Nazi Literature in the Americas [NOOK Book]

Overview

A "biographical dictionary" gathering 30 brief accounts of poets, novelists and editors (all fictional) who espouse fascist or extremely right-wing political views.

Nazi Literature in the Americas was the first of Roberto Bolano's books to reach a wide public. When it was published by Seix Barral in 1996, critics in Spain were quick to recognize the arrival of an important new talent. The book presents itself as a biographical dictionary of American writers who flirted with or espoused extreme right-wing ...
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Nazi Literature in the Americas

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Overview

A "biographical dictionary" gathering 30 brief accounts of poets, novelists and editors (all fictional) who espouse fascist or extremely right-wing political views.

Nazi Literature in the Americas was the first of Roberto Bolano's books to reach a wide public. When it was published by Seix Barral in 1996, critics in Spain were quick to recognize the arrival of an important new talent. The book presents itself as a biographical dictionary of American writers who flirted with or espoused extreme right-wing ideologies in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It is a tour de force of black humor and imaginary erudition.

Nazi Literature in the Americas is composed of short biographies, including descriptions of the writers' works, plus an epilogue ("for Monsters"), which includes even briefer biographies of persons mentioned in passing. All of the writers are imaginary, although they are all carefully and credibly situated in real literary worlds. Ernesto Pérez Masón, for example, in the sample included here, is an imaginary member of the real Orígenes group in Cuba, and his farcical clashes with José Lezama Lima recall stories about the spats between Lezama Lima and Virgilio Pinera, as recounted in Guillermo Cabrera Infante's Mea Cuba. The origins of the imaginary writers are diverse. Authors from twelve different countries are included. The countries with the most representatives are Argentina (8) and the USA (7).
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Editorial Reviews

Stacey D'Erasmo
Nazi Literature in the Americas, a wicked, invented encyclopedia of imaginary fascist writers and literary tastemakers, is Bolaño playing with sharp, twisting knives. As if he were Borges's wisecracking, sardonic son, Bolaño has meticulously created a tightly woven network of far-right litterateurs and purveyors of belles lettres for whom Hitler was beauty, truth and great lost hope. Cross-referenced, complete with bibliography and a biographical list of secondary figures, Nazi Literature is composed of a series of sketches, the compressed life stories of writers in North and South America who never existed, but all too easily could have. Goose-stepping caricatures a la "The Producers" they are not; instead, they are frighteningly subtle, poignant and plausible.
—The New York Times
Michael Dirda
…imaginative, full of a love for literature, and, unlikely as it may seem, exceptionally entertaining…playing a tricky game, carefully balancing mockery and black humor against our natural sense of revulsion…Roberto Bolano is worth discovering, worth reading—and even worth all the trouble of having to explain why it is that you are toting around a book called Nazi Literature in the Americas.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

The title chosen by Bolaño (1953-2003) for this slim, fake encyclopedia is not wholly tongue-in-cheek: given the very real presence of former (and not-so-former) Nazis in Latin America following WWII, this book, despite being fiction, still had j'accuse-like power when first published in 1996. The poets described herein, though invented, seem-even at their most absurd-plausible, which is the secret to this sly book's devastating effect. And as one proceeds from an entry on Edelmira Thompson de Mendiluce ("In high spirits, Edelmira asked for the Führer's advice: which would be the most appropriate school for her sons?") to one on Carlos Ramírez Hoffman ("His passage through literature left a trail of blood and several questions posed by a mute"), it becomes clear that there is a single witness to all of these terrible figures, one who has spent time in one of Pinochet's prisons and is bent on coolly totting up the crimes of fascism's literary perpetrators. Some readers will recognize figures and episodes from Bolaño's other books (including The Savage Detectivesand Distant Star). The wild inventiveness of Bolaño's evocations places them squarely in the realm of Borges-another writer who draws enormous power from the movement between the fictive and the real. (Feb.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Ben Granger - Spike Magazine
“With his meticulous, expertly crafted idiosyncrasies Bolaño has created another universe here, a breathing, thriving world.”
Robert Leiter - Jewish Exponent
“Masterfully executed…the book is wildly funny… [a] wickedly entertaining and evocative masterwork.”
Spike Magazine
“With his meticulous, expertly crafted idiosyncrasies Bolaño has created another universe here, a breathing, thriving world.”— Ben Granger
Jewish Exponent
“Masterfully executed…the book is wildly funny… [a] wickedly entertaining and evocative masterwork.”— Robert Leiter
Luke Sykora - Rain Taxi
“It's a testament to Bolaño's skillful prose and vivid characters that his parade of micro-biographies stays fresh throughout.”
Matt Marshall - Nectar Magazine
“Award-winning translator Chris Andrews gives us ...proof that Bolano is ...one of the most important literary figures of 25 years.”
David Varno - The Brooklyn Rail
“Bolano's legacy: his proclivity to wandering, his obsession with the darker elements, and his inability to belong to a country.”
Michael Saler - Times Literary Supplement
“The pleasures of Bolano's dark and imaginative vision go well beyond simple satire.”
Joshua Cohen - Forward
“This book, brilliantly and rambunctiously written, is a denunciation of homegrown fascism.”
The Barnes & Noble Review
In one of the more memorable episodes of her young life, the Argentinean poet Luz Mendiluce had the rare fortune to be cradled in the arms of Hitler himself. "Yes, she had been dandled by the F?hrer. In dreams, she could still feel his strong arms and his warm breath on the top of her head." Mendiluce is a model, politics notwithstanding, of a literary life richly lived; in her short existence (she died at a premature 48 in a car accident), she ran a prominent magazine, shot her philandering second husband, and published several major works of poetry, all while solely within the confines of Roberto Bola?o's rabid poetic imagination.

