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Mexican Masks: the ambassadorial posts

23 Apr

Octavio Paz centenary

Day 1

What is a creative ambassador? According to the blurb from the Arts Council of Wales, ‘The Creative Wales Ambassadors Awards are made by nomination and recognise . . . individual achievement in the arts along with the aim to raise the profile of Welsh culture outside of Wales.’ My application was called Unfinished Journey and in it I wrote the following (forgive me reproducing this paragraph in full, but I thought it fair to present what I aim to do):

‘Modern journeys often awaken in the traveller a sense of ‘travelling without seeing’, an idea that is perhaps uniquely contemporary. The title suggests that rather than having a fixed point of departure and arrival, all travel is a continuum, and that the only valid objective is to sustain the exquisite tension of the unfinished journey. My project is to research and write an account of the process of travel as a work in progress. Reports will initially appear as journal entries, posted on the blog written by my alter ego, Ricardo Blanco, as we tour Latin America in search of its poets and its wanderers; but this will only be a part of the narrative, as the project will also take us through journeys past, as well as across a very personal Latin America of memory and the imagination. Unfinished Journey is linked to, but discrete from, preparation of my forthcoming anthology of Contemporary Latin American Poetry (Seren Books, 2016), and the Cardiff-based Fiction Fiesta, and it builds on friendships with writers, and alliances with cultural organisations across Latin America. Unfinished Journey is sponsored by Wales Literature Exchange and the Club de Traductores Literarios de Buenos Aires, Argentina, with supporting partners at the Universidad Austral, in Validivia, Chile; the International Poetry Festival of Medellín, Colombia; and the Periódico de Poesía, at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City.’

It seems only fitting, in Octavio Paz’s Centenary year (yes, it’s not all about Dylan) that I should begin this journey in the country of, quite possibly, the 20th century’s finest ambassador for poetry. Paz, following the admirable tradition of Latin American countries in giving jobs to their poets, was also a real ambassador, to India, during which time he wrote some extraordinarily perceptive essays on Indian art and culture.

I first became interested in the literature of Mexico through the poetry of Paz and the fiction of Carlos Fuentes (I discovered years later that the two men detested each other). At a tangent, I also read the weird, apocryphal books of Carlos Castaneda with great enthusiasm, until at some point I felt he had gone off somewhere I was unable to follow. But Paz, whose Labyrinth of Solitude I encountered when I was 20, and which made a lasting impression, says this: ‘The European considers Mexico to be a country on the margin of universal history, and everything that is distant from the centre of his society strikes him as strange and impenetrable.’

I am not certain this is as true today as it was when it was written half a century ago: Europe has changed too, manifesting a slow but steady willingness to embrace minority or ‘peripheral’ perspectives (although this is not to say the work does not remain to be done, not least in the unravelling of an archaic class system based on an established white male elite). Likewise, as the Guatemalan writer Eduardo Halfon reminded me last year, the history and present of Latin America is as much based on race today as ever it was. This and other considerations, specifically those relating to Mexico, will occupy my attention, along with – I hope – more quotidian observations about the places I go and the people I meet.

So it is that today I am headed to the University in Mexico City, to meet students celebrating the festival of the book and the rose (Fiesta del libro y la rosa).

This celebration takes place on St George’s day, across the Hispanic world. I first became familiar with it during my time in Catalunya (of which St Jordi [i.e. George] is also the patron saint), a day in which lovers present each other with gifts of a book and a rose (in olden times the woman gave the man a book and the man gave the woman a rose, as women who read books were presumably not be trusted, but thankfully that part of the tradition has now been abandoned).

Later in the week, and in keeping with my brief of ‘raising the profile of Welsh culture outside of Wales’, I will be giving a lecture on Dylan Thomas in Spanish (a first for me, but given his Centenary, and given the abundance of translations of his poetry – he is, I discovered with some shock, after T.S. Eliot, the most translated 20th Century English language poet – I’m prepared to give it a punt); and I will seek to bring him into some kind of historical context, alongside R.S. Thomas and David Jones in a breakneck survey of Welsh poetry in English. Otherwise, over the next 24 days, I will be giving talks and readings of my own stuff (in the meticulous translations of Jorge Fondebrider) and travelling around the central part of Mexico, finding things to Blanquiloquise about.

