Ben Dutton's Reviews > Distant Star

Distant Star by Roberto Bolaño
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Feb 06, 2012

it was amazing
Read in August, 2009

Vintage Books continue their Roberto Bolaño series with Distant Star, a short work translated into English by Chris Andrews in 2004, and which won the prestigious Valle-Inclán Prize.

Distant Star, a short novella, not even 150 pages long, opens with an explanation by Bolaño that the story that follows is a fuller retelling of a story first recounted in Nazi Literature in America (1996), a version that would be ‘a mirror and an explosion.’ However the note is not all it seems to be, and neither is the story that follows. The story is this: an unnamed narrator is trying to reconstruct the life and works of a poet and military assassin in Pinochet’s Chile. Distant Star has the same reflexive qualities of 2666 and The Savage Detectives, but is less epic in scope than those works – and though the focus at first appears slighter because of it, Distant Star proves itself another masterpiece from Bolaño.

“Like the story of Chile itself in those years, the story of Jason Stein, who ran our poetry workshop, is larger than life.”

This explanation, given at the start of chapter four, reveals much. Bolaño is as interested in Alberto Ruiz-Tagle and Chile’s poets as he is in the nature of the country itself. Distant Star, unlike his other short novella, By Night in Chile (2000), only really hints at the crimes of Pinochet’s Chile, but their insidious nature underscores every page. There is fear and suspicion here.

I think the fascination with Bolaño’s work is that he is a South American writer unafraid of facing these issues directly: others would face them through magic realism and indulgent fantasy; Bolaño tackles things head on. He is unafraid of the fight, of apportioning blame. It is what makes Distant Star, and all of Bolaño’s work that I have read so far, so powerful and unmissable. He is the shining star of South American fiction.
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