7 Mind-Blowing Books by Roberto Bolaño
Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) was an award-winning Chilean writer, poet, journalist, and critic. Latin American literature experts consider him to be one of the most prominent and influential contemporary Spanish-language authors.
Three of his books rank among the 15 best-published pieces in the last 25 years. Literary experts compare him to authors such as Pablo Neruda and Julio Cortázar.
Read this article to discover 7 of Roberto Bolaño’s most important books, including a synopsis, a summary of its online reviews, and links to buy them. Discover the uniqueness of his writing and the enthralling stories that captivate thousands of readers.
¡Leamos en español!
Let’s read in Spanish!
Who Is Roberto Bolaño?
Roberto Bolaño was the son of a school teacher and a truck driver and boxer. He was greatly influenced by his military grandfather.
The Bolaños moved from city to city within Chile several times, then to Mexico City in 1968. That same year the student movement started, which triggered a whole revolutionary tradition. (Roberto Bolaño’s book Amuleto covers these events.)
Roberto returned to Chile to support Salvador Allende, until a coup changed everything. He was captured. Bolaño was liberated by one of his custodians who happened to be a friend of his. He wrote about this episode of his life in his short story, Los Detectives, in the book, Llamadas Telefónicas (Phone Calls).
Roberto Bolaños married a Spanish woman, and they had two kids. He started to win prizes and became famous for his work.
Roberto Bolaño’s Writing Style
In Mexico, Roberto Bolaño befriended poets Mario Santiago and Bruno Montané—both characters in Bolaño’s most important book, Los Detectives Salvajes (The Wild Detectives). Together, they founded the infrarrealismo style, which opposed all literary values of the time.
Infrarrealismo sought to establish a Latin American avant-garde literary style.
Its characteristics included dissonance, everyday life stories, and anecdotes, less rigor, more lax and dadaist elements. US press and critics referred to the movement as “visceral modernism” and “visceral realism.”
7 Must-Read Roberto Bolaño Books
Books by Roberto Bolaño display his storytelling skills. His seemingly common stories turn into an avalanche of surprises and plot twists.
Experts consider The Savage Detectives and 2666 to be Roberto Bolaño’s best books; they earned him international acclaim.
1. The Skating Rink (La pista de hielo)
Nuria Martí is a beautiful figure skater who lives in Barcelona, Spain. When the Olympic team drops her, someone builds her a skating rink on the grounds of an abandoned mansion. Soon, it becomes a crime scene. The three narrators—a Mexican, a Chilean and a Spaniard—give their declarations of what they saw as character witnesses.
You play a role in this book: as the reader, you are the detective. You absorb the information these three witnesses give you and make your own conclusions.
The Skating Rink is a thriller. In it, some of Roberto’s techniques, like polyphony, are not yet fine-tuned. They’re a solid precedent of other works like The Savage Detectives.
2. The Romantic Dogs (Los perros románticos)
The Romantic Dogs is a hard-boiled detective novel and terror poetry collection by Roberto Bolaño. Some of its pieces are descriptive and part of a narrative or of a conversation. The settings are Mexico, Chile, and Europe, places where the author lived.
The feelings in this compilation of reminiscences include idealism, rage, injustice, anger, and despair. They reveal the humanity of each character. And it ends on a different note: with love poems.
3. Distant Star (Estrella distante)
Anonymous first-person narration tells the story of Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, an autodidact poet who reveals his true identity after the 1973 coup in Chile. He is a military pilot named Carlos Wieder, who disappeared after Chile’s transition to democracy started. A detective looks for him and needs the help of Arturo Belano, Roberto Bolaño’s alter ego.
The literary complexity of this dark novel about an eerie era of Chile is moderate to advanced because of its historical details. For example, the main character evokes the real person of Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal who was protected by a Latin American government.
Notable people like Jorge Volpi consider this to be Bolaño’s masterpiece, and critics, in general, praised it. Read it if you like historical novels about dictatorships and the consequences of World War II, as it touches on subjects that have to do with the Third Reich.
4. Telephone Calls (Llamadas telefónicas)
Roberto Bolaño took daily situations and transformed them into 14 excellent tales whose characters limit themselves by using external circumstances as an excuse.
Disappearances, dictatorships, migration, conspiracy theories, exile, and torture are some of the themes Roberto Bolaño uses in his first book of short stories.
This is a read for you if you’re into stories that are like icebergs; there’s little for the naked eye to see, but it roots down deeply and widely.
5. The Savage Detectives (Los detectives salvajes)
To see Roberto Bolaño’s polyphony in action, read this book with high-level literary complexity. Several narrators take turns telling the story of their literary group, the Visceral Realists.
It spans over 20 years of searching and contacting others like them around the world. At the same time, they all participate in the search for the disappeared poet Cesárea Tinajero.
This is a portrait of Roberto’s real group of friends and their activities as incipient writers. It was one his most critically acclaimed works.
6. Amulet (Amuleto) (1999)
The setting of this novel by Roberto Bolaño is 1968 in Mexico City. The cruel quasi-dictator Gustavo Díaz Ordaz is in power and has ordered the massacre of students in the Tlatelolco town square.
Auxilio, the main character, has an artistic soul. During the massacre, she hides for 13 days and spends time reflecting on what she has experienced. Auxilio remembers all the fine people she knows, including artists Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, and José Emilio Pacheco.
The literary complexity is advanced due to the book’s sophisticated language. The story has some surrealism because Auxilio constantly mixes the present, past, and future.
7. 2666 (2004)
Published posthumously, the setting of 2666 is the fictional town of Santa Teresa (probably the Ciudad Juárez) during an intense wave of femicide. Four literary professors begin to search for a German writer who seems to be lost. Many incidental characters help them by giving them clues. One of them is to go to Mexico where they discover these crimes.
Originally, Roberto Bolaño planned to release this book into five volumes to assure the economic stability of his kids after his death. His heirs instead decided to publish it as a single book.
2666 won multiple awards, including the Barcelona City Award, Salambó Award, and National Book Critics Circle Award. According to internet reviews, it is an ambitious, long, and unfinished masterpiece. It has a sort of magic but is shocking and frightening at times. 2666 is raw enough to tear you apart but also helps put you back together again with its beautiful, enthralling bits.
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