Roberto Bolaño Biography

Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Roberto Bolaño was born Roberto Bolaño Ávalos on April 28, 1953, in Santiago, Chile. His father was a truck driver and amateur boxer, and his mother was a mathematics teacher. The family lived in a series of small cities in south-central Chile before moving to Mexico City, Mexico, in 1968.

Bolaño thrived in the Mexican capital, reading voraciously and eclectically, and he dropped out of school to immerse himself in political and literary culture. He was especially devoted to poetry. Very much in the spirit of the hippie era, he joined a Mexican communist group and traveled to El Salvador to take part in the leftist ferment there. In 1973, he returned to Chile to support the Socialist government of President Salvador Allende. Not long afterward, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte staged a coup. Bolaño was briefly placed under arrest.

In 1974, Bolaño was again in Mexico City, where he cofounded the reactionary literary movement infrarealism, which was influenced by Dadaism and the French Surrealist poet André Breton. Intent upon disrupting the staid establishment poetry of the era, Bolaño and his friends soon became notorious for disrupting poetry readings by shouting out their own poetry from the audience.

Infrarealism, however, proved short-lived. The movement’s brief life, and a failed romance, led Bolaño to leave Mexico in 1977. After a year traveling through France, Spain, and North Africa, he settled for a while in...

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Roberto Bolaño Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Roberto Bolaño (boh-LAHN-yoh) Ávalos was born on April 28, 1953, in Santiago, Chile. His father was a truck driver and amateur boxer, his mother a mathematics teacher. Although dyslexic and nearsighted, Bolaño was an enthusiastic reader as a child. The family lived in a series of small cities in south central Chile before moving to Mexico City in 1968.

Bolaño thrived in the Mexican capital, reading voraciously and eclectically, and he dropped out of school to immerse himself in the political and literary culture. He was especially devoted to poetry. Very much in the spirit of the hippie era, Bolaño grew his hair long and had a permanently hungry look. He joined the Trotskyite faction of Mexican communism and traveled to El Salvador to take part in the leftist movements there. In 1973, he returned to Chile to support the socialist government of President Salvador Allende. Not long afterward, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte staged a coup, and Bolaño worked as a courier in the resistance to the military regime. He was arrested and spent eight days in jail as a political prisoner.

In 1974, Bolaño was again in Mexico City. There, with his friend Mario Santiago, he formed a reactionary literary movement, Infrarealism, influenced by Dadaism and the French Surrealist poet André Breton. Intent upon disrupting the staid establishment poetry of such figures as Octavio Paz (who won the 1990 Nobel Prize in Literature), Bolaño and Santiago soon became notorious for disrupting poetry readings by shouting out their own poetry from the audience. His first book of poetry was published in 1976, entitled Reinventar el amor (reinventing love), and a similar volume appeared shortly...

(The entire section is 695 words.)

Roberto Bolaño Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Toward the end of the twentieth century critics began to recognize in Roberto Bolaño a writer of force and invention beyond any other in Spanish-language literature. He is regularly called a genius, a trailblazer, the premier novelist of his generation, and a writer for the new era. Although his roots in the last century’s Latin American literature are pronounced, Bolaño had no interest in imitating the Magical Realism of such writers as García Márquez or the nationalism of the “boom” of the 1960’s. Because of that, Bolaño’s work is refreshing, and it became a central influence in Latin American literature.

Nevertheless, to call Bolaño a Latin American writer, however much the continent flavors his fiction, is misleading. Much of his work takes place in the United States, Europe, or Africa. It is more accurate to consider his Latin Americanism as the impetus for his vagabond-like explorations of experience than as a regional or racial mentality. As another of his translators, Natasha Wimmer, notes in her preface to The Savage Detectives, Bolaño’s appeal has been broad because he was not really from any one place, although he had ties to Chile, Mexico, and Spain; instead, he wrote postnationalist fiction. It is appropriate to an era when the status of nations is changing in the globalization of culture.