Ondertexts
Roberto Bolaño
Search

Roberto Bolaño

Roberto Bolaño Roberto Bolaño[1†]

Roberto Bolaño Ávalos (28 April 1953 – 15 July 2003) was a Chilean novelist, short-story writer, poet, and essayist[1†][2†]. He is widely regarded as one of the most significant Latin American literary voices of his generation[1†]. His work, which has been translated into numerous languages, is celebrated for its richness and dazzling complexity[1†].

Bolaño won the Rómulo Gallegos Prize in 1999 for his novel “Los detectives salvajes” (The Savage Detectives), and in 2008, he was posthumously awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for his novel “2666”, which was described as a "work so rich and dazzling that it will surely draw readers and scholars for ages"[1†]. The New York Times described him as "the most significant Latin American literary voice of his generation"[1†].

At the time of his death, he had 37 publishing contracts in ten countries. Posthumously, the list grew to include more countries, including the United States, and amounted to 50 contracts and 49 translations in twelve countries, all of them prior to the publication of “2666”, his most ambitious novel[1†].

In addition to his literary accomplishments, Bolaño is remembered for his personal philosophy and his influence on contemporary literature. He is often compared to other great Latin American authors of the 20th century, such as Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar[1†].

Early Years and Education

Roberto Bolaño was born on April 28, 1953, in Santiago, Chile[2†][1†]. His father was a truck driver and part-time boxer, and his mother was a teacher[2†][3†][4†]. Bolaño’s family moved throughout Chile due to his father’s job until 1968, when they settled in Mexico City[2†].

Bolaño had a challenging childhood. He was dyslexic, nearsighted, and often felt like an outsider at school[2†][1†]. Despite these challenges, he developed an insatiable love for literature and read everything he could get his hands on[2†][4†]. His family was not particularly intellectual, but his mother was a fan of best-sellers[2†][1†].

In 1968, Bolaño moved with his family to Mexico City. He dropped out of school, worked as a journalist, and became active in left-wing political causes[2†][1†].

By his own account, Bolaño returned to Santiago in 1973 to take part in a socialist revolution that many Chileans presumed was impending[2†]. However, some of his contemporaries deny this account and insist that he never went to Chile[2†]. This uncertainty reflects a central feature of Bolaño’s life and writing: the line between his biography and his fiction is perpetually blurred[2†].

Career Development and Achievements

Roberto Bolaño’s literary career began when he published a poetry collection while living in Mexico[1†]. In 1977, he left Mexico to travel the world and eventually settled in Spain, where he married and held a series of low-paying jobs while still working on his craft[1†][2†]. He turned to prose after the birth of his son in 1990, believing that fiction would be more remunerative than poetry[1†][2†].

After producing a series of short stories, he published the novel “La pista de hielo” (The Skating Rink) in 1993[1†][2†]. This was followed by “La literatura nazi en América” (1996; Nazi Literature in the Americas) and “Estrella distante” (1996; Distant Star)[1†][2†].

Bolaño’s breakthrough work was “Los detectives salvajes” (1998; The Savage Detectives), which tells the story of a circle of radical Mexican poets known as the “visceral realists”[1†][2†]. This novel won the Rómulo Gallegos Prize in 1999[1†].

In 2008, he was posthumously awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for his novel “2666”, which was described by board member Marcela Valdes as a "work so rich and dazzling that it will surely draw readers and scholars for ages"[1†]. This novel was published posthumously and is often considered his most ambitious work[1†].

Despite his success, Bolaño worked almost every low-end job there could possibly be, except being a prostitute or a hired assassin[1†][3†]. But he stated that he didn’t get any merit working on those jobs and he didn’t become a writer for the lower class either. He considered his identity as one of a purist and an original[1†][3†].

First Publication of His Main Works

Roberto Bolaño’s literary career was prolific, encompassing novels, short stories, and poetry. His works have been translated into numerous languages and have had a significant impact on contemporary literature[5†][1†].

Here are some of his main works, along with information about their first year of publication and translators:

Bolaño’s first publication was a 20-page booklet titled “Reinventar el amor” in 1976[5†]. His work “Nazi Literature in the Americas” was the first to reach a wide public[5†][6†].

Analysis and Evaluation

Roberto Bolaño’s work has been the subject of extensive analysis and evaluation. His writing is recognized for its originality, depth, and complexity[8†][9†][10†].

In “Framing Roberto Bolaño”, Jonathan Beck Monroe offers a comprehensive analysis of Bolaño’s work from the beginning to the end of his career[8†]. Monroe’s analysis combines close reading with theoretical reflection, tracing the full arc and development of Bolaño’s work[8†].

Daisy Novoa’s thesis, “The Expansion of Consciousness in Roberto Bolaño’s Distant Star”, provides a comparative analysis of two of Bolaño’s works published in 1996[8†][9†]. Novoa examines how Bolaño represents consciousness in both works and how the author seeks to expand the representation of consciousness in "Distant Star"[8†][9†].

