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on 31 July 2013
Roberto Bolaño came to my attention when his book 2666 appeared on a shelf in my local bookshop. 2666 is an enormous book and it looks impressive and is quite pretty. Always being susceptible to the charms of a pretty book I investigated, saw the ebullient praise of Bolaño's work and got suspicious. Is he this good? Will I like his work?

"Amulet" provided the toe in the water for this author's writing and my impression, having finished this teaser, is that I shall be reading his other works.

In "Amulet", Bolaño gives the reader a view of the world of South American poetry, and the poetry scene in Mexico City in particular, over a period spanning the 1960s and 70s. The narrator is a lover of poetry who has devoted her life to being near the poets whose work she loves, and the young poets whose energy, enthusiasm and freedom of thought touches her.

If asked what this book is about I would say it is about poetry, revolutionary thoughts, love, the passing of time and growing old.

Bolaño's mechanism for presenting this history is interesting and I think frees the reader from the linear passage of time, and blurs the boundaries between real memories and possible memories.

I would suggest the narrator is not one hundred percent reliable, but the result comes across as a credible perception of Mexico City in those decades and the symbiotic relationship between the poetry movements and South American revolutionary thought, and indeed, action.
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Roberti Bolano was a Latin American author who was born in Chile, and subsequently lived in several other countries, including Mexico. He died in 2003, at the age of 50. He was posthumously awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2008 for his magnum opus, 2666. Some have described him as taking the literary mantel of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes. "Amulet" is the first work of his that I have read. It does seem to be a good introduction, mixing real life literary figures with some of the traumatic political events in Latin American, all served up in the style sometimes dubbed "magically realism."

Auxilio Lacouture, who features in some of his other novels, is the central character in this one. She is a middle aged woman from Montevideo, who goes to Mexico City, and survives by hanging around the university, picking up odd jobs (and the occasional youthful poet.) Early in the novel, she is the maid for two prominent poets, Leon Filipe and Peditro Garfias, both of whom die within a short period of each other, around 1968. The subject quote is her observation, from her "maid duties," of their bookshelves.

One of the characters that Auxilio befriends is the youthful Arturito Belano, who appears to be the author's alter-ego. There is a memorable scene in which she takes the rather inebriated Arturito home. It is the first time she meets Arturito's mother. The two women are approximately the same age. Auxilio says she believes in being frank, and so hastily assures the mother that she and her son have not slept together.

Another scene that is woven throughout the novel is when the Army invades the university in September, 1968, removing many of the students and those "leftist professors." Auxilio hides in the women's bathroom for two weeks. Literary connections and "what-might-have-beens" are also sprinkled throughout the novel. For example, she cites the meeting between the youthful Ezra Pound and the mature W.B. Yeats, and the influence this had on the former's work. Likewise, she speculates on what a similar meeting might have produced between two Latin American poets, the youthful Huidobro and Ruben Dario, if the latter had not died so young, before reaching 50. Hum. The author also revisits tales from Greek legends, specifically when Agamemnon comes back from Troy, and his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus kill him, and how that reverberates through the subsequent generation.

Another central theme, which appears in other works of the author, is when Arturito returns to Chile, to work on behalf of Salvador Allende when he came to power, only to be caught up in the Pinochet counter-coup, arrested, and held for eight days. Apparently with the help of some former students, he escapes, and is treated as a "mature warrior-veteran" when he returns to Mexico City, by yet more youthful poets.

Overall, I found this novel a good introduction to Bolano, and the continued Latin American literary tradition of "magically realism." However, for me, there is a narrow line between that style and the wild semi-hallucinatory ramblings of William Burroughs, as in The Naked Lunch. Towards the end, Bolano crossed over the line a bit too much for my taste, hence, only 4-stars.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is the fifth book of Bolano's that I have now read and as with the other four I absolutely loved it. If you have never read Bolano before you are in for a real treat, although I should warn you that this is probably the most surreal of his works. If you have read Bolano before you will know that incidents and characters pop up in more than one novel, indeed this book in itself is a kind of expansion of an incident in The Savage Detectives which was first published the year before this.