‘Mexico is a country of many faces’, a teacher from Yucatán told me two and a half years ago on a previous visit to Mexico, as he drove me to the high school at Zapotlanejo where he taught history (please see Blanco’s blog about that trip in the post Dog-throwing in Zapotlanejo and other rare feats). These many faces, as in any other place, frequently appear as masks. It is something to bear in mind, as Octavio Paz reminds us in his ‘Mexican Masks’ chapter of The Labyrinth of Solitude, casting as harsh an eye on his own countrymen as R.S. Thomas ever did on the Welsh:

‘The Mexican, whether young or old, criollo or mestizo, general or labourer or lawyer, seems to me to be a person who shuts himself away to protect himself: his face is a mask and so is his smile. In his harsh solitude, which is both barbed and courteous, everything serves him as a defence: silence and words, politeness and disdain, irony and resignation. He is jealous of his own privacy and that of others, and he is afraid even to glance at his neighbour, because a mere glance can trigger the rage of these electrically charged spirits . . . his language is full of reticences, of metaphors and allusions, of unfinished phrases, while his silence is full of tints, folds, thunderheads, sudden rainbows, indecipherable threats . . . The Mexican is always remote, from the world and from other people. And also from himself.’

 

PS. I should note that in my last minute preparations for the Mexico leg of my ambassadorial journeyings, I read several essays from a collection of pieces on Art and Literature by Paz, in a book loaned to me, I realised with some horror, by Iwan Bala in 2001, and which, shamefully, I never returned (the non-return of loaned books stands out for me as a cardinal sin, so I am guilty of vile hypocrisy).  The book is covered in Iwan’s entertaining annotations, in both Welsh and English, an added bonus, to which I have now added my own (in pencil). Iwan, if you are reading this, I will get the book back to you on my return to Wales, 13 years on, but hey, better late than never.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juan Rulfo and the terror of the blank page

4 Jan

 Juan Rulfo and accomplice

Juan Rulfo and accomplice.

This morning, after a restless night, I spent a couple of hours picking up books from the shelves around my room, almost at random, dipping into them, dropping them on the floor, where I will find them later and replace them, equally randomly, between new and often unsuitable neighbours. Sometimes I stop and write down a line or two in a notebook, then move on. When I look at the notebook some days from now, I will be curious to know what the point of all this is.

Following a recent discussion about writers who stop writing, and of writers who kill their darlings (see last post, 1 Jan), I start thinking about the Mexican writer and photographer Juan Rulfo, and return, in my grazing, to Pedro Páramo, a brilliant and perplexing short novel, which, on its appearance in 1955 made such a profound impression on the Hispanic literary world, from Borges to Asturias to García Márquez. (Readers of Spanish can find the latter’s account of his discovery of Rulfo’s book here).

I read Pedro Páramo some years ago and return to it now with curiosity, because my memory of it, I discover, is as vague and dreamlike as the book itself.

According to Susan Sontag, in her introduction to the English translation, by Margaret Sayers Peden:

Rulfo has said that he carried Pedro Páramo inside him for many years before he knew how to write it. Rather, he was writing hundreds of pages and then discarding them. He once called the novel an exercise in elimination.

“The practice of writing the short story disciplined me,” he said, “and made me see the need to disappear and to leave my characters the freedom to talk at will, which provoked, it would seem, a lack of structure. Yes, there is a structure in Pedro Páramo, but it is a structure made of silences, of hanging threads, of cut scenes, where everything occurs in a simultaneous time which is a no-time.”

Rulfo’s life, as well as his book, has become legendary. He left behind only around 300 pages of writing; but those pages, according to García Márquez, are as important to us as the 300 or so extant pages of Sophocles – an extraordinary claim, you might think. Rulfo published his books in early middle age (there is a collection of short stories, translated as The Burning Plain, and another short novel, Ell gallo de oro), but for the next 30 years he did not publish anything, although he had taken up photography in the 1940s and continued taking (and occasionally publishing) pictures throughout his life. He was an inveterate traveller, and drinker. He destroyed the long awaited second novel, La Cordillera, a few years before his death at the age of 68 in 1986. Since his death his widow has overseen the publication of his notebooks, and fragments from the unfinished novel, although, as she confesses in her introduction to the notebooks, Rulfo would not have approved, and that she felt she might be doing “something awful” in publishing them.

Juan Rulfo explained his long literary silence in an interview as follows: “Writing causes me to undergo tremendous anxiety. The empty white page is a terrible thing.”

 

 

 

 

 

‘Terra Nostra’ by Carlos Fuentes

17 May

Incredible the first animal that dreamed of another animal. Monstrous the first vertebrate that succeeded in standing on two feet and thus spread terror among the beasts still normally and happily crawling close to the ground through the slime of creation. Astounding the first telephone call, the first boiling water, the first song, the first loincloth.