In “Understanding Roberto Bolaño”, Ricardo Gutiérrez-Mouat offers a comprehensive analysis of Bolaño’s work, bringing global attention to Latin American literature[8†][10†]. Gutiérrez-Mouat’s analysis highlights Bolaño’s significant contribution to Latin American literature in the 1960s[8†][10†].

Bolaño’s work is also analyzed in the context of queer theory. The book “Queer Exposures: Sexuality and Photography in Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction” discusses the visibility of queerness and the development of queer subjectivities in Bolaño’s texts[8†][11†].

These analyses and evaluations highlight the depth and complexity of Bolaño’s work, his innovative narrative techniques, and his profound impact on contemporary literature[8†][9†][10†][11†].

Personal Life

Roberto Bolaño was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1953[2†]. His family moved throughout Chile due to his father’s job as a truck driver until they settled in Mexico City in 1968[2†][12†]. Bolaño was a voracious reader and, despite being dyslexic, he was a middling student[2†]. He dropped out of high school shortly after moving to Mexico City and dedicated himself to poetry and leftist political causes[2†].

In 1977, Bolaño left Mexico to travel the world and eventually settled in Spain, where he married and held a series of low-paying jobs while still working on his craft[2†]. His son was born in 1990, which led him to turn to prose, believing that fiction would be more remunerative than poetry[2†].

Bolaño’s personal life was marked by his outspokenness and his fearless drive to fight mediocrity[2†][12†]. His widow, Carolina Lopez, remembers him as a passionate man who was unable to forgive disloyalty[2†][12†]. Bolaño died at the age of 50 from liver disease in 2003, while he was second in line for a liver transplant[2†][12†]. His disease was not related to alcohol or heroin, a drug Lopez confirms that Bolaño never took[2†][12†].

Bolaño’s father, Leon, a professional boxer and truck driver, remembered his son as an unusual kid who took walks and read a lot, and showed no interest in money[2†][12†]. Bolaño didn’t do well in school, often talking back to teachers and correcting them[2†][12†]. His father remembers a teacher calling to say, ‘Your son is right, but tell him not to say so in front of others, because it makes the teacher look ridiculous[2†][12†].

Conclusion and Legacy

Roberto Bolaño, who passed away in 2003, has since become one of the most influential writers to emerge from Latin America[4†]. His work, which spans across novels, short stories, poetry, and essays, has been translated into numerous languages and continues to draw readers and scholars from around the world[4†][1†].

Bolaño’s legacy is marked by his fearless critique of the literary establishment and his commitment to pushing the boundaries of literature[4†][12†]. He was a part of the “infrarealists” movement, a group of outsider writers in Mexico who aimed to disrupt the Latin American literary scene dominated by magic realists[4†]. Bolaño’s work is celebrated for its complexity, richness, and its ability to blur the lines between fiction and reality[4†][1†].

Despite his untimely death, Bolaño’s influence continues to grow. His novel “The Savage Detectives”, translated into English in 2007, captivated readers with its mix of mystery, coming-of-age narrative, and oral history of Mexico City’s 1970s avant-garde[4†][13†]. His work continues to be a subject of study and admiration, securing his place as one of the great Latin American authors of the 20th century[4†][1†].

Bolaño’s life and work serve as a testament to his insatiable love for literature and his relentless pursuit of new forms of expression. His legacy continues to inspire new generations of writers and readers, cementing his place in the annals of literary history[4†][1†][14†].

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - Roberto Bolaño [website] - link
  2. Britannica - Roberto Bolaño: Chilean author [website] - link
  3. Study Breaks - The Novels of Roberto Bolaño Can't Be Restrained by Borders [website] - link
  4. Legacy.com - The Afterlife Of Roberto Bolaño [website] - link
  5. Wikipedia (English) - Roberto Bolaño bibliography [website] - link
  6. New Directions Publishing - Roberto Bolaño [website] - link
  7. The Guardian - The Spirit of Science Fiction by Roberto Bolaño review – a hymn to Mexico City [website] - link
  8. Cambridge University Press - Framing Roberto Bolaño [website] - link
  9. Novoa, Daisy. 2020. The Expansion of Consciousness in Roberto Bolaño’s Distant Star. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School [document] - link
  10. University of South Carolina Press - Understanding Roberto Bolano [website] - link
  11. University of Pittsburgh Press - Queer Exposures: Sexuality and Photography in Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction and Poetry [document] - link
  12. Maclean’s - Remembering the sad, strange life of writer Roberto Bolaño [website] - link
  13. Americas Quarterly - The Critics Are Coming for Roberto Bolaño [website] - link
  14. Cambridge University Press - Framing roberto bolano poetry fiction literary history politics [website] - link
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License 4.0; additional terms may apply.
Ondertexts® is a registered trademark of Ondertexts Foundation, a non-profit organization.