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TOP 1000 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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