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Distant Star Paperback – December, 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

"The melancholy folklore of exile" pervades this novel, which describes the divergent paths of three young Chilean poets around the time of Pinochet's coup. At university, the unnamed narrator and his friend are fascinated by a mysterious new member of their poetry workshop. Alberto Ruiz-Tagle is "serious, well mannered, a clear thinker," but his poems seem false, as if his true work were yet to be revealed. It becomes apparent that this is literally the case when Allende's government falls: as an Air Force officer for the new regime, he becomes famous for writing nationalist slogans in the sky. (The left-wing narrator, now in jail, reads them from his prison yard.) Bolano's spare prose lends his narrator's account a chilly precision—as if the detachment of his former classmate had become his country's, and his own.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

Review

Another gripping novel, concerns a fascist poet-pilot in Pinochet's reign. (The Nation, Forrest Gander)
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Product Details

  • Series: New Directions Paperbook
  • Paperback: 150 pages
  • Publisher: New Directions (December 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0811215865
  • ISBN-13: 978-0811215862
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #42,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By frumiousb VINE VOICE on March 14, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Distant Star is one of the best books that I have read recently, and one that I highly recommend.

The realism in this book is not magical so much as it is fractured. In the world of Distant Star, poetry is powerless and power is used to write lines in both blood and the clouds. It holds a faceted lens to the atrocities of the Pinochet years. At the same time, it muses on a world where the people need ever-increasing atrocities to make art that can have any meaning at all. It asks important questions (makes important statements?) about collaboration, poetic form, reception and artistic impact.

The Andrews translation felt smooth and pleasant to read. I wish very much that my Spanish were up to reading the original to compare, but it is not. In any case, I did not feel the translation as a barrier or as too much of an artifact.

Recommended for Borges fans, people with a taste for Chilean history or literature, or general readers with a taste for finely written novels. I will be reading more Bolaño in the near future.
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I chose this book because I had enjoyed Bolano's By Night in Chile. I was not disappointed - this is another excellent book on liturature and politics in the years surround Pinochet.

Distant Star has the tone of a well told autobiography - the reader has to remind themself that this is fiction, compelling fiction that requires response. The narrator of the story is not omniscient - rather after presenting an event, the narrator calls the veracity of the event into question. In this way, the author provides a continuous narrative as experienced/pieced together by the narrator. This reflects the way we fill in the gaps in real life and adds to the reader's sense of the reality of the story.

The story includes three themes regarding the literary scene - the unreliability of literary criticism, the self-conscious choice of literary heroes by young poets, and the relationship between poetics and politics. These are much the same as the themes in By Night in Chile. The story follows a poet (leftist)following a fellow poet (rightist) over twenty some years - both literary and politically. The leftist goes into exile; the rightest, after engaging in brutal executions, also, ends up in exile. In a wonderfully ambiguous climax, their paths cross again. As in real life, not all questions are answered, not all threads pulled together.
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This is an almost perfect short novel. For this American reader, it was an eye-opening introduction to the nightmarish world of the early Pinochet years, and yet it bears kinship to other novels about political alienation, like Koestler's Darkness At Noon. But it's not a typical denunciatory polemic (although Pinochet makes an easy target)--it examines the complex relationships (potential and actual) between poetry and politics, and in the end makes one wonder whether poets can be culpable for political outcomes by virtue of their supposedly greater access to truth. This is a compelling novel and makes one yearn for more Bolano to appear in English.
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Like a lot of people in the English speaking (or reading, rather) world, I cannot seem to get enough Roberto Bolano. Would that I had discovered his writing at least prior to his death. There is reason to be optimistic in any event as there is still a substantial body of his work that has yet to be translated.

Concerning the matter at hand, Distant Star has once again proved to me that there are a seeming unlimited number of things that Bolano can say using the same basic elements. Like most of his other prose works, Distant Star features exiled Chilean and Latin American poets and writers struggling in the wake of Augusto Pinochet's coup to stay alive and stay relevant. Bolano mixes the story up in this case with the addition of the autodidact Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, nee Carlos Wieder. Unlike most of the other members of the narrator's poetry workshop, Ruiz-Tagle does not find himself in personal danger with the overthrow of Allende's government. In fact, the newly ensconced military junta headed by General Pinochet provides the perfect stage for the flowering of Ruiz-Tagle's new poetic movement. This is fascist poetry at its height, a poetry of actions, glorification of violence, and a reassertion of ancient religious mythology through skywriting. Ruiz-Tagle takes the lessons of the junta's techniques to a level with which the military government itself is uncomfortable.

What follows is a sort of literary/political detective story with the narrator tasked--somewhat unwillingly--to find the now legendary Ruiz-Tagle. Sorting through reams of literary and poetic journals, apocryphal sightings, and even pornographic films in order to determine his location.
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Genre-bending novels are often the most interesting ones. Here we have political/literary crime fiction.
Though Roberto Bolaño wasn't a writer of 'crime fiction', this is a novel about a serial killer and mass murderer. The novel reads like a joint venture of Nabokov and Eric Ambler.
The atrocities committed by the Pinochet coup in Chile provide the historical framework. In a very short preface, the short novel is announced as an expanded chapter of Bolaño's own 'Nazi Literature in the Americas'. To me, it seems also like a possible chapter in his Savage Detectives, a fat novel that I liked a lot.
Bolaño was a specialist in mixing up 'real life' events and history with fictional characters, and with invented writings, in the tradition of Borges.
The subject here is murder and literature post Allende. The anti-hero is a charismatic and mysterious monster, a stunt pilot, a 'poet', a sadistic proponent of the school of 'barbaric writing'. He is also an officer and a gentleman, an undercover agent who spies on leftist student circles and then gets his kicks out of killing the people whom he had spied upon.
The story stretches in time and space: into Europe and towards the end of the century. The 'poet' has expanded into other genres, like science fiction and porn. An ex cop with a good professional name is paid a hefty sum by an unnamed source for finding the monster... No spoilers here.
The power of this novelette lies in its laconic tone and its briefness. Facts speak for themselves. There is no interpretation, explanation, condemnation. Bolaño was a writer of many pages, often far too many. He did better when he restricted the output of words, like here. He says very little about the main character's politics and instead focuses on his 'esthetics', his 'revolutionary poetry', his personal attractiveness.
Blackest satire, but also a monument to those who disappeared.
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