Roberto Bolaño


Espinoza experienced something similar, though slightly different in two respects. First, the need to be near Liz Norton struck sometime before he got back to his apartment in Madrid. By the time he was on the plane he'd realized that she was the perfect woman, the one he'd always hoped to find, and he began to suffer. 27

So the neighborhood didn't frighten him. He fell in love with it, actually. He liked to come home at night and walk for blocks and blocks without seeing anyone. He liked the color of the streetlamps and the light that spilled over the fronts of the houses. The shadows that moved as he moved. The ashen, sooty dawns. The men of few words who gathered in the pub, where he became a regular. The pain, or the memory of pain, that here was literally sucked away by something nameless until only a void was left. The knowledge that this question was possible: pain that turns finally into emptiness. The knowledge that the same equation applied to everything, more or less. 77

Norton felt somehow insulted by Morini's decision not to go with them. They didn't call each other again. Morini might have called Norton, but before his friends set off on their search for Archimboldi, he, in his own way, like Schwob in Samoa, had already begun a voyage, a voyage that would end not at the grave of a brave man but in a kind of resignation, what might be called a new experience, since this wasn't resignation in any ordinary sense of the word, or even patience or conformity, but rather a state of meekness, a refined and incomprehensible humility that made him cry for no reason and in which his own image, what Morini saw as Mornini, gradually and helplessly dissolved, like a river that stops being a river or a tree that burns on the horizon, not knowing that it's burning. 154

As they left the airport, the three of them noticed how bright it was in Sonora. It was as if the light were buried in the Pacific Ocean, producing an enormous curvature of space. It made a person hungry to travel in that light, although also, and maybe more insistently, thought Norton, it made you want to bear your hunger until the end. 158

Anyway, these ideas or feelings or ramblings had their satisfactions. They turned the pain of others into memories of one's own. They turned pain, which is natural, enduring, and eternally triumphant, into personal memory, which is human, brief, and eternally elusive. They turned a brutal story of injustice and abuse, an incoherent howl with no beginning or end, into a neatly structured story in which suicide was always held out as a possibility. They turned flight into freedom, even if freedom meant no more than the perpetuation of flight. They turned chaos into order, even if it was at the cost of what is commonly known as sanity. 261

When they got home it was dark but the shadow of Dieste's book hanging from the clothesline was clearer, steadier, more reasonable, thought Amalfitano, than anything they'd seen on the outskirts of Santa Teresa or in the city itself, images with no handhold, images freighted with all the orphanhood in the world, fragments, fragments. 284

One could also deduce (and, with a little effort, see) other things, thought Amalfitano as he diligently gauged his mood, watching Dieste's book hanging in the dark in the backyard. One could see, for example, the date that Kilapan's book was published, 1978, in other words during the military dictatorship, and deduce the atmosphere of triumph, loneliness, and fear in which it was published. One could see, for example, a gentleman of Indian appearance, half out of his head but hiding it well, dealing with the printers of the prestigious Editorial Universitaria, located on Calle San Francisco, number 454, in Santiago. P. 307

But there was no reason to get too excited. Kilapan's prose could be Pinochet's, certainly. But it could also be Aylwin's or Lagos's. Kilapan's prose could be Frei's (which was saying something) or the prose of any right-wing neo-Fascist. Not only did Lonko Kilapan's prose encapsulate all of Chile's styles, it also represented all of its political factions, from the conservatives to the Communists, from the new liberals to the old survivors of the MIR. Kilapan was the high-grade Spanish spoken and written in Chile, its cadences revealing not only the leathery nose of Abate Molina, but also the butchery of Patricio Lynch, the endless shipwrecks of the Esmeralda, the Atacama desert and cattle grazing, the Guggenheim Fellowships, the Socialist politicians praising the economic policy of the junta, the corners where pumpkin fritters were sold, the mote con huesillos, the ghost of the Berlin Wall rippling on motionless red flags, the domestic abuse, the good-hearted whores, the cheap housing, what in Chile they called grudge holding and Amalfitano called madness. 309

Now all I read is poetry. Poetry is the one thing that isn't contaminated, the one thing that isn't part of the game. I don't know if you follow me, Professor. Only poetry—and let me be clear, only some of it—is good for you, only poetry isn't shit.312

Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.313

Life is demand and supply, or supply and demand, that's what it all boils down to, but that's no way to live. A third leg is needed to keep the table from collapsing into the garbage pit of history, which in turn is permanently collapsing into the garbage pit of the void. So take note.314

