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3.2 out of 5 stars
Nazi Literature in the Americas
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
At first glance, this book does not appear to be a novel. Instead, it looks like a collection of richly detailed obituaries and bibliographic notes. These could be real people - and that is Bolaño's point entirely. What we read here as fiction could well be representative of literature in an alternate world. While some of the characters depicted are outlandish, others are unsettlingly plausible. Those of us with limited knowledge of 20th century literature in the Americas could well accept fiction as truth, at least for a while.

Fortunately, if you follow the biographical details of the authors carefully, it becomes clear that what could be fact is definitely fiction. While this is a relief, by that stage in the book the possibility of fact has emerged and I found myself wondering about the power of fiction and the role of literature in politics.
The most unsettling of the entries is `The Infamous Ramírez Hoffman'. This is a far longer entry and refers as well to a character named Bolaño who is asked to identify Ramírez Hoffman, a Chilean poet who had been employed by Pinochet's death squads. Here, for a moment at least, the line between fact and fiction is blurred. By introducing himself as a character, Roberto Bolaño grounds this novel in a way which is a confronting reminder of a political reality. And so, neatly, the circle is closed.

Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) was a Chilean poet and novelist. This is the first of his books I have read. It was first published in Spanish in 1996 and in English in 2008. I will be seeking out his other novels.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 7 October 2010
I bought both 2666 and THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES three years before I actually dared read them. The sheer size was terrifying. Finally - thank God - I summoned up the courage and took them on. When I finished 2666 I almost wept to think that would be no new Bolanos.
Well here`s Bolano for Beginners. Everything Bolano apart from terrifying size : wit, melodrama, horror, history, brilliant characterisation, fake erudition, satire. Part Nabokov`s PALE FIRE, part Borges, part Spinrad`s IRON DREAM Iron Dream (Panther science fiction), part Michael Moorcock`s BYZANTIUM/JERUSALEM novels Byzantium Endures: Between the Wars Vol. 1, but wholly Bolano. Read this, it`ll take a couple of hours, get a taste of the genius, then get on to the hard stuff.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 24 June 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book has an odd coherence. It consists of a number of fictional autobiographies, separate lives, of American writers with fascistic tendencies. It weaves them together, or some of them at least, but not in a way that suggests the historiography of the conventional novel. You don't feel an arc, and you don't get a sense of evolution. You get what you are given: dry, but often very poetic and furthermore witty vignettes: a series of bizarre lives, lived in a kind of tragicomic apolitical vacuum. Bolano does not induce the reader to deride the politics of his protagonists, but he does undercut them constaly, obliquely, by taking sharp jabs at their humanity, their conflicted motivations and their consuming passions.

It's an odd book that swings from bathos to pathos and back again, and worth it for the odd and unique experience.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 January 2012
'Nazi Literature in America' is probably best understood as Bolaño's homage to Borges - the young Borges of the ' Historia universal de la infamia', with its concocted biographies of semi-legendary and non-existent criminals. 'Nazi Literature' is a compendium of fictional biographies of right-wing writers from the Americas, written as though from the standpoint of the mid-twenty-first century (a few of the writers are given dates of death as late as 2029). The biographies vary in length and style from a couple of pages to a substantial short story, from dispassionate dictionary entry - albeit with Borgesian adjectival ironies - to first-person narrative. The final story, 'The Infamous Ramirez Hoffman', was reworked into the excellent novella 'Distant Star', published in the same year (1996).

