loved it. smart, vulnerable. riding a razor's edge between perfect exhibition/revelation and self-absorbed or too insular (as autofiction might tend tloved it. smart, vulnerable. riding a razor's edge between perfect exhibition/revelation and self-absorbed or too insular (as autofiction might tend to do), and also between friendly accessible and not afflicting-the-comforts of the reader enough. yet it's all done offhandedly, in a way where the risk seems almost casual and the dazzling results seems natural.
two sad, beautiful novellas. a subtle lyricism that reminded sometimes of early handke, sometimes of the edgy desperation portrayed so well by elena ftwo sad, beautiful novellas. a subtle lyricism that reminded sometimes of early handke, sometimes of the edgy desperation portrayed so well by elena ferrante. at yet other times what was brought to mind -- even though honigmann here risks sentiment much more -- was sebald's sacred, dry handling of the stories of refugees and immigrants. what stands out however is an emotional and graceful prose that embodies outsider and diaspora life, its various defeats and small, bittersweet triumphs.
A LOVE MADE OUT OF NOTHING tells a story similar to honigmann's biography. here, an adult daughter of a german jewish father and a bulgarian jewish mother self-exiles herself from east berlin to a lonely paris. one of the more incredible bits is when she discovers her father's diary entries from 1946, when he returns to germany. an almost casual description of the situation he then found himself in: "Someone asks us if we're Italian. They no longer remember what Jews look like" (71)
the second novella ZOHARA'S JOURNEY is more straight-forward, in a way, and becomes, by its end, a semi-adventure story (before a final collapse). another great portrait, it speaks of a sephardic jewish refugee from algeria living in france with her six kids -- a woman cruelly trapped by fate and her crooked, confidence-man husband.
after reading SAVAGE DETECTIVES -- whose psychotropic magics utterly redistricted my limbic system -- i'd decided to take my bolaño in little bits andafter reading SAVAGE DETECTIVES -- whose psychotropic magics utterly redistricted my limbic system -- i'd decided to take my bolaño in little bits and had stayed away from 2666, saving it up i think.
just now i've finished it. and, while it wasn't the same experience as SAVAGE DETECTIVES (which, relatively speaking, is more suffused with intoxicating romantic ideas) 2666 indeed was another complete deracination. rather than romantic epic, this work -- the primary effort of the last five years of bolano's life -- is a fearless, everything-risking tome on violence, history, sex, death and (the banality of) evil. after finishing it i feel changed in only a way, at least it seems to me, a novel can change you.
one important aspect of the book maybe to mention is its tedium. the book can be tedious. or, better said, it risks tedium to make a point about time and evil. especially this is true for a 300 page section called THE PART ABOUT THE CRIMES, which makes a fiction from the real violent deaths of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico -- a mass murder given the grim name feminicidios.
an achievement only possible by a very great writer is this slowly unfolding effect, precisely built on tedium and our too-easy habituation to our race's various evils. the reader is allowed, finally, to comprehend her or his habituation -- with no small amount of horror.
and two quotes from early and late in the book that might serve as self-descriptions of his method: "On the front flap, the reader was informed that the testamento geometrico was really three books, 'each independent, but functionally correlated by the sweep of the whole'..." (186)
"The style was strange. The writing was clear and sometimes even transparent, but the way the stories followed one after another didn't lead anywhere: all that was left were the children, their parents, the animals, some neighbors, and in the end, all that was really left was nature, a nature that dissolved little by little in a boiling cauldron until it vanished completely" (887).
"Proposition: Part I of 2666 as satirical sequel to The Savage Detectives. The visceral realists, young idealists, have grown up to become professors of literature, still seekers but no longer idealistic, writing scholarly papers instead of poetry and feuding with academic rivals instead of opposing schools of poets."
also: marcela valdes has a great long piece on 2666 in the nation. of particular interest is her description of bolaño's relationship to the journalist and writer gonzález rodríguez, who took on the life-risking task of investigating the juárez murders. bolaño seems to have based much of his novel on details from rodríguez. there's, for instance, a person who seems to be the partial basis for klaus haas named abdul latif sharif -- and it is at a press conference held by sharif (eerily similar to ones in the book) that rodríguez comes to a pivotal conclusion about the case:
That day González Rodríguez watched a tall, middle-aged man with green eyes talk to some thirty reporters. Sharif Sharif barely spoke Spanish--he'd lived in Mexico for less than a year--so he gave his presentation in English while a bilingual reporter translated. What he said sounded like a soap opera. According to Sharif Sharif, the femicides were being committed by a pair of rich Mexican cousins, one who lived in Juárez and the other just over the border in El Paso. He told a love story involving one of the cousins and a poor, beautiful girl from Juárez. The press corps was annoyed--they exchanged glances, cracked jokes. González Rodríguez felt pretty skeptical himself, but the critic in him was intrigued by Sharif Sharif's style. Rather than pound his chest and declare his innocence, the suspect calmly recounted his ninety-minute tale. He seemed to believe that if he provided an alternate explanation for the murders, the charges against him would be dropped.
At the end of the session, González Rodríguez introduced himself to a local reporter. In a park near the prison, the two chatted about the strange presentation. A mother and her daughter approached them.
Are you journalists? the mother asked.
Yes, they answered.
Then we want to tell you something we think that you should know.
The 14-year-old girl beside her wore a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers. She told the reporters that the Juárez chief of police had forced her to accuse The Rebels. The chief, she said, had taken her by the hair and banged her against a wall until she agreed to say exactly what he told her.
