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Roberto Bolaño

Bolaño, Roberto (bōlänˈyō) [key], 1953–2003, Chilean novelist widely regarded as the most influential Spanish-language writer of his generation. He led a peripatetic life, and his fictional protagonists tend to be wandering vagabonds. He moved to Mexico City in 1968. He claimed to have returned (1973) to Chile to join its leftist revolution just before the Pinochet coup, to have spent a week in jail as an accused terrorist, and to have returned soon after his release to Mexico City, but that has been questioned by some. In Mexico City he and his friends founded "infrarealism," an anti-establishment literary movement that blended Dada and surrealism, adding a distinctly Mexican slant. Bolaño left Mexico in 1977, traveled through Europe, married, and ultimately settled in a small Spanish town. There he worked as a dishwasher, custodian, bellhop, and garbage collector while he wrote. He died at 50 of liver failure.

At first a poet, Bolaño published two books of verse in the 1970s as well as a collection of poetry written over 20 years, Perros romanticos (2000; tr. The Romantic Dogs, 2008). His complete poetry, The Unknown University, was published in a bilingual edition in 2013. His efforts at writing fiction began slowly with a series of vignettes in 1980 ( Antwerp, 2002, tr. 2010) and a few other works of fiction in the 1980s. However, after the birth of his son (1990) and as his health failed, Bolaño turned to fiction in earnest, writing with urgency and producing an extraordinary volume of work. Portraits of 20th-century Latin America that blend the real with the fantastic, his wildly imaginative, idiosyncratic, and often violence-filled works—ten full-length novels and three story collections—were all completed in the last decade of his life.

His best-known novel, winner of Latin America's prestigious Rómulo Gallegos prize, is Detectives salvajes (1998; tr. The Savage Detectives, 2007), a sprawling, three-part semiautobiographical tale of two Latin American poets and an outlaw literary world. His other novels include Pista de hielo (1993; tr. The Skating Rink, 2009), Estrella distante (1996; tr. Distant Star, 2004), Amuleto (1999, tr. Amulet, 2006), Monsieur Pain (1999, tr. 2010)), and the exceptional Nocturno en Chile (2000; tr. By Night in Chile, 2003). His stories are collected in Gaucho Insufrible (2003, tr. The Insufferable Gaucho, 2010), Last Evenings on Earth (2006), and The Return (2010). His last work, which has been called his masterpiece, is the vast five-part 2666 (2004, tr. 2008). Studded with winding sentences wrought in various prose styles and told by a number of narrators, this imagistic, hallucinatory, and cryptic work tells of the search for a missing German writer and also follows the hunt for the killer of hundreds of female factory workers in a Mexican border town. Nearly complete when Bolaño died, it was published posthumously. Bolaño's nonfiction prose is translated and collected in Between Parentheses (2011).

See Roberto Bolaño: The Last Inteview (tr. 2009).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: Latin American Literature: Biographies


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