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Distant Star Paperback – December, 2004
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From The New Yorker
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Weider is the central character in this novel, but the unnamed narrator and other characters demonstrate a complex interplay between politics, history and literature. The brutal events depicted underscore both the cruelty of the regime and the ambivalence of literature.
`The increasingly distant stars.'
This is a novel that can be read in one sitting, as I did, but I do not believe that it can be fully absorbed in one reading. I am not looking forward to re-reading it, but I think I will need to. I became engrossed in some of the stark contrasts in imagery which pervade the novel. Weider skywriting in his old Messerschmitt over Concepción seems particularly appropriate: whether the words he chose were timeless, the delivery guaranteed their ephemerality. Contrast this, though, with the scatological references as the new literature is created. Not subtle, but very effective.
This is my least favorite of the three Roberto Bolaño novels I've read so far, but I'm hooked.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The best short novel from this wonderful and bas understood writer. It is amazing how his prose in being recognized in the English-speaking world. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Estragón
This one is dark and spare, not unlike 2666, but much denser. A book that stays with you, but not for the faint-of-heart.Published 6 months ago by angela oaks
An interesting book set at the crossroads of brutality, poetry, and art. A quick and light read with some heavy content.Published 17 months ago by Sasha Glass
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