February 18, 2013

The brown and the blue





I was born in 1953, the same year that Stalin and Dylan Thomas died. In 1973 I was held for eight days by the leaders of my country’s military coup and in the gymnasium where they kept the political prisoners I found an English magazine with a photo essay on Dylan Thomas’ house in Wales. I thought Dylan Thomas had died in poverty and the house struck me as magnificent, almost like an enchanted house in the middle of the woods. There was nothing about Stalin. But that night I dreamt about Stalin and Dylan Thomas: both of them were in a bar in Mexico City, sitting at a small, round table, a table for arm wrestling, only instead of arm wrestling they were competing to see who could drink more. The Welsh poet was drinking whiskey and the Soviet dictator vodka. As the dream went on, however, the only one who seemed to get dizzier and dizzier, closer and closer to being sick, was me. That’s what I have to say in respect to my birth. In respect to my books, I am obliged to say that I have published five volumes of poetry, a collection of short stories and seven novels. Almost nobody has read my poems, which is probably a good thing. My prose books have some loyal readers, which is probably undeserved. In Advice from a Morrison Disciple and a Joyce Fanatic (1984, written in collaboration with Antoni García Porta), I speak about violence. In The Skating Rink (1993), I speak about beauty, which doesn’t last long and whose end is usually disastrous. In Nazi Literature in America (1996), I speak about misery and the domination of the literary craft. In Distant Star (1996), I take a stab, a very modest one, at portraying absolute evil. In The Savage Detectives (1998), I speak about adventure, which is always unexpected. In Amulet (1999), I aim to convey to the reader the rapt voice of a Uruguayan woman who should have been Greek. I am going to leave out my third novel, Monsieur Pain, whose plot is indecipherable. Although I’ve lived in Europe for more than twenty years, my only nationality is Chilean, which doesn’t in the least stop me from feeling profoundly Spanish and Latin American. I have lived in three countries in my life: Chile, Mexico and Spain. I have tried my hand at almost all the trades in the world, excluding the three or four that anybody with a certain level of decorum would refuse to do perform. My wife’s name is Carolina López and my son’s is Lautaro Bolaño. They are both Catalan. In Cataluña I also learned the difficult art of tolerance. I am much happier reading than writing.

Also, I’m in love:

October 22, 2012

A little thrift store fun: http://www.santiagomagazine.cl/fashion/00860-four-blocks-second-hand-paradise-santiago

And coverage on a Santiago band, Como Asesinar a Felipes: http://www.santiagomagazine.cl/music/features-and-profiles/00856-bounty-hunter

Photo by Nasser Y´amaná



I met Javier Cercas when he was seventeen years old. I was living in Gerona at the time and he was also living in Gerona and he was a kid who wanted to be a writer. He was friends with Xavi Coromines, who introduced us. I don’t know what has become of Coromines, whom I admired, but I do know, at least speculatively, what happened in Cercas’ life. When he got out of school, he went to the States for a long time and taught in the Midwest. He published a short novel, The Tenant, and a long novel, The Belly of the Whale, the first one with the publishing house Sirmio and the second with Tusquets, which made a name for him among readers, but most of all among writers, as in those two noteworthy novels it’s easy to see the rare talent of their author; and also a collection of short stories, and a book of literary chronicles in which he brings to light his irrational passion for John Irving, a passion which I do no share. One day he decided to go back to Cataluña and began to give classes at the University of Gerona. But Cercas, although he was working in Gerona, was living in Barcelona and making his life in Barcelona. When I saw him again he was already married and had a son, Raulito, an avid follower of the Teletubbies. His life, back in those days, was unrestrained, in large part because Cercas, essentially, is unrestrained, and is able to pull off in one fell swoop the delicate and the outlandish, the sane and the eccentric. Now, finally, Cercas has returned to Gerona. He has come back to take a break. At least, that’s the official explanation. Or so that his wife and his son can have a yard. Or to be closer to his job and not kill himself in a car accident. The truth is that I have my doubts about all these versions. Cercas is coming home to write the great books that are going round and round in his head. He is coming home to become one of the best writers of our tongue. Only the greatest of challenges can make up for the strain of wrapping and transporting an entire library.

Translation Exercise

April 2, 2012

COURAGE by Roberto Bolaño

The poet Archilochos, who lived in the 7th century BC, has already said all there is to say about courage. What we know for sure about his tumultuous life is little. He was born on the island of Paros and he was a mercenary and his inclinations were perhaps more Dionysian than Apollonian. “In the lance I have my black bread, in the lance / my wine from Ismaro, and I drink leaning on my lance”, he wrote. It´s almost certain that he participated in small battles, in innumerable skirmishes where the glory shone in his absence, at the orders of different lords. In one of these encounters, recounts Archilochos himself, he abandoned his shield and set off running, which for that era was synonymous with shame and dishonor.  Nevertheless Archilochos narrates and sings his cowardice without the least sign of blushing: “Some heathen brandishes my shield, that unblemished weapon / which crossing a thicket I abandoned, despite myself. / I guarded my life. What does such a shield matter to me? / To the devil with all of you! Now I will acquire another shield non the worse.”

Far away from Greece, and in another time, another poet, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), who loved valiant men, also came to know fear and the real face of courage in just one night: a field of bones that we all have to cross. The figure of the brave one is multiple and ever-changing. Sometimes it is a shadow that hovers over our heads. Sometimes a light to which, without reason, we are loyal. For my generation the image of courage is tied to Billy the Kid, who risked his life for money, and to Che Guevara, who risked his for generosity; to Rimbaud, who walked alone by night, and to Violeta Parra, who opened windows at night. The poet and Spanish soldier Alonso de Ercilla, the most generous of the brave and maybe one of the least remembered, told us cheerfully, unconsciously, that courage doesn’t do anything for us, but without it it’s impossible to live.

Some works

March 10, 2012