Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Roberto Bolano Two Short Stories-Project 196 Chile

"Cell Mates"

Project 196

Country 18 of 196
Roberto Bolano

  1. Georgia 
  2. Canada
  3. U. S. A.
  4. The Republic of Korea
  5. Antigua and Barbuda 
  6. Haiti
  7. Trinidad and Tobago 
  8. Ukraine
  9. Cameroon
  10. Botswana
  11. Sudan
  12. Dominica 
  13. Israel
  14. Syria
  15. Ethiopia
  16. Zimbabwe
  17. Peru
  18. Chile

It was not hard to pick a writer to represent Chile for Project 196, my attempt to read and post on a short story from all of the 196 countries in the world.    The only choice is Roberto Bolano, thrust on the center stage of the literary world when his novels Savage Detectives and 666 were translated into English.
Bolano (1953 to 2003-Chile) was an incredibly creative and prolific writer who died of liver cancer at 50.   His books are not for the overly squeamish and neither are these two short stories.  Before I began my blog I read and loved Savage Detectives and his magnum opus, 666.   I have posted on his wonderfully Nazi Literature in the Americas, a hilarious satire of the literary world.   

These two stories are from a 2012 collection of Bolano's short stories, The Return, translated by Chris Andrews.  (I think these stories were probably published else where prior to this collection but I do not know their publication history.)

All of these stories have a "Bolano" like feel to them readers of his big novels will spot.  They are about a young man, rootless, very into the reading life, often fixated on  obscure poets who he may know personally, with a history of troubled relationships with his family and with women.  The male lead often is into a marginal world where men are  petty gangsters, drug addicts and women are whores (this is a much used Bolano word so I use it here) or might as well be.    A character in a Bolano novel might  step over the body of a woman who was just raped, while passing judgment on her body and then quote  Rilke.  His work is full of literary references, one of the reasons lots of bookish people, like me, enjoy his work.   He has spawned many imitators who try to out shock Bolano readers.   I will post briefly on these two stories, both of which I enjoyed. (They are at least R rated.)

"Snow" is set mostly in Moscow.  It is the story of a young man whose father was a communist in Chile, at times a very dangerous thing to be.    His father moved to Moscow and took the the young man, maybe mid-teens to Moscow with him.   It took him a while to adjust but within two years he spoke decent Russian and he and found a way to make his own money.   It was now the time after the fall of the Soviet Union and he gets in with petty mafia types.   His employer is involved in promoting athletes, Olympic types, mostly women and he likes to have sex with them.  He has our narrator set up dates with him.  He tells him to bring him one particular woman.  As the man gets to know her he likes her but the woman knows it is best to go ahead and have sex with his boss.   Russia is depicted as a very amoral society in which the only ties are to friends and money takes precedence over them in most cases.  The characters are well developed and I found it very interesting to see the events in the life of our hero.  The story is full of poets and  lots of really fun literary references.

"Cell Mates" is very much a Bolano story with very educated characters living a life style of thugs, criminals and street people.   There are very few people with long term happy marriages, well adjusted children or decent jobs in the work of Bolano.  The lead character has sexual issues.  If he has sex with someone twice in a row in the same position he is impotent.  His romantic interest eats only mashed potatoes.    She keeps a 20 Kilo bag of mashed potato flakes next to her refrigerator.  There are poets, communists, students and the usual cast in this story.  There are some interesting plot action in the story revolving around love triangles (or maybe pentagrams.)

Chile has a population of 16 million.  It has a long history of totalitarian governments.

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