Bolaño's skill here is to allow these fragments of biography to conjure up an entire world in which political violence and literature are intimate bedfellows. The relevance of this perspective to Bolaño's own biography and the experience of many of his contemporaries is obvious, and perhaps one has to be Chilean or Argentinean to fully appreciate some of the ironies here. What is surprising is the way in which Bolaño is able to bring to life an entirely imaginary world through a host of casual details, and to make substantial points about the political and the literary worlds with considerable humour and without resorting to sledgehammer polemics. The 'monsters' he delineates are allowed the human dimensions - and the failures - that are necessary to make them human monstrosities rather than cartoons. Bolaño also manages to put his finger here on one of the reasons for the persistent appeal of fascism: the way in which it allows small people to make themselves part of an epic, albeit paranoid story in which even everyday failure is grandly meaningful - rather as penurious poets comfort themselves with the thought that they are too good for their audience's taste.

For the reader new to Bolaño, this is perhaps not the place to start. It is nonetheless an excellent piece in its own right, highly readable, sometimes very funny, with a lightness of touch that is not triviality.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
t 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 Robert Bolano thing, finding 2666 too dense and overlong.

Nazi Literature in the Americas is a quite different book to Bolano's 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 inf 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:

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?

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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Thank you, Amazon. I was going to buy this book but thankfully it being available to Vine members saved me some money. Who hasn't heard of Roberto Bolano over the last couple of years? He may be dead but we are just getting our hands on his books. If you are expecting a novel here, you will be disappointed. Bolano has created here a dictionary/encyclopedia of fictional writers and poets from the Pan-American world.

Here you will meet strange and mediocre persons who just don't write but some are corrupt and some are members of death squads and torturers. This book is a great satire and also parody, with some exceptionally black humour, so don't worry if at times you want to laugh out loud. Full of short biographies of writers, including a bibliography as well as short bits on secondary characters this is a book that admittedly a lot of people will not appreciate, but even so why not give it a go? I must admit that I am biased, being a massive Bolano fan, ever since I first got my hands on 'The Savage Detectives'.

Ultimately this book asks the fundamental question whether art is pure or whether it prostitutes itself so those that practise it can remain alive and free. If you enjoy this you may be interested in another book which is a novel based on the section in this book of Carlos Ramirez Hoffman, it is 'Distant Star' by the same author. Although this book is about fascists it would work just as well if it was about communist regimes, both are totalitarian.

You would be forgiven for getting carried away and forgetting this is fiction, indeed there are some fictional books mentioned in this that I wish were real, so that I could buy them.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 26 January 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Well, you can't say I'm not giving him a fair crack of the whip. After the thrill of The Savage Detectives came the bruising of 2666 and finally the damp squib that was Amulet; with each successive read pushing me further and further away and even thinking that it might be time for someone to point out that thing about the emperor and his clothes. But I thought I'd give him another chance and Picador do keep producing these rather lovely editions. Presented as a kind of encyclopaedia of fictitious writers with some kind of fascist bent the book is apparently a wicked satire on literary pretension and hypocrisy at both ends of the political spectrum. I say apparently because unless you are sufficiently well versed in the literary figures of the Americas then for the most part this book is like being told joke after joke where you don't understand the punchline. It's a bit like those people who laugh at obscure Shakespearean references and jokes during a performance which lead you to think 'you have made abundantly clear that you understand the cultural hilarity of him having a white hair upon his chin but even when you understand it, it isn't that funny'. For a philistine like me there are odd moments where the jokes are pretty base and accessible and there is the odd pithy line ('A Mexican poet inclined to mysticism and tormented phraseology.') that raises a smile but it isn't until the raised eyebrow is lowered and the arch authorial tone dropped into something more personal with the final portrait that I found something to latch onto. Narrated overtly by 'Bolaño' the thirty or so pages that make up The Infamous Ramirez Hoffman combine art and violence to chilling effect and tap into that era of quiet terror at the beginning of Pinochet's regime in Chile. With just that little bit more narrative, and an end to the detachment that defines the rest of the book he suddenly lights up the whole endeavour. Throughout the book, and indeed throughout Bolaño's other writings he shows an extraordinary imagination in creating these fictitious 'real people'. This book comes with an Epilogue For Monsters which lists all the figures, publishers and even book titles in Bolaño's imagined world. By then I had lost patience however and where I have recently found Borges stimulating and Sebald moving, Bolaño eludes me yet.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Bolano offers up what appears to be a collection of articles about fascist-leaning writers, all of whom he has imagined (although there are references to real events and people within the texts). The disturbing thing is how easy it is to become sucked into this parallel world, and to forget these mostly horrible people are fictitious. I wonder how many people have got the wrong end of the stick, and whether literature students will start to refer to whole bodies of non-existent work. Clever black comedy of the highest order; think the deadpan satire of Chris Morris or Armando Iannucci, which nudges so close to reality that it starts to hurt.
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Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Nazi Literature In The Americas is undoubtedly an amazing work of art but, nevertheless, one can't help finding it rather dull.