Carlos Fuentes, who died this week, wrote a great number of novels and stories, as well as some exceptionally fine essays. He was, along with Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez, Alejo Carpentier and Octavio Paz, representative of a generation of Latin American authors who took the world by storm in the 1960s and 70s.

My first and most lasting encounter with Fuentes took place when I was 22 years old and recovering from an accident, when I read the fabulous and hallucinatory Terra Nostra, the opening lines of which are reproduced above. In spite of the far greater success of his other novels, such as The Death of Artemio Cruz, Change of Skin and The Old Gringo (made into a movie with Gregory Peck), for me it is Terra Nostra, a sprawling, futuristic epic, concerned with the beginnings of Europe’s occupation of America, the phantom marriage of Elizabeth, Queen of England, with Phillip II of Spain, and dark investigations into medieval Paris, all tied up and shaken (as far as I can remember) with lashing of surrealist humour and a good deal of neo-baroque terror, that will summarize  Fuentes’ achievement.

Funnily enough, Andrés Neuman’s description of his own novel, Traveller of the Century, as ‘a futuristic novel that happens in the past’ comes to mind as an entirely appropriate description of Fuentes’ antecedent.

In his Introduction to the Dalkey Archive edition, Jorge Volpi writes: “Terra Nostra is not a simple novel. It is a malfunctioning time tunnel; the entrance to a labyrinth of mirrors; a hell – or a purgatory – in which all memories and echoes intermingle; the gigantic rotting place of history; a jig-saw puzzle put together incorrectly or Chinese boxes that become deeper every moment . . . the underwater tunnel that joins Europe and America; the black hole that connects past, present and future . . .”

I have Terra Nostra in front of me now, the 2003 edition, with an afterword by Milan Kundera. Nearly 800 pages of it, and the pages are big. I wonder if re-reading can ever re-capture the excitement and hunger of reading a great book the first time round? Maybe the pleasure of re-reading are entirely distinct from those of first-time discovery. Maybe I’ll just be disappointed. Maybe I’ll just peek inside, flick through the pages, see what leaps out . . .  perhaps this is a preferable way to revisit old favourite books and places.

The Lady Macbeth Stain Remover

4 Dec

The Guadalajara Book Fair closes today and Blanco is back in Wales. A friend emails from Mexico that they (meaning the assassins referred to in Friday’s post) ‘have still not shot any writers yet, even the bad ones.’ I am relieved, as I would certainly like to go back to the feria del libro, if I am invited. Now that The Vagabond’s Breakfast has been accepted by Argentinian publisher Bajo la Luna, there is a possibility that I might be. For those who read Spanish, an account of Blanco’s performance (and a suitably haggard representation of the author) entitled ‘La mirada del vagabundo/The gaze of the vagabond’, which was hosted quite delightfully by Jorge F. Hernández last Tuesday can be found here.

Although I claimed last during the week that I would not be reading any novels for a year, I cheated, since I was already reading David Enrique Spellman’s Far South when I started the immense The Kindly Ones, and finished it off in Atlanta airport while waiting for my change of plane. Far South is an intriguing experiment in genre writing by a novelist (Spellman is a nom de plume and it is not for me to reveal his identity) who has changed style and theme with each of his four novels. This latest offering is pacey and political, with a fairly representative hard-boiled private dick narrator, subverting the detective novel genre at the same time as subscribing (mostly) to its format. This subversion of a particular mode of telling (or of reading) extends far beyond the book itself: it presumes an invented world – like all fiction – but one which leads into labyrinthine tunnels of consequence, if one takes up the challenge. Spellman is, essentially, questioning the way we invent and receive stories, and his several narrators are all dependent on each other to secure a sequential unreliability. And there is more: as I mentioned in my post from Montevideo, ‘Far South’ is itself a larger project – or collective – consisting of videos and audio clips and installations, to which punters can subscribe and add comments. It might well be a direction that narrative fiction will follow in the near future, particularly well-adapted to e-readers/online reading, as one can switch from written text to videoclip to audio as and when one wishes. I am fascinated to see what ‘Spellman’ comes up with next.