Mendiluce is one of the many fictional authors running wild in the pages of Nazi Literature in the Americas. A work that defies easy classification -- it is not quite a novel, not quite a story collection -- Nazi Literature would have us believe that it is a definitive "encyclopedia" of right-wing authors from across the Americas, complete with a bibliography and all the necessary airs of faux-academic detachment. Bola?o, through the combined efforts of publishers Farrar, Straus & Giroux and New Directions, is in the midst of a posthumous ascendancy, and Nazi Literature provides a welcome addition to his work in English. It is an ideal follow-up to The Savage Detectives, whose 2007 publication carved a place for Bola?o in the modern canon. Like The Savage Detectives, Nazi Literature attempts to catalogue the literary landscape of South America, but where the "visceral realist" poets of his masterwork tended to be anti-establishment leftists (if they bothered with politics at all), the authors collected here gravitate toward the opposite extreme.

The mini-biographies conjured by Bola?o, while they stay largely within the bounds of plausibility, share an outsized, almost mythological quality. In addition to the dynastic "Mendiluce Clan," we meet Luiz Fontaine de Souza, a Brazilian Catholic whose body of work consists entirely of ambitious refutations of major Western philosophers, and Harry Sibelius, a Virginian best known for a pseudo-history of the Third Reich's invasion of America. And it only gets stranger from there. Among Bola?o's more fantastical creations is Italo Schiaffino, a soccer hooligan-cum-poet whose literary endeavors are fueled by the exploits of his local Buenos Aires team. "In the first number of 1976, he published 'Jews Out': out of the soccer stadiums naturally, not out of Argentina, but the essay was widely misunderstood and earned him many enemies," the encyclopedia offers slyly.

There is, in such cavalier asides, a flippancy that belies Bola?o's darker purpose: the exposure of a genuine moral decay in American literature and culture. Bola?o is hardly the first to note the problematic alignment of fascism and aestheticism -- the implicit dangers in the extreme idealization of beauty and the body -- but his setting endows Nazi Literature in the Americas with a particular air of accusation: it cannot be ignored that many of the countries of origin for his "authors" have a history of acting as Nazi havens in the wake of WWII. As the title suggests, Nazi Literature in the Americas takes as its subject the right-wing strains of pan-American fiction and poetry. For instance, for one of his characters, the Colombian author Jes?s Fern?ndez-G?mez, literature assumes the trappings of a fascist act: "Fern?ndez-G?mez marvels at his own youth: he writes of his body, his sexual potency,...the great work he hopes to write, which will 'ennoble him, wash away all his sins, endow his life and his sacrifices with meaning,' although he declines to divulge the nature of these 'sacrifices.' "

These writers may be figments, but the questions they raise are very real. Nazism is, for Bola?o, a mutable term: insofar as they share an affinity for hate-mongering and nationalistic excess, Bola?o's characters might be called Nazis, but in practice the ways in which right-wing politics exert themselves in their art are more subtle, more insidious. On the one hand, the scribes assembled in Nazi Literature seem to deliver a sideways jab at the rise of authoritarian forces in Latin America, but on the other, this is a group for whom words tend to speak louder than actions. Even as they are drawn to the more dangerous underside of their aesthetic ideals, they are, like all of Bola?o's subjects, writers too immersed in their craft to see much beyond the page. Theirs is a politics that exists in a moral vacuum, often impotent but no less problematic for the ways in which their work transforms literature into "a surreptitious form of violence."

