Review of Nazi Literature in the Americas by Robert Bolano

Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano

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Review of Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolano

It is very difficult to know what to make of this book, Nazi Literature in the Americas.  To be honest I’ve never quite “got” the Roberto Bolano thing, finding 2666 too dense and overlong (I never finished it, and this is from someone who has enjoyed more than a few elephantine reads). I also found The Savage Detectives, rather tedious with too much chopping and changing between the reminiscences of rather too many characters.

Nazi Literature in the Americas is a quite different book to the others.  It consists of many obituaries and short biographies of mostly Latin and South Americans (but the occasional North American) who wrote articles and book with titles such as “Cosmogony of the New Order”, “Conflict of Opposites”, “The Jewish Question in Europe followed by a Memorandum on the Brazilian Question”.  There is much fictional background information on these writers, much of it mildly amusing, for they all seem to share the characteristic of eccentricity, although sometimes with disturbing undercurrents:

Daniela de Montecristo was a woman of legendary beauty, surrounded by an aura of mystery.  It has been said that among her lovers were Italian and German generals, that she fell in love with a general in the Romanian army, Eugenio Entrescu, who was crucified by his own soldiers, that she escaped from Budapest under siege disguised as a nun, and, that she had a black swastika tattooed on her left buttock.  (Her book) contains some original passages, especially the descriptions of the Women’s Fourth Reich – and the nostalgic , pseudo-scientific digressions about a gland that produces the feeling of love.

Imagine that passage repeated with infinite variations in chapter after chapter and you’ll get a good overall impression of the book.

My first impression on picking up Nazi Literature was to question its purpose.  On the face of it, it seems to be a sort of catalogue of South, Latin and North American authors who were Nazi sypathisers and and promoted the cause through their writings.  But it is difficult to believe that this is all it is about. 

Surely there must be some hidden meaning, some purpose perhaps only known to insiders, experts on Bolano who grasp the irony of his writings from an insiders point of view?  Was Bolano trying to show that the Americas were rife with Nazi literature, later suppressed? 

Or was the opposite the case perhaps, that while well known leaders (Juan Perón for example) supported Nazism, it really didn’t take root in the hearts and minds of the people, and this is Bolano’s joke cache of previously undiscovered (though fictional) texts?

I felt I would need to know far more about the Spanish speaking Americas in order to understand this book.  Fortunately, I came across a review in The Guardian by the highly-respected Argeninian man of letters, Alberto Manguel and was suprised to find him equally perplexed by Nazi Literature:

“at first mildy amusing but quickly becomes a tedious pastiche”,

“a series of names, dates, titles that since they don’t come across as funny, become merely irritating”,

“an annotated phonebook”.

Well, if such a noted scholar can find the book annoying then as William Rycroft suggests in his review, perhaps this emperor really is devoid of clothing!

We should never judge a book by its cover, and this one certainly has a cover which belies its content.  The charred bullet hole obliterating the O of Bolano, looks very realistic, and the artificial aging of the cover is very effective. 

Its a book which makes you want to pick it up and once its in your hand you find that its printed on creamy paper with elegant type-setting.  I’d wonder if it was collectible, but unfortunately the contents don’t live up to its presentation and its hard to believe there will be much interest in this book in a few years time.

Bolano publishing has become a bit of an industry nowadays but Alberto Manguel tells us that he was “a modest man, aware of his limitiations and generous in his praise of others . . . more interested in providing useful criticism to other writers than in reflecting on his own work”.  He goes on to say, “it is not an author’s fault if certain impressionable critics (as well as his agent and publishers) . . . have decided, without irony, that he must also take on the role of a Latin American messiah in the world of letters”.  All I can say, is that having struggled with Bolano I agree with Manguel and find it hard to see what the fuss is about.

Title:   Nazi Literature in the Americas
Author:   Robert Bolano
Translator:  Chris Andrews
Publication:   Picador (1 Oct 2010), Hardback, 272 pages
ISBN: 978-0330510516 / 0330510517

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