As I still had the onward flight to London to look forward to, I read 24 for 3 by Jennie Walker (another alias, this time for poet and publisher Charles Boyle), which doesn’t really break my commitment as, at 138 sparsely populated pages, it is a short novella or long story, therefore not falling within the prohibited zone. I thoroughly enjoyed 24 for 3, which I finished on the train from Gatwick to Cardiff. It is a delicious story, told with classical economy and a real delight in its subject matter – cricket, sex, parenthood, love – which teases the pleasure points and inspires the reader to drift into secondary or tertiary digression. Surely one of the more neglected benefits of reading, this, the capacity of a piece of writing to inspire creative daydreaming. A gorgeous, elevating read.

I heard the Mexican poet Luis Felipe Fabre read the poem below at an open-air reading in Rosario, Argentina at the end of September. Later that night I went out with him and a few other poets from the festival to a rather poor transvestite show. I never quite got the idea of men dressing up as women. I mean, I don’t get what’s supposed to be funny about it. It seems to particularly affect Latin cultures, which traditionally have a strong macho streak. Perhaps I’m missing something, but if so cannot imagine what it might be. Luis didn’t seem particularly interested either, and we went along because our friends – Los Gays  – were going and we were a part of their gang so went along too.

Luis’ poetry engages with social and political issues of the everyday while drawing back from the more overt banalities of social realism. His poetry collections are Vida quieta (2000), Una temporada en el Mictlán (2003) and Cabaret Provenza (2007). Anyway, here is my translation of the poem he read that midday in Rosario, which gives a flavour of the quotidian presence of violence in Mexico, in which a TV commercial is imagined that reflects the irrepressible logic of consumer culture, flogging a cosmetic product that can wipe away even the most corrosive traces of everyday murder.

 

Infommercial                                                                  Luis Felipe Fabre

 

Señora Housewife: are you sick and tired

of scrubbing night and day

clots of impossible-to-remove blood

from the clothes of all your family?

 

Do the entrails spattered on the walls of your house

prevent you from sleeping?

Have you found yourself exclaiming like a sleepwalker:

“Out, damned spot, out I say!”?

 

Now you can buy

Lady Macbeth Stain Remover

and put an end to those viscous nightmares!

 

Lady Macbeth Stain Remover

is made up from a base of scavenger micro-organisms

that will do your dirty work for you

eliminating

cadaverous remains

without damaging the surfaces to which they are stuck:

scientifically proven!

 

Señora, you know it: killing

is easy. The difficult part comes later.

 

But now

Lady Macbeth Stain Remover offers you

an incredible solution that will revolutionize domestic hygiene:

 

Say goodbye to the trace of brains from your favourite armchair!

Say goodbye to those bloodied rugs!

Take a note now of the number that appears on your screen

or call 01800 666

and receive along with your purchase

a multifunctional applicator and a packet of body bags

absolutely free!

 

With the Lady Macbeth Stain Remover

you will be able to sleep

like a true queen.

 

 

 

 

Books and guns in Guadalajara

2 Dec

One of the great pleasures of the Guadalajara Feria del Libro is the spirit of festivity and celebration. Being a Latin affair, the partying is intense and persistent. Fortunately for his readers, Blanco is a restrained sort of chap these days, and since time is limited, would prefer to have a quiet meal with friends rather than to go off on reckless jaunts into the rosy-fingered dawn. However on Tuesday night there was a big do at the house of the Book Fair President, Raúl Padilla, and I went along, easing past the ranks of some very frightening bodyguards into the fabulously well-furnished salón, to enjoy a buffet of epic proportions, and to eavesdrop on the spirited banter of the guests. There is a bit of a bun fight as to who will be invited to be the host country (this year it is Germany’s turn, and next year Chile). There has never been an English-speaking nation, but Ireland are working on a bid for 2013, which might be fun.

 

Blanco with Wendy Guerra and Andrés Neuman

 

Blanco was also able to meet up, quite fortuitously, with two of his favourite Spanish-language writers, both of whom he recently translated for Poetry Wales, the enchanting Cuban Wendy Guerra (who has just brought out a fictionalised account of Anaïs Nin’s time in Cuba called Posar desnuda en La Habana) and the no less gorgeous – and brilliant – Andrés Neuman, whose prize-winning novel Traveller of the Century will be available in English translation in February (published simultaneously by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the USA and Pushkin Press in the UK).

While talking of favourite writers, I must confess to having met two of my literary heroes, neither of them well enough known in the Anglo-Saxon world, but giants in Latin America. I was introduced to Juan Gelman, the finest Argentinian poet of his generation and a strong contender for the Nobel Prize. Gelman’s is a complicated and tragic story, the essentials of which can be read here, but if you have not read him, please try the excellent translations by Katherine Hedeen and Victor Rodríguez Nuñez in The Poems of Sidney West, published by Salt.