It is to Bola?o's credit, given the disturbing set of historical realities with which he must contend, that Nazi Literature manages to maintain its bleak hilarity. One of the collection's strongest vignettes relates the life of Max Mirebalais, a Haitian "author" whose entire body of work consists of elaborate plagiarisms written under a sequence of aliases and false identities. One of his personae, Max von Hauptman, is a "half-German, half-Haitian poet" who assimilates the work of several obscure writers into "manipulated, made-over, metamorphosed texts" that "even-handedly explored and sang the magnificence of the Aryan and the Masai races." More than in any other of the encyclopedia's entries, the flourishes of ingenious wit on display in the story of Max Mirebalais make clear Bola?o's debt to Jorge Luis Borges -- Mirebalais would seem a gleeful heir to Borges's Pierre Ménard, the fictional fabulist who attempts a word-for-word re-authoring of the Quixote. Like the short stories of his predecessor, Nazi Literature is a work of literary excavation, the rigor of its scholarship somehow no less serious for the falsity of its subject matter. For both, the classic tropes of Spanish literature are as much an invitation to roguish rebellion as they are a source of reverence.

If Bola?o's fanciful enterprise has any shortcoming, it is that the collection spreads itself too thin. The entries are subdivided into clever categories, and the shortest essay -- a sketch of an apocryphal Uruguayan biographer -- clocks in at half a page. This rapid movement across time and geographies leaves Nazi Literature feeling scattered. It is no coincidence that the longer pieces are also the most interesting; Bola?o does not always distribute his creativity in equal measure, and it is clear that some figures capture his imagination far more than others. Bola?o himself confronts this pitfall in his novella Distant Star, a much-expanded version of the collection's final story about a Chilean aviator, admitting that the earlier iteration unfolded, by his own diagnosis, "too schematically." The story of Ram?rez Hoffman (later renamed Carlos Wieder) is by nature richer than the allotted pages allow him to be, an example of how the encyclopedic format Bola?o has chosen at times constricts the range of his vision.

Like the poets of The Savage Detectives, the cast of Nazi Literature exists, by virtue of both their politics and their penchant for transgressive behavior, at the margins polite society. While Bola?o makes no effort to conceal the dangerous implications of these authors' ideological leanings, he is less concerned with finger-pointing than with broadening the variegated portrait of literary expression in Latin America that he has built over the course of his writings. His self-restraint may seem its own form of authorial negligence -- where is the sense of moral outrage when one writer proposes a restoration of the Inquisition, and why does Italo Schiaffino's anti-Semitism read as, of all things, funny? -- but in the end, Bola?o is right to leave the political ranting to the apparitions that cross his pages. Unlike his creations, Bola?o has not been so seduced by his art that he cannot see beyond it: by allowing his authors to speak freely, he has offered an antidote the moral vacuity of "Nazi literature." --Amelia Atlas

Amelia Atlas's reviews have appeared in the New York Sun, 02138, and the Harvard Book Review.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780811220569
  • Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
  • Publication date: 6/1/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 761,106
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Author of 2666 and many other acclaimed works, Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) was born in Santiago, Chile, and later lived in Mexico, Paris, and Spain. He has been acclaimed “by far the most exciting writer to come from south of the Rio Grande in a long time” (Ilan Stavans, The Los Angeles Times),” and as “the real thing and the rarest” (Susan Sontag). Among his many prizes are the extremely prestigious Herralde de Novela Award and the Premio Rómulo Gallegos. He was widely considered to be the greatest Latin American writer of his generation. He wrote nine novels, two story collections, and five books of poetry, before dying in July 2003 at the age of 50.
The poet Chris Andrews has translated many books by Roberto Bolaño and César Aira for New Directions.
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