As I began reading about Bolano, his life and literary philosophy cast a deep spell on me. I rushed to get a copy last month (which would also be last year) of The Savage Detectives but the bookstores were out of it, and 2666, they informed me, would arrive only in 2009. Instead they handed me his short stories, Last Evenings on Earth, and I grabbed it.
It’s the first book of short stories in a very long time that I found fascinating enough to read story after story. Most short stories even by writers I like I read selectively. Here, with Bolano, the next story only seemed to be just as — if not more — promising. I can tell you why straight away: they held deep personal appeal. They are all stories about obscure writers, unfinished work, poets as revolutionaries and shadowy literary characters. The style is first person, even autobiographical, and they work as story-essays, if there could be such a thing as stories told as essays! They combine personal history with political engagement. They also work as precise and startling portraits mostly of either imagined writers (who actually resemble famous Latin American writers), or poets who are friends of the narrator. One story, “A Literary Adventure”, is as good as anything Borges wrote — and perhaps more interesting. I find the work of Roberto Bolano — full of doomed but brave writers, lost youth, militant left politics, and utopian ambition — strangely inspiring and moving. His manifesto calling writers to follow Rimbaud and hit the road — hit life, that is, — is an endearing legacy. Writing matters.
I’ll be looking for copies of Bolano during my next visit to the bookshop or the library.