If you don't know what happened in 1968 in Mexico City it is really not that important but to help you, there were demonstrations, protests, etc which led to over two hundred people being killed and a thousand being injured; this was only a short time before the Olympic Games that were held in that city that year (indeed these had their own problems when two black athletes made the Black Power sign; these were also the first Olympics to be held at such a high altitude above sea level and also the first where dope teating was first intoduced).

We are introduced to Auxilio Lacouture, a Uruguayan living in Mexico who is the self styled 'Mother of Mexican Poetry'. We don't really know what Auxilio does, we only have what she says, but it would seem that she is really some kind of groupie who hangs around the intelligentsia; we are given the impression that she cleans and does odd jobs for them and gets laid by them. When the army move into the university to clear it Auxilio finds herself in the toilets and manages to hide out there whilst the troubles are going on, drinking water from the tap and eating toilet paper. All she has with her is a book of Mexican poetry. With nothing to do Auxilio starts looking back on her life, both real events and others that she invents, and then re-invents. We are led on a hypnotic and surreal journey through the lives of the people she has met or has wished to, never really being sure of what is truth and what is fiction. This may sound a bit weird or off putting but let me assure you that it does work, Bolano pulls it off with some aplomb.

There is as always a semi-autobiographical sense in this book, and indeed Arturo Belano is Roberto Bolano himself. We are given a glimpse into the lives of these poets from that time, and the interactions between them and Auxilio, finding out that a lot of them are actually immigrants like Auxilio who have either left willingly or been forced to flee their own countries due to political, reactionary reasons. This book takes in Greek myth, the infamous plane crash in the Andes where those who survived only did so due to cannibalism and Auxilio's predictions/ prophecies of who will re-emerge as literary luminaries in the future. As usual there is a strong literary theme to the whole novel, which although is short as usual packs in a lot more than you would expect.

All in all this is a great little book and if you haven't read Bolano before will make you hanker for more, although I should warn you that we did Last Evenings on Earth at my local reading group and only one other person with myself absolutely loved it. Personally I love what the late great Bolano wrote and it definitely needs to be read by a wider audience, it is so easy to read and appeals to something deep inside you.
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on 3 March 2016
A short, weird, dreamlike read. I'd need to know a lot more about 1960s Mexican poets to get the most out of it, but I think I got the gist, and enjoyed the wanderings around Mexico City meeting a variety of idealists and hippies. On the other hand there's a lot of willfully opaque writing, my favourite example being "when I go without sleep, my eyes become two cashbox slots collecting not the sadly hoped-for coins of my chimerical savings but coins of fire from a future blaze in which nothing makes any sense".
Any ideas? No, me neither.
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VINE VOICEon 31 August 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A short novel about Auxilio Lacouture, a Uruguayan woman living in Mexico who surrounds herself with poets and becomes known as 'The Mother of Mexican Poetry'. When the Mexican army invades the university in Mexico City in 1968, Auxilio hides in the bathroom for twelve days, until she is the only person left on campus. Whilst there she recounts her life.

No doubt this is a novel of some literary importance, but I found it to be lacking in focus. The story is very episodic, jumping randomly from one time to another, as Auxilio tells of meetings with different poets and friends, none of which ultimately add up to anything cohesive. I suppose the disjointed nature of the narrative reflects the hallucinatory nature of residing in a bathroom for almost two weeks with nothing to eat but toilet paper, but it doesn't make for a compelling read. It has an air of stream of consciousness about it, not in the writing itself, but in the way the narrator recalls various events from her life.

Read this if you have a particular interest in Latin American writing, or poetry and revolution. But if you're the average reader who enjoys a compelling yarn, give this a miss.
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on 8 November 2014
Amulet is the second Bolano novel I have read, the first being the enormous, blood-soaked tale 2666, which introduced me to an altogether dark side of Mexican life. Having very much enjoyed 2666 - whilst also finding some of Bolano's descriptions of murder to be disturbing - I was keen to read one of his shorter works, and Amulet did not disappoint. It recounts the life in Mexico of Auxilio Lacouture, a Uruguayan who describes herself as the 'Mother of Mexican Poetry' - but although poets, the intelligentsia and university life feature strongly, Auxilio is not really a full part of the scene, drifting between menial jobs, unemployment and dislocation. She lives through the revolution of 1968 whilst hiding for many days in the women's bathroom in the university, and much of her account (Bolano writes expertly as Auxilio in the first person) is quite metaphysical and dreamlike. As with Bolano's other work, the prose is acutely compelling - even in the imagined (?) sequences, his language is beautiful, perhaps even Joycean at times.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 September 2009
Be seduced by a woman's love. The woman is the narrator of this gorgeous, intimate story of creative freedom. For Roberto Bolaño to write through the eyes and feelings of a woman with such confidence and clarity is remarkable. Written entirely using free direct speech the narrative is so beautifully crafted that I read Amulet as much for the pure pleasure of its prose as for the adventures and characters contained therein. The vocabulary is so rich and varied and yet so consistent that I am sure it is not the consequence of Chris Andrews' immaculate translation. It is the work of a free mind.