The novelist Sergio Ramírez – who was vice-president of Nicaragua after the Sandinista revolution of 1979, but has since seriously fallen out with the corrupt regime of his onetime-comrade, Daniel Ortega – is perhaps best known for his own powerful and moving account of the revolution, Adiós muchachos but his short stories and a couple of his novels are available in English also. The two of them were enjoying a few tequilas, so I didn’t hang around, but Gelman was very genial, and seemed genuinely pleased when my friend told him I was working on a selected poems of Joaquín Giannuzzi into English (forthcoming with CB Editions).

Strangely enough, I didn’t find out Wednesday night, but the week before the Book Fair there was a mass execution carried out in the city, and the bodies of 26 men, bound and gagged, were found in three trucks only a mile from the Expo Centre where the Book Fair was held (read more here).

Since the Book Fair was celebrating its 25th anniversary the joke was going around that they had chosen to murder 25 and one for luck. Or something. Just to give a signal. It illustrates perfectly the precarious balance of daily life in Mexico today; the contrast between the genuine warmth and hospitality of the Mexican people and the horrific and appalling violence that erupts with such regularity, and which so profoundly colours the outside world’s perception of this fascinating, dangerous and beautiful country.

 

 

 

 

 

The Holy Coyote

29 Nov

What are the chances of bashing your head on the protuberant arm of the TV bracket twice in your hotel room in the space of ten minutes? The second time my head bled so profusely by the time I got to the bathroom I looked like an extra from a zombie/slash/horror movie. Never mind. I’ve moved the table where I type away from the wall now. As far as it can possibly go.

Today I was taken to lunch in El Santo Coyote restaurant, and in the shady garden (where, as usual, according to the sign, invasion is prohibited – please see my post from Montevideo on this recurrent theme) complete with waterfall, your man comes to the table with mortar and pestle made from volcanic rock and, after asking if you like your salsa hot or what, he begins to pummel it into shape before your eyes. With chilli, garlic, some variety of parsley, and then tomato. And hell, yes, it works.

The blurb on the menu of The Holy Coyote tells of the thirteen Sioux tribes and all that shamanistic stuff. I love it. All my Carlos Castaneda comes flooding back: I will meet my ally soon, or dance with coyotes into the dark chasms of forgetting. But probably not tonight. After the bump on my head I’m half way there anyway, forgot just about everything today, including my ticket for the Herta Müller dramatization/reading at the theatre. I’ve forgotten what else I forgot but will probably find out tomorrow if I manage to sleep.

As for the food from the north of Mexico – so not, strictly speaking, indigenous to Guadalajara – I take off my hat, the hat that would, if it existed, cover my poor skull. But since my literary activities don’t begin in earnest until tomorrow, and the sun is shining, it was good to look around and see what is what.

But without invading anything or anyone, if possible.

And before they serve you any lunch you must first answer the riddle posed by the two sacred dollies of the coyote shrine

 

 

 

 

 

Down Mexico Way

26 Nov

Over the next few days, the International Book Fair of Guadalajara will be taking place in Mexico.

Guadalajara is noteworthy for actually inviting numbers of that marginal group in the production of the book, the writer – rather than just the important figures, the publishers and literary agents, for whom these affairs are generally designed. Blanco’s previous visits to Book Fairs (London, twice, and Istanbul, once) apart from being immensely tedious, impressed on him the fact that writers merely represented the messy, grubby end of the publishing process, and if it were at all possible, the agents and publishers would prefer to dispose with them altogether.

Anyhow, the rather novel idea of inviting writers as a major feature of the thing has, contrary to expectations, meant that Guadalajara has gained the reputation of being far and away the most interesting of the world’s book fairs, so that is where Blanco is headed after receiving an invitation from the kind festival administrators back in September. It will involve giving a couple of readings, talking about The Vagabond’s Breakfast (if anyone is interested) and making a visit to a local High School where the students will be waltzed around Blanco’s eerily vacant warehouse of wisdom on literary matters.

Blanco was also told, by an informant who would prefer to remain anonymous, that on arrival at the Book Fair, participants are directed towards a discrete figure who will sell them peyote, the fiercely hallucinogenic recreational drug favoured by Carlos Castaneda’s guru Don Juan, and, with a markedly less spiritual dimension, the late lamented Hunter S. Thompson. This is in order to prevent the punters at the festival from getting hold of the wrong stuff, which I am assured can be very bad for the head.  But before anyone starts to fret, or worries that Blanco’s posts from Mexico might become a little, shall we say, confused over the next few days, let me assure you that he is in Guadalajara strictly for professional duties. Indeed, he will leave the recreational side of things to agents and other ne’er-do-wells.

