Saturday, March 23, 2013

Woes of the True Policeman - Roberto Bolaño

"According to Padilla, remembered Amalfitano, all literature could be classified as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. Novels, in general, were heterosexual. Poetry, on the other hand, was completely homosexual. Within that vast ocean of poetry he identified various currents: faggots, queers, sissies, freaks, butches, fairies, nymphs, and philenes."

When Chilean writer Roberto Bolano died, he left us with a large treasure of manuscripts , including the magnum opus 2666, which was published posthumously. The 5 part novel, which was complete in all sense, was rumored to have an unfinished part 6. Hence, when this manuscript of "The Woes of a True Policeman" was received, it was largely speculated as the part 6 of the 2666. The similarity in names and the province, added to the speculation. However, this book, published 7 years after his death is not a sequel to the 2666, but read more like a parallel story, or a book which was in preparation, in line with the 2666 theme, as if filling the gaps of the narrative in 2666. This book will be delicious for the Bolano fans, as it repeats his characters and places from the magnum opus 2666.

Amalfitano, 50, literature professor at the University in Barcelona, "for the first time, slept with a man".  "I am not a man" said Padilla, "I am your Angel". That relationship, however did cost him the job, yet again. While he lost his previous teaching assignments for across various countries, starting from his homeland Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Germany, France etc for political reasons, this time was for his personality issues.  He , a widower, is now staying with his 17 yr old daughter, has to now find a new job.  It is thus, he was offered a job, back in Mexico, with the help of one of his early student ( who had a crush on him) , and herself a professor at the Santa Teresa University. 

The location of the plot, now shifts back to Santa Teresa, the fictional town famous by the book 2666. The bordering town near the US, the town notorious for the death of young girls, is a continuation of where 2666 left us with.  Finding his foothold in the new place, he continue to find people of his choice,  including a art forger selling his forged paintings of Larry Rivers to wealthy Texans,  while continuing his correspondence with his love Padilla in Barcelona, who interestingly in the process of writing a novel titled "The God of Homosexuals", while staying with a local drug dealer and an AIDS victim, which he himself get diagnosed with.  The only continuity in this kaleidoscopic book is through the letters of Padilla and Amalfitano.

The fourth part of the book is a detailed study on the fictitious French write JMG Arcimboldi. Boleno spends a lot of pages and energy on the works and the reviews of the books of Arcimboldi. Unlike the 2666, the writer Arcimboldi here is a French writer ( also note the change in spelling) and is not as profound as we see the writer in 2666. 

This book, to me was intended to be another huge work in the likes of 2666, which was cut short due to his untimely death. This leave you with a feeling of incompleteness. Most of the subplots are fragmented and inconclusive, be it the Padilla , his daughter who in line with the reputation of the town, disappeared mysteriously.  Though the editors say, it was at different stages of completion, and the book was originaly started in 1980s continued to write and modify by Bolano, until 2003, it still seems to be incomplete to me.  The title of the book itself, shows that the intent was different from being a story of a homosexual professor, which it turned out to be, in the end.

However, the book has some brilliant writings, in the typical Bolano style. The long sentences-paragraphs, the cross references,  to me it was a smooth read. This book will appeal to a die hard fan of Bolano, but leave a lot to be desired for the rest.  But one can see a masterpiece in the making. Interestingly, the book is dedicated to Philip K Dick and Manuel Puig, the Argentine writer, whom he admire ( so do I, after reading "Kiss of the Spider Woman", and "Eternal Curse on the readers of these pages").
Woes of the True Policeman ( 2010 -posthumous )

Roberto Bolaño ( translated from Spanish by Laura Healy 2012 )


290 pages
NY Times, Wall Street Journal, A V Club

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