Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review: DISTANT STAR, by Roberto Bolaño

Distant Star, by Roberto Bolaño. Published 2004 by New Directions. Literary Fiction. Crime fiction. Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews.

Blood all around. That's my primary memory and impression of Distant Star, which I read back in the early spring for a crime fiction reading group I belonged to. Roberto Bolaño's novel, really little more than a novella, is about a man who infiltrates a circle of artists and poets and makes his first big splash by murdering a pair of charismatic sisters. The narrator then follows the career of this man for years until finally there is a confrontation.

Set in the 1970s after the rise of Pinochet in Chile, Bolaño creates a truly chilling picture of life in a dictatorship and how art can be used to track and trap political dissidents.

Alberto-Ruiz Tangle is the young man, a Chilean air force officer also known as Carlos Wieder. The book is an expansion on Bolaño's Nazi Literature in the Americas but it's not just that. The narrator tries to keep track of Tangle/Wieder and document his crimes through zines, books, articles- anything he can get his hands on and at the same time the narrator and by extension the reader learns more and more about atrocities committed during Pinochet's regime.

Then the narrative moves to Europe and we also learn about the ex-patriate community there and the struggles of political refugees to carve out a new life and find community. And what happens when that community is infiltrated by one of the very people folks sought to escape.

When I saw this book on the reading list I wasn't too excited, because I tried to read Bolaño's 2666 when it came out (it was quite the hipster "it" book for a while) and found it unreadably language-driven with not nearly enough plot to keep me interested. This shorter book was a better fit for my plot-driven tastes. It kind of haunts me to this day.

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.