Skip to content

Bolaño has proven that literature can do anything.

—Jonathan Lethem

Roberto Bolaño

20th century Chilean poet and novelist

Roberto Bolaño (1953–2003) was born in Santiago, Chile. At fifteen, he moved with his family to Mexico and there became a Trotskyite and a journalist. In 1973, he returned to Chile and enlisted in Allende’s party but was imprisoned for a week after the military coup. He then went to El Salvador, where he knew the poet Roque Dalton, then to Mexico, and finally Spain where he worked as a dishwasher, waiter, night watchman, garbageman, longshoreman, and salesman until the 80s when he could make enough money to support himself by writing, and publishing. In 1999 he won the extremely prestigious Herralde & el Rómulo Gallego Award, considered the Latin American Nobel Prize (García Márquez and Vargas Llosa have been other winners.) He died of liver failure in Barcelona, and is survived by his wife and two children.


cover image for A Little Lumpen Novelita

A Little Lumpen Novelita

Fiction

“Now I am a mother and a married woman, but not long ago I led a life of crime”: so Bianca begins her tale of growing up the hard way in Rome. Orphaned overnight as a teenager—“our parents died in a car crash on their first vacation without us”—she drops out of school, gets a crappy job, and drifts into bad company. Her younger brother brings home two petty criminals who need a place to stay. As the four of them share the family apartment and plot a strange crime, Bianca learns how low she can fall.

Electric and tense with foreboding, with its jagged, propulsive short chapters beautifully translated by Natasha Wimmer, A Little Lumpen Novelita delivers a surprising, fractured fairy tale of seizing control of one’s fate.



cover image for The Secret of Evil

The Secret of Evil

Fiction

Opening this book is like being granted access to the Chilean master's personal files. Included in this one-of-a-kind collection is everything Roberto Bolaño was working on just before his death in 2003, and everything that he wanted to share with his readers. Fans of his writing will find familiar characters in new settings, and entirely new stories and styles, too.

A North American journalist in Paris is woken at 4 a.m. by a mysterious caller with urgent information. For V. S. Naipaul, the prevalence of sodomy in Argentina is a symptom of the nation’s political ills. Daniela de Montecristo (of Nazi Literature in the Americas and 2666) recounts the loss of her virginity. Arturo Belano — Bolaño’s alter ego — returns to Mexico City and meets a band called The Asshole of Morelos. Belano’s son Gerónimo disappears in Berlin during the Days of Chaos in 2005. Memories of a return to the native land. Argentine writers as gangsters. Zombie schlock as allegory…



cover image for Between Parentheses

Between Parentheses

Between Parentheses collects Roberto Bolaño’s nonfiction: fiercely opinionated articles, speeches, essays, and talks, as well as most of the newspaper columns he wrote during the last five years of his life, when fame had come to him at last. Here we have a tender account of his return to Chile, reflections on family life, impassioned takes on books by writers Bolaño admired (or vehemently despised), and advice on how to write a short story.

Between Parentheses fully lives up to Bolaño’s own demands: “I ask for creativity from literary criticism, creativity on all levels.”



cover image for The Unknown University

The Unknown University

Poetry

Perhaps surprisingly to some of his fiction fans, Roberto Bolaño touted poetry as the superior art form, able to approach an infinity in which “you become infinitely small without disappearing.” When asked, “What makes you believe you’re a better poet than a novelist?” Bolaño replied, “The poetry makes me blush less.” The sum of his life’s work in his preferred medium, The Unknown University is a showcase of Bolaño’s gift for freely crossing genres, with poems written in prose, stories in verse, and flashes of writing that can hardly be categorized. “Poetry,” he believed, “is braver than anyone.”



cover image for Tres

Tres

Poetry

Roberto Bolaño’s Tres is a showcase of the author’s willingness to freely cross genres, with poems in prose, stories in verse, and flashes of writing that can hardly be categorized. As the title implies, the collection is composed of three sections. “Prose from Autumn in Gerona,” a cinematic series of prose poems, slowly reveals a subtle and emotional tale of unrequited love by presenting each scene, shattering it, and piecing it all back together, over and over again. The second part, “The Neochileans,” is a sort of On the Road in verse, which narrates the travels of a young Chilean band on tour in the far reaches of their country. Finally, the collection ends with a series of short poems that take us on “A Stroll Through Literature” and remind us of Bolaño’s masterful ability to walk the line between the comically serious and the seriously comical.



