From the Publisher
“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
In his incomplete final novel, Bolaño (2666) begins with Amalfitano, a 50-year-old philosophy professor at the University of Barcelona, who loses his position after he's accused of having an affair with one of his male students. With his adolescent daughter, Rosa, he decides to move to Santa Teresa, a Mexican border town, where he finds a new teaching position at the local university. There he becomes friendly with an artist named Castillo, who makes a living forging Larry Rivers paintings to sell to gullible Texan art lovers. From here, the narrative splinters as Bolaño details Rosa's tours of Santa Teresa, itemizes the literary career of the novelist J.M.G. Arcimboldi, and delves into the backstory of the Santa Teresa detective charged with shadowing Amalfitano. Throughout, the professor maintains a correspondence with his former lover, Padilla, who in time confesses that he has AIDS. Began in the 1980s, this novel never really comes together to form a cohesive whole. Dedicated to both Manuel Puig and Philip K. Dick, the book veers close to the latter's habitual sense of dislocation. It may be best enjoyed by fans of the late author's work who appreciate his iconoclastic takes on literary standard-bearers.
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National Book Critics Circle Award winner Bolaño isn't just a literary phenomenon but a popular phenomenon, his mammoth 2666 having sold over 70,000 copies in hardcover, 36,000 in a boxed set, and 40,000 in paperback. So there will be interest in this final, unfinished novel, which Bolaño began in the 1980s and worked on until his death in 2003. Here, widowed Chilean professor Amalfitano is forced from Barcelona by scandal and lands in Santa Teresa, Mexico.
The much admired Chilean writer's final, unfinished novel is a seductive grab bag filled with the mysteries of sexuality and literature. Bolaño began work on the novel in the 1980s and revisited it until he died in 2003, at the age of 50. It's presented here in five sections, of which the first is the most tightly structured, introducing the protagonist and the germ of a plot. Amalfitano is a middle-aged professor of literature and philosophy. The Chilean has spent most of his life on the move, a militant leftist too hot for some campuses. (He also appears in Bolaño's masterpiece 2666.) It's not politics but a sex scandal that ends his career at the University of Barcelona. The professor had started attending salons honoring Catalan literature. Their organizer, Padilla, is a young, tough, promiscuous gay man and a committed poet; for him, sex and poetry are indivisible. He seduces Amalfitano, who has never slept with a man before; the love of his life was his dead wife, Edith, who gave him a daughter, Rosa. Fired by the university, Amalfitano finds another position in Santa Teresa, Mexico. The next three sections are much more diffuse. One of them is devoted to the French novelist Arcimboldi. (Vonnegut had Kilgore Trout; Bolaño has the Frenchman.) Amalfitano seeks literary validation for his newfound homosexuality (Mann, Rimbaud) and explains stumblingly to his beautiful teenage daughter that if communism can collapse, so can his heterosexual regime. Rosa, unconvinced, abandons books for videos, an equally shocking volte-face by this lifelong book lover. The final section suggests new problems for Amalfitano in Mexico. The chief of police arranges with his twin, the university president, to have his new professor tailed. A young cop (the titular policeman?) goes to work, but this storyline must compete with Mexican history and a lively exchange of letters between Amalfitano and Padilla. Nevermind the lack of a resolution. The robust affirmation that the pursuit of literature is ennobling is sufficient recompense.
