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Woes of the True Policeman: A Novel Hardcover – November 13, 2012
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Yet another posthumous, unfinished novel by literary giant Bolaño has surfaced, though it’s said this will be the last. While it is no Savage Detectives (1998; tr. 2007), 2666 (2004; tr. 2008), nor many others, Bolaño fans, and there are many, will have no trouble delving right in to once again devour the master linguist’s every word. The story, about a Chilean professor, Amalfitano, forced to flee Barcelona with his daughter to Mexico due to scandal, uses character names and themes from Bolaño’s previous novels and therefore feels somewhat familiar. Still, this is far from table scraps. The work may be incomplete, but Bolaño, periodically tinkering on the novel from the 1980s until his death, in 2003, had nearly created a fully realized world, one begging to be further fleshed out. But even in an unpolished manuscript, his capacity for spinning out pages-long sentences using language in new and surprising ways shows that this is quintessential Bolaño. For writers, the various stages of completion wonderfully illustrate Bolaño’s creative process. With more time alive, Bolaño could have made this another treasure of world literature. --Casey Bayer
“The most significant Latin American literary voice of his generation.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“One of our greatest writers...Latin American letters (wherever it may reside) has never had a greater, more disturbing avenging angel than Bolaño.” ―Junot Díaz, The New York Times Book Review
“The writing never feels stale but, rather incredibly, shines anew....The publication of a Bolaño novel, complete or not, is never anything less than an event of language and devilish wit.” ―The Wall Street Journal
“Bolaño's voice demands attention.” ―The New Yorker
“Bolaño [seems] to come from an understanding that people are portholes; that a creation can represent singular space that otherwise would go unknown....He allows the novel to vibrate through its box.” ―Vice
“Indelible Bolaño...[Woes of the True Policeman] may offer insight into the writer's larger project.” ―Los Angeles Times
“Full of delights...like watching a master magician unpacking his bag of tricks.” ―The New Orleans Times-Picayune
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This book's "plot," such as it is, begins after the first chapter, which is a commentary about literature in general and categories of poetry in particular. In Chapter Two, Bolano gives the background for Padilla, a Barcelona student who has seduced his fifty-year-old professor, Amalfitano, the widowed father of a teenaged daughter and around whom the novel revolves. Padilla's childhood, his relationship with his father, his tendency to violence, the writing of his first book of poetry, and a film which Padilla plans to make about Leopardi, the Italian poet/philosopher, are all discussed in detail. When a whispering campaign regarding Professor Amalfitano and Padilla endangers Amalfitano's job at the University of Barcelona, Amalfitano must find another place to teach, this time going to the University of Santa Teresa, a town modeled on Ciudad Juarez, on the border of Mexico and Texas. Padilla stays on in Barcelona, writing a novel.
The action swirls back and forth and around in time, gradually filling in, at random, details about Amalfitano's marriage and fatherhood, his various jobs in other countries, his changing political points of view, and his favorite poets and novelists. Though Amalfitano maintains a correspondence with former lover Padilla in Barcelona, much of the action in Santa Teresa centers on his new relationship with another young man, Castillo. Unlike Padilla, who is a writer, Castillo is a painter - or, rather, a forger of paintings by other, well-known painters, especially the pop artist Larry Rivers. Much later in the novel, amidst many other digressions, Amalfitano's life with former lover Padillo takes on new importance and leads to philosophical discussions about reality and what one may expect to gain from a long life of introspection.
If all this seems wandering, diffuse, and lacking in focus, it is. Bolano leaves it to the reader - his "true policeman" of the title - to put it all together. Through additional digressions about the Mexican Revolution and Pancho Villa; the fighting of the Mexicans against the French and Belgians; the love story of Amalfitano's daughter Rosa; five generations of women named Maria Exposito; identical twins named Pedro and Pablo Negrete, one of whom becomes chief of police and the other of whom becomes a philosophy student; the investigation of Amalfitano by the police; and the succession of political leaders in Santa Teresa, Bolano keeps the reader intrigued, though puzzled. The disconnection, not only in our lives, but also in our expectations regarding writing and the other arts is apparently the objective of the author. "Look over there, dig over there, over there lie traces of truth," he says. "In the Great Wilderness... It's with the pariahs that you'll find some justification, if not vindication."