cover image for The Insufferable Gaucho

The Insufferable Gaucho

Fiction

As Pankaj Mishra remarked in The Nation, one of the remarkable qualities of Bolaño’s short stories is that they can do the "work of a novel." The Insufferable Gaucho contains tales bent on returning to haunt you. Unpredictable and daring, highly controlled yet somehow haywire, a Bolaño story might concern an elusive plagiarist or an elderly lawyer giving up city life for an improbable return to the family estate, now gone to wrack and ruin. Bolaño’s stories have been applauded as "bleakly luminous and perfectly calibrated" (Publishers Weekly) and "complex and provocative (International Herald Tribune), and as Francine Prose said in The New York Times Book Review, "something extraordinarily beautiful and (at least to me) entirely new." Two fascinating essays are also included.



cover image for The Return

The Return

Fiction

As Pankaj Mishra remarked in The Nation, one of the remarkable qualities of Bolaño’s short stories is that they can do the "work of a novel." The Return contains thirteen unforgettable stories bent on returning to haunt you. Wide-ranging, suggestive, and daring, a Bolaño story might concern the unexpected fate of a beautiful ex-girlfriend or a dream of meeting Enrique Lihn: his plots go anywhere and everywhere and they always surprise. Consider the title piece: a young party animal collapses in a Parisian disco and dies on the dance floor; just as his soul is departing his body, it realizes strange doings are afoot––and what follows next defies the imagination (except Bolaño’s own).



cover image for Antwerp

Antwerp

Fiction

As Bolaño’s friend and literary executor, Ignacio Echevarria, once suggested, Antwerp can be viewed as the Big Bang of Roberto Bolaño’s fictional universe. Reading this novel, the reader is present at the birth of Bolaño’s enterprise in prose: all the elements are here, highly compressed, at the moment when his talent explodes. From this springboard – which Bolaño chose to publish in 2002, twenty years after he’d written it ("and even that I can’t be certain of") – as if testing out a high dive, he would plunge into the unexplored depths of the modern novel. Antwerp’s fractured narration in 54 sections – voices from a dream, from a nightmare, from passers by, from an omniscient narrator, from "Roberto Bolaño" all speak – moves in multiple directions and cuts to the bone.



cover image for Monsieur Pain

Monsieur Pain

Fiction

Paris, 1938. The Peruvian poet César Vallejo is in the hospital, afflicted with an undiagnosed illness, and unable to stop hiccuping. His wife calls on an acquaintance of her friend Madame Reynaud: the Mesmerist Pierre Pain. Pain, a timid bachelor, is in love with the widow Reynaud, and agrees to help. But two mysterious Spanish men follow Pain and bribe him not to treat Vallejo, and Pain takes the money. Ravaged by guilt and anxiety, however, he does not intend to abandon his new patient, but then Pain’s access to the hospital is barred and Madame Reynaud leaves Paris.... Another practioner of the occult sciences enters the story (working for Franco, using his Mesmeric expertise to interrogate prisoners)—as do Mme. Curie, tarot cards, an assassination, and nightmares. Meanwhile, Monsieur Pain, haunted and guilty, wanders the crepuscular, rainy streets of Paris...



cover image for Nazi Literature in the Americas

Nazi Literature in the Americas

Fiction

Nazi Literature in the Americas was the first of Roberto Bolaño’s books to reach a wide public. When it was published by Seix Barral in 1996, critics in Spain were quick to recognize the arrival of an important new talent. The book presents itself as a biographical dictionary of American writers who flirted with or espoused extreme right-wing ideologies in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It is a tour de force of black humor and imaginary erudition. Nazi Literature in the Americas is composed of short biographies, including descriptions of the writers’ works, plus an epilogue ("for Monsters"), which includes even briefer biographies of persons mentioned in passing. All of the writers are imaginary, although they are all carefully and credibly situated in real literary worlds. Ernesto Pérez Masón, for example, in the sample included here, is an imaginary member of the real Orígenes group in Cuba, and his farcical clashes with José Lezama Lima recall stories about the spats between Lezama Lima and Virgilio Piñera, as recounted in Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s Mea Cuba. The origins of the imaginary writers are diverse. Authors from twelve different countries are included. The countries with the most representatives are Argentina (8) and the USA (7).