Read an Excerpt
According to Padilla, remembered Amalfitano, all literature could be classified as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. Novels, in general, were heterosexual. Poetry, on the other hand, was completely homosexual. Within the vast ocean of poetry he identified various currents: faggots, queers, sissies, freaks, butches, fairies, nymphs, and philenes. But the two major currents were faggots and queers. Walt Whitman, for example, was a faggot poet. Pablo Neruda, a queer. William Blake was definitely a faggot. Octavio Paz was a queer. Borges was a philene, or in other words he might be a faggot one minute and simply asexual the next. Rubén Darío was a freak, in fact, the queen freak, the prototypical freak (in Spanish, of course; in the wider world the reigning freak is still Verlaine the Generous). Freaks, according to Padilla, were closer to madhouse flamboyance and naked hallucination, while faggots and queers wandered in stagger-step from ethics to aesthetics and back again. Cernuda, dear Cernuda, was a nymph, and at moments of great bitterness a faggot, whereas Guillén, Aleixandre, and Alberti could be considered a sissy, a butch, and a queer, respectively. As a general rule, poets like Blas de Otero were butches, while poets like Gil de Biedma were—except for Gil de Biedma himself—part nymph and part queer. Recent Spanish poetry, with the tentative exception of the aforementioned Gil de Biedma and probably Carlos Edmundo de Ory, had been lacking in faggot poets until the arrival of the Great Faggot of All Sorrows, Padilla’s favorite poet, Leopoldo María Panero. And yet Panero, it had to be admitted, had fits of bipolar freakishness that made him unstable, inconsistent, and hard to classify. Of Panero’s peers, a curious case was Gimferrer, who was queer by nature but had the imagination of a faggot and the tastes of a nymph. Anyway, the poetry scene was essentially an (underground) battle, the result of the struggle between faggot poets and queer poets to seize control of the word. Sissies, according to Padilla, were faggot poets by birth who, out of weakness or for comfort’s sake, lived within and accepted—most of the time—the aesthetic and personal parameters of the queers. In Spain, France, and Italy, queer poets have always been legion, he said, although a superficial reader might never guess. What happens is that a faggot poet like Leopardi, for example, somehow reconstrues queers like Ungaretti, Montale, and Quasimodo, the trio of death. In the same way, Pasolini redraws contemporary Italian queerdom. Take the case of poor Sanguinetti (I won’t pick on Pavese, who was a sad freak, the only one of his kind). Not to mention France, great country of devouring mouths, where one hundred faggot poets, from Villon to Sophie Podolski, have nurtured, still nurture, and will nurture with the blood of their tits ten thousand queer poets with their entourage of philenes, nymphs, butches, and sissies, lofty editors of literary magazines, great translators, petty bureaucrats, and grand diplomats of the Kingdom of Letters (see, if you must, the shameful and malicious reflections of the Tel Quel poets). And the less said the better about the faggotry of the Russian Revolution, which, if we’re to be honest, gave us just one faggot poet, a single one. Who? you may ask. Mayakovsky? No. Esenin? No. Pasternak? Blok? Mandelstam? Akhmatova? Hardly. There was just one, and I won’t keep you in suspense. He was the real thing, a steppes-and-snow faggot, a faggot through and through: Khlebnikov. And in Latin America, how many true faggots do we find? Vallejo and Martín Adán. Period. New paragraph. Macedonio Fernández, maybe? The rest are queers like Huidobro, fairies like Alfonso Cortés (although some of his poems are authentically fagotty), butches like León de Greiff, butch nymphs like Pablo de Rokha (with bursts of freakishness that would’ve driven Lacan himself crazy), sissies like Lezama Lima, a misguided reader of Góngora, and along with Lezama all the queers and sissies of the Cuban Revolution except for Rogelio Nogueras, who is a nymph with the spirit of a faggot, not to mention, if only in passing, the poets of the Sandinista Revolution: fairies like Coronel Urtecho or queers who wish they were philenes, like Ernesto Cardenal. The Mexican Contemporaries are also queers (no, shouted Amalfitano, not Gilberto Owen!); in fact Death Without End is, along with the poetry of Paz, the “Marseillaise” of the highly nervous Mexican poets. More names: Gelman, nymph; Benedetti, queer; Nicanor Parra, fairy with a hint of faggot; Westphalen, freak; Pellicer, fairy; Enrique Lihn, sissy; Girondo, fairy. And back to Spain, back to the beginning: Góngora and Quevedo, queers; San Juan de la Cruz and Fray Luis de León, faggots. End of story. And now, to satisfy your curiosity, some differences between queers and faggots. Even in their sleep, the former beg for a twelve-inch cock to plow and fertilize them, but at the moment of truth, mountains must be moved to get them into bed with the pretty boys they love. Faggots, on the other hand, seem to live as if a dick were permanently churning their insides, and when they look at themselves in the mirror (something they love and hate with all their heart), they see the Pimp of Death in their own sunken eyes. For faggots and fairies, pimp is the one word that can cross unscathed through the realms of nothingness. But then, too, nothing prevents queers and faggots from being good friends, from neatly ripping one another off, criticizing or praising one another, publishing or burying one another in the frantic and moribund world of letters.
“You missed the category of talking apes,” said Amalfitano when Padilla at last fell silent.
“Ah, those talking apes,” said Padilla, “the faggot apes of Madagascar who refuse to talk so they don’t have to work.”
Copyright © 2011 by the heirs of Roberto Bolaño
ranslation copyright © 2012 by Natasha Wimmer