest and agitation for larger freedom and democracy against the ruling PRI ( single party rule at that time in Mexico). On the Octover 2, 1968 students from the above mentioned university along with the rest of the liberal politicians and intellects gathered at Plaza de Tlateloco, Mexico City for a meeting. The Army surrounded the place and opened indiscriminatory fire against the agitators. More that 300 killed and many more seriously injured. There were many arrested, imprisoned and tortured , leaving behind one of the darkest days in 20th century Mexico's history. You can read more of that here.

Auxilio, on her note confirms that she was at the University and did not witness the murder.
I was at the university on the eighteenth of September when the army occupied the campus and went around arresting and killing indiscriminately. No. Not that many people were killed at the university. That was in Tlateloco. May that name live forever in our memory ! But I was at the university when the army and the riot police came in and rounded everyone up.
But on her part she still feels the pain of the sorrow, and her repeated recollections of her days at the lavatory , even after many years as late as 1974 in some of her stories. She continue to be tormented and continue to suffer from night dreams and hallucinatory visions. The last few pages, where the 'ghost-children' of Tlateloco, march in unison singing and falling off the abyss to the depth of history. She says, "And although the song that I heard was about war, about the heroic deeds of a whole generation of young Latin Americans led to sacrifice, I knew that above and beyond all, it was about courage and mirrors, desire and pleasure."

This is not an isolated Mexico story. Its the story of the Latin America in general, almost all of the countries going through troubled times in the 60s and early 70s. His alter ego, Aurtirito Belano, a young poet from Chile came to Mexico to live, During the times of Allende, he goes back to his native country, returning back to Mexico after he was de-throwned in a coup. Like many of his countrymen he too did not do anything apart from being a silent witness. Auxillio says "everyone was somehow expecting him to open his mouth and give us the latest news from the Horror Zone, but he said nothing, as if what other people expected had become incomprehensible to him or he simply didn't give a shit."

Bolano, also indicates that the only thing that survive beyond generations are the literary works. He predicts, the resurrection of various writers from the past having readers in the 21st and 22nd centuries while he himself was not sure of the outcome in the near future. Auxilio in her days of confinement says,

The vanity of writing, the vanity of destruction. I thought, Because I wrote, I endured. I thought, Because I destroyed what I had written, they will find me, they will hit me, they will rape me, they will kill me. I thought, The two things are connected, writing and destroying, hiding and being found.
There are many intellectuals and political figures appear in her narrative. Apart from many known Mexican Poets, she seems to have acquainted and the Italian and French artists and painters, Ernesto de Che Guevara also appears in Mexico.

Extremely powerful and haunting book. It is not an easy read and for majority of the pages it goes through the hallucinatory world of scattered events, people, time often jumbled and troubled as the narrator herself experience. Its very demanding read and Bolano does not explain the real motive or drive behind the fiction, making it more and more obscure. However, a strong narration and the absorbing language in line with the overall direction makes this a compelling and powerful book. Outstanding.
Amulet ( 1999)

Roberto Bolaño ( translated by Chris Andrew 2006)


184 Pages
More read : Guardian , Complete Review , Wiki

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