cover image for Romantic Dogs

Romantic Dogs

Poetry

Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) has caught on like a house on fire, and The Romantic Dogs, a bilingual collection of forty-four poems, offers American readers their first chance to encounter this literary phenomenon as a poet: his own first and strongest literary persona. These poems, wide-ranging in forms and length, have appeared in magazines such as Harper’s, Threepenny Review, The Believer, Boston Review, Poetry, Soft Targets, Tin House, The Nation, Circumference, A Public Space, and Conduit. Bolaño’s poetic voice is like no other’s. Publishers Weekly praised The Romantic Dogs in its review: “The Savage Detectives, the best-known novel by the Chilean-born Bolaño (1953–2003) recently found spectacular success across the English-speaking world, bringing much attention to his other work. Now comes a very competently rendered bilingual selection of his fiery, if sometimes uncontrolled, verse. Bolaño began as a poet, and some of the work here seems to have come from an extraordinarily young man: a record of stormy, untamed teen emotion—the depths of despair (‘From these nightmares I’ll retain only/ these poor houses’) or the heights of sexual adventures. Bolaño moves easily into a blend of surrealism and populism, with in-your-face gestures learned perhaps from Pablo Neruda, as when he watches ‘a trail of nurses and a trail of scorpions’ wending their ways home. Other poems are closely tied to The Savage Detectives: Bolaño’s dreamt motorcycle journey in ‘The Donkey,’ mirroring the life of the real poet Mario Santiago, will send readers back to the fictionalized portrayals of Bolaño and Santiago (Arturo and Ulises) in the novel. Bolaño the poet’s ‘deliberate immaturity/ And splendors glimpsed on another planet’ can delight: they echo his brilliant but out-of-control authorial persona, with its high-speed, self-conscious verbal play, and those echoes will be more than enough to lead fans of his prose straight to his verse."



cover image for Amulet

Amulet

Fiction

Amulet is a monologue, like Bolaño’s acclaimed debut in English, By Night in Chile. The speaker is Auxilio Lacouture, a Uruguayan woman who moved to Mexico in the 1960s, becoming the "Mother of Mexican Poetry," hanging out with the young poets in the cafés and bars of the University. She’s tall, thin, and blonde, and her favorite young poet in the 1970s is none other than Arturo Belano (Bolaño’s fictional stand-in throughout his books). As well as her young poets, Auxilio recalls three remarkable women: the melancholic young philosopher Elena, the exiled Catalan painter Remedios Varo, and Lilian Serpas, a poet who once slept with Che Guevara. And in the course of her imaginary visit to the house of Remedios Varo, Auxilio sees an uncanny landscape, a kind of chasm. This chasm reappears in a vision at the end of the book: an army of children is marching toward it, singing as they go. The children are the idealistic young Latin Americans who came to maturity in the ’70s, and the last words of the novel are: "And that song is our amulet."



cover image for Last Evenings on Earth

Last Evenings on Earth

Fiction

Roberto Bolano’s story collection Last Evenings on Earth was acclaimed by Francine Prose in The New York Times Book Review as "something extraordinarily beautiful and (at least to me) entirely new…. Reading Roberto Bolano is like hearing the secret story, being shown the fabric of the particular, watching the tracks of art and life merge at the horizon and linger there like a dream from which we awake inspired to look more attentively at the world." "The melancholy folklore of exile," as Bolano once put it, pervades these fourteen haunting stories. His narrators are usually writers living on the margins and grappling with private (and often unlucky) quests. Set in the Chilean exile diaspora of Latin American and Europe, and peopled by Bolano’s beloved "failed generation," these stories are unimaginably gripping. One story begins: "Mauricio Silva, also known as ’The Eye,’ always tried to avoid violence, even at the risk of being considered a coward, but violence, real violence, is unavoidable, at least for those of us born in Latin America during the fifties and sixties and were about twenty years old at the time of Salvador Allende’s death." Last Evenings on Earth has been hailed as "sheer brilliance" (The San Francisco Chronicle), "vaguely, pervasively frightening" (The Nation) and "brilliant" (Kirkus Reviews). The stories, as Publishers Weekly noted are "perfectly calibrated: Bolaño limns the capacity of a voice to carry despair without shading into bitterness."



