The following is an interview with Chris Andrews, author of Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe
Question: How did you discover Bolaño’s work?
Chris Andrews: Chatting with booksellers in Santiago and Valparaíso in 2001. Bolaño was already very well known in Chile: he had won the Premio Rómulo Gallegos, and revisited the country twice in 1998 and 1999. His relations with the contemporary Chilean literary world were stormy (see the end of “I Can’t Read” in The Secret of Evil) but his loyalty to Enrique Lihn and Nicanor Parra (who turns 100 in September) was total. I like to think that he has recruited new readers for those two great Chilean poets.
Q: Did you expect Bolaño’s work to find a large public in English when you began translating it?
CA: No, but not because I didn’t think it deserved to be widely read. With the first two books, I was thinking: This could be it, because that’s the way it usually goes. An author who is well known and respected in his or her language usually gets one or two shots in translation, and unless something special happens straight up, he or she falls into the category of authors who have been tried and found not to work. Luckily, Barbara Epler at New Directions didn’t approach Bolaño in that way: she was committed to waiting for something special to happen, which it did, with the story collection Last Evenings on Earth, and then with The Savage Detectives, which was published by FSG.
Q: What kind of book did you set out to write with Roberto Bolaño’s Fiction?
CA: Well, it’s a scholarly book, but I wanted it to be clear as possible. I wanted it to be as true as possible to the complexity of Bolaño’s work, even if that meant qualifying my arguments quite often. I wanted to do justice to textures and fine details, but also to connect the fiction with large ethical and political questions, such as: Does Bolaño glorify brawling? Is his work romantic? Is it anarchistic? The book as a whole has an arc: it moves, very roughly speaking, from form to content to value, and there’s a shift in the conceptual background from narratology to philosophy.
Q: What was the most difficult part of the book to write?
CA: The Appendix, although there I wasn’t writing so much as collating and translating. It lines up the real murder victims in Ciudad Juárez from 1995 to 1998, as documented in Sergio González Rodríguez’s Huesos en el desierto, with the fictional victims in “The Part about the Crimes” in 2666. Comparing González Rodríguez’s notes with the descriptions in 2666 revealed that although Bolaño departs quite freely from his documentary base, especially in the second half of “The Part about the Crimes,” he matches the number of women murdered and reproduces the terrible rhythm of the crimes with a scrupulous exactitude.
Q: How do you see the future reception of Bolaño’s work?
CA: I don’t think it’s ever really urgent to read the book that everyone’s talking about. If it’s good, it will still be good in a few years’ time, and hopefully in many years’ time as well. Readers who think like that will go on discovering Bolaño when he’s old news. And the experience of immersion in his fiction will still be fresh for them. As for critics and scholars, we’ve just begun to analyze his work, and there’s a lot more to be discovered in it. The unpublished manuscript materials may oblige us to reorganize our ideas, but even without them, a book like 2666 is a very deep mine. Bolaño was a wonderfully generous correspondent, so we may one day see a collection of his letters (and e-mails). He already has a rich and eventful life as a character in fiction, from the work of well-established novelists like Javier Cercas (Soldiers of Salamis) and Rodrigo Fresán (Mantra) to that of emerging writers like Oswaldo Zavala (Siembra de nubes), Carlos Almonte (Viento blanco) and Pablo Martín Sánchez (Fricciones).
I think we can expect to find Bolaño reappearing in novels, stories and poems, because he’s an author we get attached to, and it’s natural to want to prolong his life in imagination. A recent article by Ignacio Echevarría describes the powerful “Bolaño Effect” that is making itself felt well beyond the field of literature. One manifestation of this is the recent film Il futuro, directed by Alicia Scherson and freely based on Bolaño’s A Little Lumpen Novelita, recently translated by Natasha Wimmer (New Directions will be publishing it in September).
The following is a trailer for the exhibition of the Bolaño archive at the Barcelona Center for Contemporary Culture in 2013: