Pieced: Bolaño Inc.

 

Roberto Bolaño

Roberto Bolaño

Roberto Bolaño is being sold in the U.S. as the next Gabriel García Márquez, a darker, wilder, decidedly un-magical paragon of Latin American literature. But his former friend and fellow novelist, Horacio Castellanos Moya, isn’t buying it.

The North American literary presses — and their audience, hungry hardcover lit bliss — have obsessed over Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño over the past few years. Guernica magazine guest writer Moya looks at the branding of the canonical author as renegade poet and self-destructive genius, and the search for the Latin American voice post-Márquez.

“…behind the construction of the Bolaño myth was not only a publisher’s marketing operation but also a redefinition of the image of Latin American culture and literature that the North American cultural establishment is now selling to the public.”

On foreign soil, to tell someone that he is a fiction writer and from Latin America — “at the airport bar, at a social gathering, wherever” — it will almost always evoke a García Márquez conversation, with nods to  Paulo Coelho, or an Isabel Allende one too.  That person will do it with “a self-satisfied smile, as if he were saying to me, ‘I know you, I know where you come from,’ Moya writes. “Now, those same North Americans have begun to pull out Bolaño.”

“For thirty years, the work of García Márquez, with its magical realism, represented Latin American literature in the imagination of the North American reader. But since everything tarnishes and ends up losing its luster, the cultural establishment eventually went looking for something new.”

Bolaño’s uprooted, vagabond-like life led many North American critics to liken him to an edgier Marquez, a Kurt Cobain, a Beat. Born in 1953 — “the year that Stalin and Dylan Thomas died,” the author wrote in an essay — and dead from liver complications in 2003, made for the perfect mythic cocktail of Bolaño, tortured artist. The truth, according to Moya, paints a different picture unrecognizable to many: a family man who let his health deteriorate, and not largely due to alcohol or drugs as the story goes.

“The majority of critics have passed over the fact that Bolaño didn’t die as a result of drug or alcohol abuse, but from a case of poorly cared-for pancreatitis that had destroyed his liver; or that his case was more similar to that of Balzac or Proust, who also died at fifty after a tremendous work effort, than it was to that of North American pop idols.”

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