It’s now safe to say that Bolaño has been tokenized as the new Latin American writer to love, a sort of younger, hipper García Marquez. The problem of tokenization aside, he has to his credit an extensive oeuvre of quality fiction and—though we have yet to see his best work published in English—poetry. These two new titles celebrate his legacy by allowing the writer, poet, and man to speak for himself, and by presenting his poetry with the art and ceremony it deserves.
Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview & Other Conversations, tr. Sybil Perez. (Melville House Publishing) $14.95
Finally Bolaño can speak for himself, despite the fact that these interviews took place before his English-language boom. Melville House’s collection, introduced by the author’s friend Marcela Valdes, collects his last interview, with the Mexico Edition of Playboy, in July 2003, along with earlier interviews, dating back to 1999 and from the four countries most intimately connected to his work (Chile, Spain, Mexico, and, perhaps less so, the United States). His US interview, from Bomb magazine in 2002, is a testament to their fine coverage of world literature, often preceding or eschewing literary trendiness. Valdes introduction is an unexpectedly humanizing portrait of Bolaño as an infinitely curious individual, dedicated to the objective exploration of everyday oppression. Bolaño presents himself not unlike what a reader of The Savage Detectives might expect. He’s incredibly well read, his taste international, and he alludes to authors not in pride but with the expectation that others are as well versed in world literature as he is. Fortunately Melville House has glossed persons, books, and movements unfamiliar to English-language readers in the book’s margins.
In his 1999 interview with the Chilean periodical Capital, he says, “I think Borges said that a good writer is normally a good person. It must have been Borges because he said practically everything. Good writers who are bad people are the exception.” This collection of interview proves he’s not an exception to Borges’ rule: that he appears to be as likable a human as a novelist.
“Godzilla in Mexico,” Roberto Bolaño, tr. Laura Healy. (New Directions) Free + $3 Shipping
New Direction’s Bolaño broadside, featuring a poem from The Romantic Dogs (also published by New Directions, in Laura Healy’s translation) is one of only a handful of bilingual broadsides ever produced. The broadside features one of the most iconic portraits of the late poet and novelist (the same photo used for the cover of The Last Interview, above), smoking a cigarette, and is a must-have for any serious Bolaño collector. Instructions for its purchase can be found in the left-hand column of the current New Directions catalogue of forthcoming titles. “Godzilla in Mexico,” which ranks among the best poems of this collection, ends:
Who are we? you asked a week or year later,
Ants, bees, wrong numbers
in the big rotten soup of chance?
We’re human beings, my son, almost birds,
public heroes and secrets.