A free mind witness to 'the intricate conduits of dryness.'

If you only read one book by Roberto Bolaño I urge you to read Amulet. If you do not know what an amulet is then use a dictionary after you have finished reading the book as I did. Entiendo.
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VINE VOICEon 11 September 2012
Auxilio Lacouture is the 'mother of Mexican poetry', trapped inside a university toilet while the military intimidate a student uprising. With nowhere to go and no-one to talk to, she begins to ruminate on her life thus far.

So far so straightforward.

As the time passes Auxilio begins to make less chronological sense as the boundaries between past and future, experience and projection become increasingly blurred.

Bolano plays with time and memory to create a wonderful collection of anecdotes and prophecies. The writing is of such a high degree that as a reader you stop looking for "answers" or "sense" but rather let yourself be taken wholeheartedly into the increasingly delusional mind of Lacouture.

There is only one voice in the book, which could be a difficult trick to pull off in terms of maintaining reader interest and developing variety. While I enjoyed Auxilio and found her a typical Bolano creation, there is no denying that the tone is somewhat similar throughout (perhaps the length of the novel is therefore perfectly judged).

Having read other Bolano titles, I remain very pleased to have discovered him. There is a nerdy quality in his writing that books and literature matter; that there is no more noble calling than to create great poetry. Bolano repays his followers by having his characters pop up in his novels as major ones here and minor ones elsewhere. There is even another Hitchcock-like cameo for his alter ego Arturito Belano - wielding a knife and attacking a local pimp.

On the surface this is a tale of an elderly woman recalling her life within the literary circles of her time. Beneath the surface, it is a mind-stretching dose of LSD with a message in bright neon letters that nothing in life is more important than love and books. And that's a message I can get on board with.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Having read and enjoyed 2666, I was looking forward to Amulet. But where the strength in 2666 was in building something that was greater than the sum of its parts, Amulet just felt like a part.

Two weeks on, and Amulet seems to have been quite forgettable. There is an abiding memory of a woman trapped in a university toilet during a seige, apparently claiming associations with the great Mexican poets of the day. The scene in the toilet is in 1968, and some of the events referred to were later than 1968, but the text kept returning to the toilet. Was this, I wondered, a woman who could not escape from her memory of the siege? Was it a woman living during the siege and imagining the future? Was it a woman who hadn't actually survived the siege, lingering on as a ghost, haunting the toilet as the world carried on, having long forgotten the siege?

Potentially bright and thought provoking, the novel suffered from introspection in the literati of modern Mexico. At times, the writing felt pretentious, at times it felt self conscious. It felt like a bit of an in-joke, But it never felt quite authentic.

Amulet is much shorter than 2666, but it is also much less than 2666. If you want to read Bolano, go for the real thing, not Amulet.
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VINE VOICEon 21 October 2009
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I really don't know where to begin with my review. I did not know of Roberto Bolano and came to this book with no pre conceived notions as to how it would be. Amulet is quite the most exciting novel I have read in ages. It breaks all the rules of conventional fiction in that the plot changes and is reinvented over and over again in the most beautifully crafted prose which seems to soar imaginatively swooping like the wind through Mexico City where the story unfolds.Chris Andrew's translation deserves a prize in itself for its poetic brilliance. The novel is in the first person; Auxilio Lacouture, the mother of Mexican poetry hides in the fourth floor bathroom of the university in Mexico City as the right wing government forces storm the building in 1968. She survives for 12 days as the sole occupant of the university and during this time, without food she tells her story both real and halucinatory.

This work is breathtaking in its scope and magical in its use of language. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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