cover image for Distant Star

Distant Star

Fiction

The star of Roberto Bolaño’s hair-raising novel Distant Star is Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, an air force pilot who exploits the 1973 coup to launch his own version of the New Chilean Poetry, a multi-media enterprise involving sky-writing, poetry, torture, and photo exhibitions. For our unnamed narrator, who first encounters this "star" in a college poetry workshop, Ruiz-Tagle becomes the silent hand behind every evil act in the darkness of Pinochet’s regime. The narrator, unable to stop himself, tries to track Ruiz-Tagle down, and see signs of his activity over and over again. A corrosive, mocking humor sparkles within Bolaño’s darkest visions of Chile under Pinochet. In Bolaño’s world there’s a big graveyard and there’s a big graveyard laugh. (He once described his novel By Night in Chile as "a tale of terror, a situation comedy, and a combination pastoral-gothic novel.") Many Chilean authors have written about the "bloody events of the early Pinochet years, the abductions and murders," Richard Eder commented in The New York Times: "None has done it in so dark and glittering a fashion as Roberto Bolaño."



cover image for By Night in Chile

By Night in Chile

Fiction

By Night in Chile’s single night-long rant provides — as through a crack in the wall — a terrifying, clandestine view of the strange bedfellows of Church and State in Chile. This wild, eerily compact novel — Roberto Bolaño’s first work available in English––recounts the tale of a poor boy who wanted to be a poet, but ends up a Jesuit priest and a conservative literary critic, a lap dog to Chile’s rich and powerful cultural elite, by whose favors he meets Pablo Neruda and Ernst Jünger. Father Urrutia is offered a tour of Europe by agents of Opus Dei (to study "the disintegration of the churches," a journey into realms of the surreal); and ensnared by this plum, he is next assigned — after the destruction of Allende — a secret, never-to-be-disclosed nighttime job involving Pinochet. Soon, searingly, Father Urrutia’s memories go from bad to worse.



cover image for The Skating Rink

The Skating Rink

Fiction

Set in the seaside town of Z, on the Costa Brava, north of Barcelona, The Skating Rink oscillates between two poles: a camp ground and a ruined mansion, the Palacio Benvingut. The story, told by three male narrators, revolves around a beautiful figure skating champion, Nuria Martí. When she is suddenly dropped from the Olympic team, a pompous but besotted civil servant secretly builds a skating rink in the ruined Palacio Benvingut, using public funds. But Nuria has affairs, provokes jealousy, and the skating rink becomes a crime scene. A mysterious pair of women, an ex-opera singer and a taciturn girl often armed with a knife, turn up as well. A complex book, The Skating Rink’s short chapters are skillfully broken off with questions to maintain the narrative tension: Who was murdered? Who was the murderer? Will the murderer be caught? All of these questions are answered, and yet The Skating Rink is not fundamentally a crime novel, or not exclusively; it’s also about political corruption, sex, the experience of immigration, and frustrated passion. And it’s an atmospheric chronicle of one summer season in a seaside town, with its vacationers, its drifters, its businessmen, bureaucrats and social workers.


Available: January 09 2001


cover image for An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter

Fiction

An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter is the story of a moment in the life of the German artist Johan Moritz Rugendas (1802-1858). Greatly admired as a master landscape painter, he was advised by Alexander von Humboldt to travel West from Europe to record the spectacular landscapes of Chile, Argentina, and Mexico. Rugendas did in fact become one of the best of the nineteenth-century European painters to venture into Latin America. However this is not a biography of Rugendas. This work of fiction weaves an almost surreal history around the secret objective behind Rugendas’ trips to America: to visit Argentina in order to achieve in art the "physiognomic totality" of von Humboldt’s scientific vision of the whole. Rugendas is convinced that only in the mysterious vastness of the immense plains will he find true inspiration. A brief and dramatic visit to Mendoza gives him the chance to fulfill his dream. From there he travels straight out onto the pampas, praying for that impossible moment, which would come only at an immense price—an almost monstrously exorbitant price—that would ultimately challenge his drawing and force him to create a new way of making art. A strange episode that he could not avoid absorbing savagely into his own body interrupts the trip and irreversibly and explosively marks him for life.