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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 14, 2005
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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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 28, 2005
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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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2005
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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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 26, 2007
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. Throughout, Bolano takes the time to meditate on many of the issues that make his work so vital: exile, violence, poetry and the all too human quest for immortality. Oh, and I must not forget to take the opportunity of singling out Chris Andrews for the extraordinary job he has done in translating Bolano's poetry for English language readers.

Honestly, if you have not read Bolano yet, I cannot urge you strongly enough to do so. Distant Star is as good a place to start as any. From here, you have Chris Andrews's translations of By Night in Chile, Amulet and Bolano's short story collection, Last Evenings on Earth.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The novel opens in 1973, just before President Allende is overthrown by Augusto Pinochet. In Concepción, a group of left-leaning idealists discuss Pablo Neruda and Che Guevera. Members of this group include both the novel's unnamed narrator and the enigmatic Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, a little known poet who is attractive to women and viewed with suspicion by men. After the coup, Ruiz-Tagle is revealed as a Pinochet supporter. He has German heritage, and his name is Carlos Weider. He is also a murderer who eliminates opponents of the junta.

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.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2013
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2013
This is a fantastic book and a quick read. The plot focuses on three poets who partake in the same workshops in pre-Pinochet Chile: the narrator, his friend Bibiano O'Ryan, and an air force pilot named Alberto Ruiz Tagle who has a number of aliases throughout the book. After the fall of President Allende, Mr. Ruiz Tagle experiences a brief period of fame writing aerial poetry for military and governmental elites within Pinochet's Chile; the pilot also has a darker side that he expresses through his "art." The narrator and his friend Mr. O'Ryan (and their left-wing poet friends) are persecuted in Pinochet's Chile and the narrator emigrates out of Chile while Mr. O'Ryan remains behind.

Much of the book focuses on the exploits of Mr. Ruiz Tagle over the years as conveyed to the narrator in letters from Mr. O'Ryan, with the narrator openly questioning the veracity of many of those exploits. In conveying the myriad of stories about Mr. Ruiz (as well as those of the narrator and his friend) poetry plays a significant role. For example, the narrator catalogs a long list of poets who supposedly influenced Mr. Ruiz Tagle and then opines on which names seem more credible than others. The narrator is conveying quite a bit of information in these side-bars and I think I got about 20% of that information by googling some of those poets. Distant Star is that kind of book: there is a lot going on under the hood and it is hard to pick up all of the meanings if you are not well-versed in Chilean poetry, but understanding the various allusions is not critical to enjoying this book. Bolano has an amazing ability to tell a story that bubbles just below the surface without ever quite boiling; this tension (for me) made for quite an interesting read and I highly recommend the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 21, 2008
Some may write better, but nobody and I mean nobody digresses as well, or in quite the same fashion, as does Roberto Bolano. Okay, okay, there is, of course, Cervantes in his Don Quixote, but I think you get my point. I absolutely loved Roberto Bolano's crazy little diversions in Distant Star, just as I did when reading The Savage Detectives. I enjoyed each and every one of his meanderings along, around and through the twisted and amusing side-paths that were just waiting to be discovered in this humorous yet vaguely disturbing effort. While The Savage Detectives, in comparison, can be viewed as a Road Trip of discovery, along white lines similar to Jack Kerouac's On the Road, or, perhaps more accurately, a circuitous voyage homeward akin to Homer's The Odyssey, this novella offers up something decidedly more airy, lighter, yet heavier and darker than either earth or water; it is somehow *fuzzier*, and therefore proves much harder to grasp. I won't divulge any of the details concerning this excellent story, but Distant Star, as it turns out, is a short, memorable flight through the bright lining of a black cloud, the sense of which will linger long after Roberto Bolano's brilliant skywriting fades. Reach for it. It's worth the trip.

Additional works by Roberto Bolano:

By Night in Chile

Last Evenings on Earth

Nazi Literature in the Americas


The Savage Detectives: A Novel

The Romantic Dogs

2666: A Novel
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 13, 2013
Forty years ago, Chile's elected president, Salvador Allende, was overthrown by the Pinochet regime. Reading Roberto Bolaño novella DISTANT STAR today, recollections of the coup events and, especially, their aftermath re-emerge vividly in my mind. In this work, originally published (in Spanish) in 1996, the author confronts us with different kinds of regime collaboration, from the activist to the sections of society that see themselves as standing innocently at the sidelines. While fictionalizing his scenarios and characters, with hindsight we can recognize many aspects not only of the reality of the time but also as experienced in other comparable totalitarian regimes. This is a disconcerting and challenging read that will hang on in the reader's memory.

DISTANT STAR opens a short time prior to the coup: a group of left-leaning students and their poet-teacher are debating literary traditions and it current heroes and reciting their own writing efforts. Among the group are the unnamed narrator, his friend Bibiano, and Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, the charming, somewhat enigmatic figure, who, we learn from the outset, will become known as Carlos Wieder.

From the outset the reader is put on notice that the narrative may not be as straightforward and reliable as we might expect. In the book's introduction, Bolaño explains that DISTANT STAR is the 'rewrite' of the last chapter of his previous novel, NAZI LITERATURE IN THE AMERICAS, in particular the portrait of one of those writers featured in that novel. If that sounds confusing, it probably is, but also, very likely, deliberately so. Much is told in indirect voice creating the illusion of distance between the narrator and his subject.

Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, aka Carlos Wieder, is the focus of the story that soon evolves into a kind of personal investigation by the narrator and his main source, Bibiano. 'Wieder', German 'again', seems a very fitting name for somebody who appears again and again whenever there is political upheaval. After the coup his position as army pilot is revealed and what his "new Chilean poetry" consists of: "There, high above the city, it [the plane] began to write a poem in the sky. […] But then suddenly, the letters appeared, as if the sky itself had secreted them. Perfectly formed letters of grey-black smoke on the sky's screen of rose-tinged blue, chilling the eyes of those who saw them…"

But that is just the beginning, an innocent one, of his actions… Bolaño expands his sharp critique to include those in society, who, in order to remain on the side of political power, can afford to overlook and/or quietly condone the brutality as long as it is presented as of no or little consequence to them and the society at large. Carlos Wieder, meanwhile, moved on to other quests.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on November 27, 2012
I love Roberto Bolano's writing style. His ability to weave rich language into a flowing narrative is in the class of Borges and Garcia-Marquez. I'm so happy I discovered him through a friend. I just bought three of his other books.

Distant Star is a dark tale of people who are not who they say they are. Chili is going through a revolution and coup and poets are disappearing or being thrown in jail. This opens the door for further darkness to fly under the radar screen. Those dark days color the life of our narrator and everyone he knows.

The character of Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, an air force pilot, displays his gruesome deeds in a photographic murderous art show in an academic setting is the epitome of this darkness and the passive reaction to a murderer. The entire book crackles with Ruiz-Tagle's monstrous deeds in a fractured country and psyche.

A story that could only be told in the aftermath of Pinochet's Chili.
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