The cult success of the Chilean novelist Roberto Bolano’s The Savage Detectives and the immense worldwide posthumous success of his final novel, 2666, have encouraged his British publishers to delve into his substantial backlist. There are lots of interesting things there, most marked by the formal eccentricity that so defined 2666.
By Night in Chile is told in two paragraphs, the second only a few words long. Distant Star, the most engaging of these earlier works, is a magic realist-tinged narrative of Pinochet’s regime, containing a fascist poet who writes his work in vapor trails in the sky. Nazi Literature in the Americas is a real curiosity; it has a surface simplicity, but few readers will be able to pin down a general unease about the book’s purpose and meaning. It was published more or less simultaneously with Distant Star, in 1996, and its last story — or entry — contains a short version of that novel.
It is structured as a sort of dictionary, with 30 or so short lives of imaginary writers. They are all related, in different ways, to often extremely right-wing causes. They pay a pilgrimage to visit Hitler or are photographed in childhood being dandled on the Fuhrer’s knee. They promote anti-Semitic ideology among beat poets. They flee to South America after the war and live in enclosed Teutonic colonies. “Five feet [1.52m] tall [and] with a swarthy complexion” themselves, they write books with characters exclusively “tall, fair-haired and blue-eyed”. They come to violent ends, either in the past or considerably in the future; their books are acclaimed within certain circles, or self-published and never noticed; they deal with each other in dense webs of literary association.
In description, Nazi Literature in the Americas sounds like satire, and it has a dryness about it that could easily be taken for ironic humor. In fact, Bolano’s intentions are more sophisticated than that. Much of his personal experience was with writers passionately committed to extreme leftist causes, ceaselessly arguing about ideological purity in poetry and splitting up into smaller and smaller “groupuscules”. (All this is described in The Savage Detectives.)
Nazi Literature in the Americas takes what Bolano knew very well, and sends it through the looking glass of the ideological divide. He imagines writers of extraordinary experimental verve, engaging with the most advanced literary theory. Some of them, indeed, sound a little like Bolano in 2666, a novel as steeped in the excitements of brutal violence as any writer described here.
Other of these imaginary figures are naive science-fiction writers, or the creators of adventure stories, or, in the case of Argentino Schiaffino, the poet of myth and epic for the thugs of the football terraces. In short, Bolano’s imaginary writers cover the same breadth of ground as any selection of writers. Bolano, with his characteristic entranced fascination of tone, trembles on the verge of suggesting that some of them may have been terrible, but there is no reason to suppose others are not capable of greatness.
This is a heretical thought, but the ideological basis of writing has never had much to do with its merits; a novelist is not more or less likely to be a good novelist because he approves or disapproves of Pinochet, Bill Clinton, Stalin, Mao or Margaret Thatcher. In its unexpected and committedly affectless manner, Nazi Literature in the Americas testifies to the sheer power of literature; how it can emerge in an artless or sophisticated manner with a power that we would prefer to direct.
There was never any reason to think that the writers of literature were likely to be exclusively nice people. Only the most foolish reader ever considered that literature was something one would be at all likely to agree with. Bolano’s impressive novel triumphs by displaying a power of imagination and a quiddity we are not inclined to allow any of his imaginary writers. It also, magnanimously, suggests that they too might be capable of writing a poem in the sky, whatever they did when they came back down to earth.
The Taiwan of yesteryear was dominated in whole or in part by the Dutch, Spanish, Qing Empire and Japanese. But is the Taiwanese name for a popular edible fish derived from the Portuguese language? Cheng Wei-chung (鄭維中), an associate research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Taiwan History, says yes. The fish in question is the narrow-barred Spanish mackerel, which was listed in early 18th century Qing local gazetteers as Taiwanese specialities alongside milk fish and mullet, according to Cheng’s paper, “Mullet, narrow-barred Spanish mackerel and milkfish: Multiple contextual developments of three certified seafood specilaities in Taiwan, from the
I didn’t expect to spend more than three minutes out of my car, yet the sun was so brutal I put on my hat before approaching the seawall. Beimen (北門) is the flattest and most sun-baked part of Tainan. It lacks trees and people. In wintertime, the weather is often delightful. It wasn’t yet mid-morning in the hot season, however, and I felt like a leaf shriveling in the desert. Atop the seawall but facing inland, I could see dozens of the rectangular ponds which account for a significant percentage of Beimen’s “land” area. Some, no doubt, were dug to produce
Aug. 10 to Aug. 16 They called him the “No Problem Doctor” (沒關係醫生) because that’s what he always told his patients when they couldn’t pay up. Operating the only clinic in Changhua County’s Pusin Township (埔心) during the 1950s, Hsu Tsai-chih (許再枝) knew that life was difficult in his remote hometown. “They barely had enough to survive, so it was pointless to chase after them for the money,” an 81-year-old Hsu told the United Daily News in 2002. “I just went with the flow, some offered to pay me back years later but I had already forgotten
In the regular drumbeat of arrests of alleged Chinese spies, one case last month stood out. It did not involve the US or another rival of China, but Russia, whose security services accused a prominent arctic scientist of selling classified data on technologies for detecting submarines. Meanwhile a court in Kazakhstan in October convicted the Central Asia nation’s preeminent China specialist of espionage, a move widely interpreted at the time as a warning against increased meddling by the superpower next door. Both men maintain their innocence and if China is spying on Russia, Moscow is surely doing the same. Even so, the fact