But before packing my toothbrush, just take a look at Mr Scott Pack’s review of Holly Howitt’s unjustly neglected short novel The Schoolboybetter still, buy it yourself. It is, quite simply one of the most impressive first novels (written when the author was 22) that I have read in a long and grizzled career.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roberto Bolaño, disappearances, and the Welsh

21 Jul

“To the south they discovered rail lines and slum soccer fields surrounded by shacks, and they even watched a match . . .  between a team of the terminally ill and a team of the starving to death, and there were two highways that led out of the city, and a gully that had become a garbage dump, and neighborhoods that had grown up lame, or mutilated or blind, and sometimes, in the distance, the silhouettes of industrial warehouses, the horizon of the maquiladoras.”

That is an extract from Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, the epic novel that is largely concerned with a series of murders in ‘Santa Teresa’ – in actual fact Mexico’s Ciudad Juárez, the city which is now the world’s undisputed capital for murder, kidnapping and extortion. Bolaño’s book is eerily prophetic in fingering Juárez as the hell-hole of the universe, and exploring its grisly origins in that role as the place where hundreds of women – many of them workers in the maquiladoras, or sweatshops referred to above – were murdered or ‘simply’ disappeared. And yet the truth is that Bolaño never visited Ciudad Juárez.

There is a fascinating article by Marcela Valdes, titled  ‘Alone Among the Ghosts: Roberto Bolaño’s 2666’ in which the author traces the way in which Bolaño, while terminally ill, pursued his research for the novel by email correspondence with the journalist Sergio González Rodríguez, who had himself come close to being murdered – or ‘disappeared’ – for getting too close to some key people while investigating the murders for a Mexico City newspaper.

Disappearance is for Bolaño (pictured below), a recurring theme – the recurring theme of his fiction. In 2666 a running motif of the novel is the search for the novelist Benno von Archimboldi, who has ‘disappeared’ himself. More generally, the disappearance of young, gifted poets, like the Venegas sisters in Bolaño’s  Nazi Literature in the Americas or the Garmendia twins in Distant Star, or the Font sisters in  The Savage Detectives, becomes, by 2666, the disappearance of anonymous wage-slave immigrants knocking at the door of America with their shitty jobs in the charnel houses of international capitalism, their mutilated bodies slung out in the desert, left abandoned by roadsides and in ditches: this, we are told, is what has happened to the dreams of those Latin Americans, like Bolaño, born in the 1950s, who grew up amid dreams of poetry and revolution, and who saw their countries, in a series of interjections spearheaded by the CIA and Chicago School Economists, used as testing grounds for Shock Doctrine policies and oppressive regimes of the right.

A couple of years ago I had decided to write a piece on the theme of disappearance in the work of Roberto Bolaño when I received an email from the Argentine novelist Andrés Neuman (whose wonderful novel, The Traveller of the Century, will be published in the UK next year) which included, as an attachment, an essay he had written for a Buenos Aires magazine. In it Andrés considers Bolaño’s death as a disappearance, which is not so strange as it sounds since the two writers were close friends, and Andrés’ theme was that, five years after Bolaño’s death, it still felt to Andrés as though – with the huge posthumous fame that Roberto had accrued – he was the victim of some kind of macabre practical joke. The title and content of his article makes much use of the term ‘disappearance’ which for Latin Americans of Roberto’s generation, holds so much significance.

‘Disappearance’: it was a legacy from which Bolaño never escaped, and even though he had effectively become domiciled as a European by the time of his death, he carried that essential Latin American sensibility towards social injustice and radical change that marked his generation.

As a PS, and with all the best will in the world – I am, after all, a proud Welshman – I must share the lines from 2666 that made me almost haemorrhage with laughter when I first read them, and with which I will sign off today’s blog. They are from the fifth part of 2666, in which the young Hans Reiter learns about the people of Britain from his father, a World War One veteran:

“The Welsh are swine” said the one-legged man in reply to a question from his son. “Absolute swine. The English are swine, too, but not as bad as the Welsh. Though really they’re the same, but they make an effort not to seem it, and since they know how to pretend, they succeed. The Scots are bigger swine than the English and only a little better than the Welsh”.

Makes you wonder what the question was.

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