And he also thought: the pain doesn't matter anymore. And also: maybe it all began with my mother's death. And also: the pain doesn't matter, as long as it doesn't get any worse, as long as it isn't unbearable. And also: fuck, it hurts, fuck, it hurts. Pay it no mind, pay it no mind. And all around him, ghosts.315

Reading is like thinking, like praying, like talking to a friend, like expressing your ideas, like listening to other people's ideas, like listening to music (oh yes), like looking at the view, like taking a walk on the beach.350

"Every single thing in this country is an homage to everything in the world, even the things that haven't happened yet," he said.468

Sometimes, especially on his days off, Inspector Juan de Dios Martinez would have liked to go out with the director. That is, he wanted to be seen in public with her, eat at a downtown restaurant with her, neither a cheap nor a very expensive restaurant but a normal restaurant where normal couples went and where he would almost certainly run into someone he knew, to whom he would introduce the director naturally, casually, coolly, this is my girlfriend, Elvira Campos, she's a psychiatrist. After they ate they'd probably go back to her apartment to make love and then nap. And at night they'd go out again, in her BMW or his Cougar, to the movies or some outdoor cafe for a soda or to dance at one of Santa Teresa's many clubs. The perfect happiness, goddamn it, thought Juan de Dios Martinez. 583

If it were possible to convey what one feels when night falls and the stars come out and one is alone in the vastness, and life's truths (night truths) begin to march past one by one, somehow swooning or as if the person out in the open were swooning or as if a strange sickness were circulating in the blood unnoticed. 593

Despondent, she went back to her house, to the other neighbor woman and the girls, and for a while the four of them experienced what it was like to be in purgatory, a long, helpless wait, a wait that begins and ends in neglect, a very Latin American experience, as it happened, and all too familiar, something that once you thought about it you realized you experienced daily, minus the despair, minus the shadow of death sweeping over the neighborhood like a flock of vultures and casting its pall, upsetting all routines, leaving everything overturned. So, as they waited for the girls' father to get home, the neighbor woman (to kill time and master her fear) thought how she would like to have a gun and go out in the street. 725

The first few days were tinged with melancholy and regret and JT thought he would never recover. Anyway: recover what? And yet, with the passage of time, in his heart he understood that he'd gained much more than he'd lost.748

Sometimes, however, as they sat on a cafe terrace or around a dark cabaret table, an obstinate silence descended inexplicably over the trio. They seemed suddenly to freeze, lose all sense of time, and turn completely inward, as if they were bypassing the abyss of daily life, the abyss of people, the abyss of conversation, and had decided to approach a kind of lakeside region, a late-romantic region, where the borders were clocked from dusk to dusk, ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, an eternity, like the minutes of those condemned to die, like the minutes of women who've just given birth and are condemned to die, who understand that more time isn't more eternity and nevertheless wish with all their souls for more time, and their wails are birds that come flying every so often across the double lakeside landscape, so calmly, like luxurious excrescences or heartbeats. Then, naturally, the three men would emerge stiff from the silence and go back to talking about inventions, women, Finnish philology, the building of highways across the Reich.908

He also remembered that in those days he had ceaselessly read and reread Ansky's notebook, memorizing each word, and feeling something very strange that sometimes seemed like happiness and other times like a guilt as vast as the sky. And he accepted the guilt and happiness and some nights he even weighed them against each other and the net result of his unorthodox reckoning was happiness, but a different kind of happiness, a heartrending happiness that for Reiter wasn't happiness but simply Reiter.1019

There's nothing inside the man who sits there writing. Nothing of himself, I mean. How much better off the poor man would be if he devoted himself to reading. Reading is pleasure and happiness to be alive or sadness to be alive and above all it's knowledge and questions. Writing, meanwhile, is almost always empty. There's nothing in the guts of the man who sits there writing. Nothing, I mean to say, that his wife, at a given moment, might recognize.1081

...history, which is a simple whore, has no decisive moments but is a proliferation of instants, brief interludes that vie with one another in monstrousness.1092

Savage Detectives

Literature isn't innocent. (154)

...when the whole civilized world disappears Mexico will keep existing, when the planet vaporizes or disintegrates, Mexico will still be Mexico... (193)

The best and the worst of Latin America came together in telephone lines, the old revolutionaries and the rapists, the former political prisoners and the hawkers of junk jewelry. (436)

This is where the story ends, with the faces of the millionairess and the tramp silhouetted against the sunset, and then the stars, and then infinite space. A little creepy, isn't it? Sublime, in a way, but creepy too. Like all crazy loves, don't you think? If you add infinity to infinity, you get infinity. If you mix the sublime and the creepy, what you end up with is creepy, right? (450)

I try to be pleasant and sociable, I try not to rush the passage from comedy to tragedy—Life does a fine job on its own. (500)

He ate well and he was polite, to start with. Then, the more you watched him, other things began to appear, things that slipped away like those fish that come close to the shore when the water is shallow and you see dark things (darker than the water) moving very quickly past your legs. (542)

Life is shitty enough without being stuck buying a book where all it says is "All work and no play..." It would be like me serving tea instead of whiskey, it would be false advertising but it would just be rude too, don't you think?

In the English-speaking world, it can be hard to grasp how deeply writing and radical politics have always been intertwined in Latin America. For most of the twentieth century, to be a writer was to be a revolutionary or a reactionary. Writers who are known to English-language readers simply as great novelists are more complicated figures at home. (xiii -- Natasha Wimmer, translator)

Belano, I said, the heart of the matter is knowing whether evil (or sin or crime or whatever you want to call it) is random or purposeful. If it's purposeful, we can fight it, it's hard to defeat, but we have a chance, like boxers in the same weight class, more or less. If it's random, on the other hand, we're fucked, and we'll just have to hope that God, if he exists, has mercy on us. And that's what it all comes down to. (420)

But poetry (real poetry) is like that: You can sense it, you can feel it in the air, the way they say certain highly attuned animals (snakes, worms, rats, and some birds) can detect an earthquake. (5)

There's a time for reciting poems and a time for fists. (6)

...which just goes to show how relative meaning is, like a language we think we know but we don't, that we can stretch things or shrink them at will. (166)

For a while we couldn't think of anything else to say to each other. I imagined him lost in a white space, a virgin space that kept getting dirtier and more soiled despite his best efforts, and even the face I remembered grew distorted, as if while I was talking to his sister his features melded with what she was describing, ridiculous tests of strengths, terrifying, pointless rites of passage into adulthood, so distance from what I once thought would become of him, and even his sister's voice talking about the Latin American revolution and the defeats and victories and deaths that it would bring began to sound strange and then I couldn't sit there a second longer and I told her I had to go to class and we'd see each other some other time. I remember that for two or three nights I dreamed of him. In my dreams he was thin, all skin and bones, sitting under a tree, his hair long, his clothes ragged, his shoes ruined, unable to get up and walk. (170)

It must have been nerves, or the gusts of wind that sometimes sweep along Insurgentes (we were talking of the sidewalk) and sow the most outrageous ideas in pedestrians and drivers. (175)

I thought: if we find a hotel, if we're in a dark room, if we have all the time in the world, if I undress them and they undress me, everything will be all right, my father's madness, the lost car, the sadness and energy I felt and that at moments seemed about to choke me. But I didn't say a word. (194)

...and then I went out into the hallway, and it was there that I suddenly realized something was going on, the hallway was empty and the shouting coming from downstairs was the kind that strikes you dumb and makes history. (198)

And then I said to myself: Auxilio, stay here. Don't let yourself be taken prisoner, baby. Stay here, Auxilio. Baby, don't let them write you into their script. (198)

Arturito had done his duty, and his conscience, the terrible conscience of a young Latin American male, had nothing with which to reproach itself. (201)

I thought: despite my cleverness and all my sacrifices, I'm lost. I thought: what a poetic act to destroy my writings. I thought: I should have swallowed them instead because now I'm lost. I thought: the vanity of writing, the vanity of destruction. I thought: because I wrote, I stood my ground. I thought: because I destroyed what I wrote, they're going to find me, beat me, rape me, kill me. I thought: the two acts are related, writing and destruction, hiding and being found. (204)

...and then I got up and went over to my library, my dusty library—how long had it been since I gave those shelves a cleaning!—not because I didn't care about books anymore, certainly not, but because life makes us so fragile and anesthetizes us too (almost without our noticing it, gentleman)... (206)

I shook the Chilean's hand. I watched his face. He was smiling. He was about to collapse from exhaustion, and he was smiling. Where had I seen that smile before? I looked at Vargas Pardo as if to ask him where I'd seen that goddamn smile. The ultimate defenseless smile, the kind that drags us all down. (217) that moment of silence after you hear something truly beautiful, the kind of moment that can last a second or two or your whole life, because there's something for everyone on this cruel earth...

And I: viva, feeling a sharp pain in my stomach as I thought about the old days and how late it was, that time when night sinks into night, though never all of a sudden, into the white-footed Mexico City night, a night that endlessly announces her arrival, I'm coming, I'm coming, but is a long time coming, as if she too, the devil, had stayed behind to watch the sunset, the incomparable sunsets of Mexico, the peacock sunsets, as Cesárea would say when Cesária lived here and was our friend. (312)