Nazi Literature In The Americas

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Because I hadn't bothered to read the jacket copy, it wasn't until I reached the book's "North American Poets" section that I realized Roberto Bolano's NAZI LITERATURE IN THE AMERICAS was from beginning to end a literary spoof.

Comprised of dozens of short biographies of contemporary right-wing writers and poets, the book is a deadpan satire of these reactionary birds of feather, written in a calm, precisely detailed, objective way. Broken down into fourteen thematic sections--"Two Germans at the Ends of the Earth," "The Mendiluce Clan," "Itinerant Heroes or The Fragility of Mirrors," etc.--Bolano's work also pokes fun at the academic critics who fill the book-review pages with their earnest and esoteric theories about literature.

So skilled is Bolano--a major writer in the Spanish-speaking world--that I took his portraits seriously for the longest time, if only because his imaginative flights and fictional constructs seemed utterly real and believable. Not only did he invent and then dissect the dozens of purported books and poems written by these lovers of Hitler, Franco and Pinochet, he delved into their lives, marriages, love affairs and friendships, weaving such actual characters as Octavio Paz, Allen Ginsberg and Charles Olson into the mix.

Bolano finally gave away his fiendishly clever game when he started his biographical sketch of Rory Long by noting that "the American beat poet" had died in Laguna Beach in 2017. All I could do was blush with shame at having been fooled for 135 pages--and then burst out with admiring laughter. A tip of the hat, then, to Bolanos, who was born in Santiago, Chile in 1953 and died in Barcelona fifty years later. His achievement with NAZI LITERATURE IN THE AMERICAS is considerable: not only does he poke wicked fun at rightwing literary notions, he turns what might have been a one-note polemic into a richly textured, wildly imaginative tour de force. (New Directions, $13.95 ppbk).