Roberto Bolaño Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Roberto Bolaño (boh-LAWN-yoh) was primarily a poet. He published his first chapbook, Reinventar al amor (reinventing love), in 1976. In 1979, he edited a collection of poetry, Muchachos desnudos bajo el arcoiris de fuego (naked guys under a rainbow of fire), which reflects the work of an aesthetic movement he cofounded. He continued writing and publishing poetry until his death. Bolaño also wrote reviews, journalistic columns, critical articles, commentaries on literature and society, and autobiographical essays. Some of these are collected in the volume Entre paréntesis: Ensayos, artículos, y discursos, 1998-2003 (2004; in parentheses: essays, articles, and speeches).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The publication of Los detectives salvajes in 1998 made Roberto Bolaño a sensation among readers of the Spanish language, as did the novel’s 2007 translation, The Savage Detectives, for English readers. In 1999, the novel earned him the prestigious Rómulo Gallegos Prize, the Spanish equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, as well as the Herralde Prize the same year. Among his other awards is the Municipal Prize of Santiago for the short-story collection Llamadas telefónicas (1997; phone calls). Many critics consider him the greatest Latin American fiction writer of the second half of the twentieth century, particularly because he departed from the tradition of Magical Realism of writers such as Gabriel García Márquez.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Define “visceral realism” in The Savage Detectives. Is it a literary movement, a way of life, a fraud, an affectation, or a mixture of these?

Roberto Bolaño’s novels frequently have a central mystery or shadowy character that appears to motivate the plot, but they are never themselves completely elucidated. Why?

Bolaño employs multiple points of view and narrative voices in some of his novels. Discuss how this technique builds suspense in The Savage Detectives. Does it lead to a resolution?

Is Father Urrutia’s attitude toward literature in By Night in Chile similar to Bolaño’s?

What details in Nazi Literature in the Americas suggest that it is fiction instead of a reference work? Discuss their effect, such as humor, satire, and political or literary critique, among others.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Andrews, Chris. “Varieties of Evil.” Meanjin 66 (September, 2007): 200-206. Andrews discusses Bolaño’s portrayal of state-sponsored crime in Latin America in his works of fiction.

Corral, Will H. “Portrait of the Writer as a Noble Savage.” World Literature Today 80 (November/December, 2006): 4-8. A concise but comprehensive literary biography of Bolaño that discusses the influences on his choice of subjects and styles for his works of fiction.

Deb, Siddhartha. “The Wandering Years: Roberto Bolaño’s Nomadic Fiction.” Harper’s, April, 2007. In this magazine article, Deb analyzes the types of protagonist included in Bolaño’s novels Distant Star and By Night in Chile.

Ocasio, Rafael. Literature of Latin America. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004. A good, updated survey of modern Latin American poetry and fiction.

Zalewski, Daniel. “Vagabonds: Roberto Bolaño and His Fractured Masterpiece.” The New Yorker, March 26, 2007. Zalewski provides much biographical information on Bolaño in this magazine article to aid readers in an examination of the novel The Savage Detectives.