For González Rodríguez, perspective suddenly shifted. Old facts (the nightclub sweep, the escalating charges against Sharif Sharif) glittered in a new light: the police were beating witnesses. "This," he thought, "is the undercurrent."
Read the full article, which includes more background material and a nice portrait of bolaño and rodríguez's friendship, here.
a bit plodding but in reality wonderfully so. like that wise, avuncular speech that gets tedious at times but which you nonetheless love hearing.
ionesa bit plodding but in reality wonderfully so. like that wise, avuncular speech that gets tedious at times but which you nonetheless love hearing.
ionesco's only novel tells of an everyman who is decidedly not an artist or a saint but one who nonetheless is struck forcibly with the great question of his own existence. as this narrator faces the familiar but unsolvable koans, a deep and growing sense of recognition and pity (for the narrator and for ourselves) arises:
I have never recovered from my initial surprise at making contact with the world, a feeling of surprise and wonderment that cannot be dismissed. We are told to free ourselves from the feeling of astonishment and move on to other things. But in that case, on what basis can we found any knowledge or morality? There is no way that basis can be ignorance, and yet we are swimming in ignorance; our point of departure, our foundation, is nothing but the void. How can we build on nothing? (57)
All we are, perhaps, is knots, ephemeral intersections of energies, forces, various and contradictory tendencies which only death unties. And yet these forces, these energetic events are ourselves; we are built, we are produced, we are acted upon, but also we make ourselves, we act and we act upon ourselves. Oh, if only I had some philosophical talent! All the things I'd understand! I'd understand the same things I know now, but I could explain them to myself better, and I'd also be able to explain it better to others and exchange ideas. (65)
one of the bits i liked the best is when the narrator actually does confront a scholar, a philosopher, who tells him his questions are quite ordinary, that there isn't anything at all new to them... to which our isolato replies:
"Of course," I answered, "I'm sure you're aware of these problems; you've read a lot, you have a great fount of knowledge. But for me these questions are crucial, they take me and shake me. For you, they're only cultural. You don't wake up every morning with fear and trembling, asking yourself what the answers are, then telling yourself there aren't any. But you know that everyone has asked himself these same questions. And you also know that no one has ever come up with any answers, because there aren't any. The only difference is that for you the whole thing is files and catalogues... Despair has been domesticated; people have turned it into literature, into works of art. That doesn't help me" (87-88).
[later on (actually the passing of time in the book is beautifully done, and years pass almost imperceptibly differently from hours), a civil war breaks out. and here the book could be argued to have a reactionary or anti-revolutionary point of view. for it has little faith in any progress of state. unfortunately this seems an increasingly convincing cynicism.]
the pseudononymous Meng-hu has a great review on the book here, which acknowledges the work's tardy appearance "in the sequence of existential literature" and speaks well of its narrator's identifiable mental illness and alcohol-fueled escapism.
roy kuhlman -- famous for his grove beckett book covers -- designed this one. translated by the maverick publisher and editor richard seaver.
bolano's characters are some of the most beautiful. they miraculously avoid sentimentality while achieving a too-beautiful-to-speak-of romanticism --bolano's characters are some of the most beautiful. they miraculously avoid sentimentality while achieving a too-beautiful-to-speak-of romanticism -- though reducing them so is an error, that quality he gets really does tear me up...
his characters remind me of the vow of poverty monastics make. it isn't a negative vow--at least not for the nun. it is in fact a positive one, one that moves the renunciate closer to the divine. bolano's poets and losers and mothers are an equal type. and one way to describe his natural, moving, ecstatic and elegiac style is to say that it simultaneously shows the mundane and profoundly human while it recognizes and manifests the divine (--or maybe better said: the cosmic).
AMULET is a slowly shifting machine, moving from a narrative built first on a natural and sad and graceful character development into a kind of modernized persephone-in-hell myth then into a creepy symbolic tale (though for what is hard to say) and finally into a long description of an icy, abstract landscape.
i probably didn't do a good job assigning the sections descriptions--and i missed a few--but there are distinct parts to this novel. and bolano gently leads the reader (and virgil and dante are explicitly mentioned) through these passages, a series of subtle changes. the book is one long song describing the horror story (that the narrator proclaims will not appear to be a horror story, but is, nonetheless) of living through history--in this case latin america's revolutionary 60s and 70s.
here's one paragraph, within which bolano seems to convey succinctly and impossibly some of the tumult of that era. a phone call is made asking about arturo (a boy who has gone from mexico to chile in 1973 to 'take part in the revolution') (and where he barely escapes execution):
"One night, at a party in Colonia Anzures, propped on my elbows in a sea of tequila, watching a group of friends trying to break open a pinata in the garden, it occurred to me that it was an ideal time to call Arturo's place. His sister answered the phone. Merry Christmas, I said. Merry Christmas, she replied sleepily. Then she asked where I was. With some friends. What's with Arturo? He's coming back to Mexico next month. When exactly? We don't know. I'd like to go to the airport, I said. Then for a while we said nothing and listened to the party noises coming from the patio. Are you feeling OK, his sister asked. I'm feeling strange. Well that's normal for you. Not all that normal; most of the time I feel perfectly well. Arturo's sister was quiet for a bit, then she said that actually she was feeling pretty strange herself. Why's that? I asked. It was a purely rhetorical question. To tell the truth, both of us had plenty reasons to be feeling strange. I can't remember what she said in reply. We wished each other a merry Christmas again and hung up." p.76.