Roberto Bolaño set out to create a spoof reference book, setting put the biographical details of various fictitious writers from the Americas who were to lesser or greater extents right wing. They ranged from writers who openly glorified the Hitler regime to those who simply seemed a bit strange. Occasionally the biographical details are amusing - football hooligans who lead their mobs through the medium of poetry; neo-Nazis rewriting the future as though the Germans had won the war and conquered outer space; verbose and marginal writers shuffling from one minor publishing house to another. One can marvel at the brevity of the lives of many of these writers, or their predisposition towards incarceration.

But ultimately, this is just a list of made-up names and dates and it becomes repetitive. There is little by way of plot or any real characterization; it's just a catalogue. Stretching a point, one might try to see some insight into the character of the fictitious compiler of the catalogue (also called Roberto Bolaño) who appears as a character in one of the biographies (Carlos Ramirez Hoffman). One might try to see what could motivate someone to research such marginal literary characters. Then again, one might ask why the real Bolaño would spend so much time inventing such marginal characters.

There's a further debate that could be had - perhaps after exhausting the debate about how many angels would fit on the head of a pin - as to whether it matters that it's all made up. Are the characters in Bolaño's novel any less real than a list of real writers of whom nobody had ever heard?

As a complete work, Nazi Literature has a beauty. It is self contained; it has just enough cross linkages to be convincing; it has appendices; it is mostly written in an academic style of understatement. It is like a painting or a statue perhaps, designed to be appreciated as a whole rather than a sum of its parts. But read from cover to cover, Nazi Literature quickly becomes tiring and dull. It is repetitive and, since none of the references is true, it cannot link back to real life.

One for completists, I think.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 2 January 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Nazi Literature in the Americas was Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño's first major success when it was first published in Spanish in 1996. It is the latest of his books to be published in English, following the excellent The Savage Detectives, the epic 2666 and the novella Amulet. But Nazi Literature in the Americas is a very different book to these previous translations, albeit equally innovative and interesting.

The book is a collection of imaginary biographies of invented right wing writers from Latin and North America, both historic and from the future. Bolaño knew something about political writers, having himself been imprisoned in Chile as a suspected left wing terrorist. What he provides here is a parody of both the right wing views and of literary criticism. His invented writers are intentionally absurd, often leading bizarre and tragic lives which are beautifully crafted in their descriptions. It's an exceptional achievement that these all hang together in a complete imagined world with the book complete with bibliographies of their works - often covering obscure and strange titles. I particularly likes the pilot-poet whose chosen medium is sky writing and the two football supporter gang leaders in Argentina who in their more tender moments resort to poetry.

There are plenty of amusing moments and the effect is a clever parody of literature, political views and literary criticism.

In saying that, if this is your first introduction to Bolaño, I'd recommend starting elsewhere - probably with The Savage Detectives. Why? Simply because while this is undoubtedly clever and certainly entertaining, it doesn't really go anywhere other than an expansion of a good idea. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I'm glad I had some previous Bolaño experience and that, I think enhanced my enjoyment of this book. There's no doubt he was a major talent and his tragically early death in 2003 aged just 50 was a great loss. It's fascinating to see where his reputation started.
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