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Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles and Speeches, 1998-2003
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2011
This collection of non-fiction pieces is a treasure-trove for anyone who has read Bolaño's fiction and who came away smitten by the author's full-blooded, mercurial, poetic voice.

Seasoned readers of this author can comfortably enter and enjoy the world of these essays, speeches, newspaper columns, travel articles and other occasional pieces. This is because many elements of Bolaño's novels and stories -- their settings, aspects of their storylines, their narrators or chief protagonists, and their abiding spirit of inquiry -- are grounded in autobiography. Bolaño's friend and literary executor, Ignacio Echevarria, who has assembled the 125 pieces found in "Between Parentheses," acknowledges the open border between the author's fiction and non-fiction in his hearty Introduction: "This volume amounts to something like a personal cartography of Roberto Bolaño and comes closest, of everything he wrote, to being a kind of fragmented `autobiography'."

If the reader perceives anything different in this collection it is that here the voice you've come to expect -- opinionated ("plagiarists deserve to be hanged in the public square"), passionate (his love for his soon-to-be-fatherless son beams bright), and with a tinge of the rapscallion ("one of the best ways to steal . . . I had learned from an Edgar Allen Poe story") -- is closer still to the elusive essence of "I, Roberto Bolaño."

In a piece from 1999, this autodidactic author declares: "I'm much happier reading than writing." His admiration shines forth the many times he notes that some friend or acquaintance "has read everything." The exhaustive scope of his own reading and interests is demonstrated by the nine-page Index that completes "Between Parentheses." The Index contains the names of over 600 persons mentioned in the texts, including musicians, filmmakers, and artists. But mostly there are the authors (including a strong contingent of Americans) Bolaño read with critical fervor.

Bolaño's politics take a back seat to his poetics. When, in the final piece in the book, he is asked by an interviewer what things bore him, he answers: "The empty discourse of the Left. I take for granted the empty discourse of the Right." He's a man of easy humor: Attending a poetry reading, he notices the auditorium is "filled up with freaks who seemed to have just escaped from a mental asylum, which incidentally is the best audience a poet can hope for." Bolaño's free spirit, his dexterity, his elliptical gait, are inescapable. For example, in a speech or essay ostensibly devoted to a specific subject, he'll wander off path, meditate, pursue diversions that lead to further diversions, or serve up a confession or an informal bit of chat. You might wonder, as I did, whether this is related to a physical discovery Bolaño made as a young soccer player -- that his body was "left-footed but right-handed."

The aphoristic bent so characteristic of Bolaño's fiction is on constant display: "Writers write with their hands and their eyes." "Crime seems to be the symbol of the twentieth century." "Literature is basically a dangerous undertaking." Men are at the mercy of "fate -- or chance, that even fiercer beast." Every few pages some pronouncement stopped me short. An example is this biographically-grounded insight crowning his interpretative essay on "Huckleberry Finn": "Twain was always prepared to die. That's the only way to understand his humor."

About the book as physical object: It is compact but not small; it feels sturdy and is comfortable to hold. The book is signature-bound, a traditional bookbinding method that has the practical effect of allowing the opened book to stay flat for your perusal, rather than springing shut. My impression is the editor and publisher meant for this to become a permanent addition to your library -- a plan Bolaño, who was very proud of his personal collection of books, surely would have been pleased with. Please note the book does not come with a dust jacket. Instead, using the same design approach it applied to "Antwerp," the book's publisher, New Directions, has chosen to emboss the title, author, translator (Natasha Wimmer), and other information on the front and back covers, this time using an iridescent raspberry color on a black ground.

In addition to the helpful Introduction and Index, the editor supplies an 11-page "Sources" section featuring explanatory notes that every Bolaño fan will savor.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
****
"Between Parentheses, which has been adroitly translated by Natasha Wimmer, covers a lot of acreage. There are crunchy bits of autobiography, political laments, disquisitions on food and soccer and women and exile and keeping airplanes afloat with your mind." -- Dwight Garner, The NY Times

Roberto Bolaño, is one of the greatest South American authors of our generation, who gained a widespread reputation in Latin literature with his novel, "The Savage Detectives". He was the most dominant and controversial figure to have emerged since the early 1960s, due to the way his novels impend over the past half-century of Latin American fiction. A lover and a fighter, he demonstrates how the boasting Bolaño could invoke in oration and squabble loudly at the same time. In Bolaño's bewildering novel, an exuberant, and wildly inventive fictitious narrative, he declared, "There is a time for reciting poems, and a time for fists." His intellectual thought, and debating fists, in nonfiction prose, mostly from his daily contributions in Newspapers, are gathered here for the first time. These seemed to be the odd jobs and 'left-handed journalism' that filled "Between Parentheses."

Between Parentheses brings about most of the published newspaper columns and articles written during the last five years of his life, as well as the texts of some of his speeches and talks. As the book's editor Ignacio Echevarría remarks in his introduction, the pieces provide a kind of fragmented autobiography, a personal survey attempting to describe the writer. Bolaño's career as a nonfiction writer began suddenly in 1998, just five year before his death, when he became famous for his fiction hit, The Savage Detectives. He became in demand overnight, for articles as well as speeches, taking to the new vocation without hesitation. While exhibiting a lack of reverence, ill temper, and intolerably stubbornness, Bolaño could also be tender as well as a fierce advocate, for his heroes and favorite writers, whose books he promoted forcefully. A demanding critic, he argued for courage, and lived up to his own demands of total creativity.

The admirable book title is Bolaño's own pick for his daily column, wrote for the Chilean newspaper 'Las Últimas Noticias'. Despite the discursive topics, political laments, discourses on food, soccer, and women, a unified tone permanently exists throughout the book, a Bolaño' distinctive tone, at once romantic, profound and cynical. 'The Nation's' Marcela Valdes says that she hears Bolaño's real voice echo out of the pages of "Between Parentheses." All the same, the book adds little, if any, to interpret Roberto Bolaño, it helps to puzzle critics even further. He shares much of himself in 'Between Parentheses', despite its claims to truth, or reality, is however a part of Bolaño's maze, "a maze by turns dark or illuminating, tragic or comic, and stark and enriching. Most of all, this maze is a strange joy to get lost in," is what the witty reviewer eventually concludes.
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on September 3, 2012
For a few years after his tragic death (finally having reached the top of the transplant list, he died of liver failure) the image of Bolano was of a man who had lived in exile, far from his native Chile, working as a laborer on the coast of Spain and writing all night to provide some support for his children, after what had come to seem his inevitable demise. Of course such romantic images of the artist rarely turn out to be accurate. In fact, between his poems and novels, Bolano did what most modern writers do, which included writing a lot of criticism to pay the bills. Let it never be forgotten that in order to write well, one has to know what the qualities of writing are, and it's almost always worthwhile reading what a great writer had to say about his peers, models, and other contemporaries. Here, stacked up like cordwood, are Bolano's assessments and responses to the universe of writing he inhabited, the literary sea in which he swam. That said, so far I am not a fan of New Directions' new direction. The decision to line the endpapers with blurbs doesn't bother me, but the cloth covers of this book and Antwerp, with their lurid graphics printed in metallic ink, are without precedent to my knowledge in serious publishing, Maybe this is a plot: when the first generation of Bolano's readers dies off, and our books go to libraries, perhaps they will toss the paper wrappers and WHOOSH -- the livid boards hidden beneath will dazzle the students of the future.

We'll see.
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