2666: Patti Smith meets Roberto Bolaño

“Literature is a vast forest and the masterpieces are the lakes, the towering trees or strange trees, the lovely eloquent flowers, the hidden caves, but a forest is also made up of ordinary trees, patches of grass, puddles, clinging vines, mushrooms and little wildflowers.” Bolaño

“Part of Bolaño’s genius is to ask, via ironies so sharp you can cut your hands on his pages” Stacy D’Erasmo

Roberto Bolaño Ávalos (28 April 1953 – 15 July 2003) was a Chilean novelist and poet. Son of a truck driver (who was also a boxer) and a teacher. He and his sister spent their early years in southern and coastal Chile. By his own account, he was a skinny, nearsighted, bookish, and unpromising child. He was dyslexic and was often bullied at school, where he felt as an outsider.

“How do you recognize a work of art? How can it be kept apart, even if only for a moment, from its critics, commentators, its indefatigable plagiarists, its defacers and its final destiny in solitude? Simple — just translate it.” Bolaño – Entre Paréntesis (2004)

“Among the many acid pleasures of the work of Roberto Bolaño, who died at 50 in 2003, is his idea that culture, in particular literary culture, is a whore. In the face of political repression, upheaval and danger, writers continue to swoon over the written word, and this, for Bolaño, is the source both of nobility and of pitch-black humor. In his novel “The Savage Detectives,” two avid young Latino poets never lose faith in their rarefied art no matter the vicissitudes of life, age and politics. If they are sometimes ridiculous, they are always heroic. But what can it mean, he asks us and himself, in his dark, extraordinary, stinging novella “By Night in Chile,” that the intellectual elite can write poetry, paint and discuss the finer points of avant-garde theater as the junta tortures people in basements? The word has no national loyalty, no fundamental political bent; it’s a genie that can be summoned by any would-be master. Part of Bolaño’s genius is to ask, via ironies so sharp you can cut your hands on his pages, if we perhaps find a too-easy comfort in art, if we use it as anesthetic, excuse and hide-out in a world that is very busy doing very real things to very real human beings. Is it courageous to read Plato during a military coup or is it something else?” – Stacy D’Erasmo, The New York Times Book Review, February 24, 2008

“Reading Roberto Bolaño is like hearing the secret story, being shown the fabric of the particular, watching the tracks of art and life merge at the horizon and linger there like a dream from which we awake inspired to look more attentively at the World”. Francine Prose “The Folklore of Exile”, a review of Last Evenings on Earth (2006) in The New York Times (9 July 2006)

In 1999 he won the Rómulo Gallegos Prize for his novel Los detectives salvajes (The Savage Detectives), and in 2008 he was posthumously awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction for his novel 2666, which was described by board member Marcela Valdes as a “work so rich and dazzling that it will surely draw readers and scholars for ages.”

The Savage Detectives has been compared by Jorge Edwards to Julio Cortázar’s Rayuela and José Lezama Lima’s Paradiso.

In a review in El País, the Spanish critic Ignacio Echevarría declared it “the novel that Borges would have written.” (An avid reader, Bolaño often expressed his love for Borges and Cortázar’s work, and once concluded an overview of contemporary Argentinian literature by saying that “one should read Borges more.”) “Bolaño’s genius is not just the extraordinary quality of his writing, but also that he does not conform to the paradigm of the Latin American writer”, said Echeverria, former literary editor of El País, Spain’s leading daily. “His writing is neither magical realism, nor baroque nor localist, but an imaginary, extraterritorial mirror of Latin America, more as a kind of state of mind than a specific place.”

A key episode in Bolaño’s life, mentioned in different forms in several of his works, occurred in 1973, when he left Mexico for Chile to “help build the revolution” by supporting the socialist regime of Salvador Allende. After Augusto Pinochet’s coup against Allende, Bolaño was arrested on suspicion of being a terrorist and spent eight days in custody.He was rescued by two former classmates who had become prison guards. Bolaño describes this experience in the story “Dance Card.” According to the version of events he provides in this story, he was not tortured as he had expected, but “in the small hours I could hear them torturing others; I couldn’t sleep and there was nothing to read except a magazine in English that someone had left behind. The only interesting article in it was about a house that had once belonged to Dylan Thomas. . . . I got out of that hole thanks to a pair of detectives who had been at high school with me in Los Ángeles.” The episode is also recounted, from the point of view of Bolaño’s former classmates, in the story “Detectives.” Nevertheless, since 2009 Bolaño’s Mexican friends from that era have cast doubts on whether he was even in Chile in 1973 at all

“That night when he went back to his hotel, he wept for his dead children and all the other castrated boys, for his own lost youth, for those who were young no longer and those who died young, for those who fought for Salvador Allende and those who were too scared to fight.” – Last Evenings on Earth (2006)

The novel 2666 was published in 2004. Allegedly a first draft submitted to his publisher prior to his death, the text of 2666 was the major preocupation of the last five years of his life.

At more than 1,100 pages (898 pages in the English-language edition), the novel is divided in five “parts”, four and a half of which were finished before Bolaño’s death[citation needed]. Focused on the unsolved and still ongoing serial murders of Ciudad Juárez (Santa Teresa in the novel), the apocalyptic 2666 depicts the horror of the 20th century through a wide cast of characters, including the secretive, Pynchon-like German writer Archimboldi – whom four literary critics are engaged on a quest to find.

“If I were to say what I really think I would be arrested or shut away in a lunatic asylum. Come on, I am sure that it would be the same for everyone.” – As quoted in Mining Mirror Vol. 19 (2006)

Photographs by Patti Smith. Left: Roberto Bolaño’s chair. Right: Arthur Rimbaud’s utensils.

During an hourlong interview across the street at Powell’s Books on Hawthorne, Smith said she’s written four or five unpublished books besides “Just Kids,” her new memoir about her relationship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe. She also said she’s recording a new album, that her songwriting is strongly influenced by her love of opera, and that she plans her tours around her desire to visit the graves of writers she admires, including Roberto Bolaño and Mikhail Bulgahov.


“As a kid I would get my parents to drop me off at my local library on their way to work during the summer holidays and I would walk home at night. For several years I read the children’s library until I finished the children’s library. Then I moved into the adult library and slowly worked my way through them. With the kids’ library I did it alphabetically but I discovered I couldn’t do that with the adult one because there were too many big boring books to read, so I did it by interesting covers.” Patti

“Never in your grief be afraid to laugh or smile,” Patti


7 thoughts on “2666: Patti Smith meets Roberto Bolaño

  1. Pingback: 2666: Patti Smith meets Roberto Bolaño | Galactic Jukebox

  2. Pingback: Pozycjonowanie

  3. Non mi capita mai di fare commenti sui blog che leggo, ma in questo caso faccio un’eccezione, perch il blog merita davvero e voglio scriverlo a chiare lettere.

  4. Pingback: When the Future is Not Now | pigeon weather productions

  5. Pingback: RossoScarpaLos detectives salvajes, de Roberto Bolaño

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