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The first biography of Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño, whose Savage Detectives and 2666 were bestsellers in the U.S. Written by a noted magazine writer who knew and interviewed Bolaño. How to know the man behind works of fiction so prone to extravagance? In the first biography of Chilean novelist and poet Roberto Bolaño, journalist Mónica Maristain tracks Bolaño from his c The first biography of Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño, whose Savage Detectives and 2666 were bestsellers in the U.S. Written by a noted magazine writer who knew and interviewed Bolaño. How to know the man behind works of fiction so prone to extravagance? In the first biography of Chilean novelist and poet Roberto Bolaño, journalist Mónica Maristain tracks Bolaño from his childhood in Chile to his youth in Mexico and his early infatuation with literature, to his beginnings as a poet, and to the stardom that came with the publication of the novels The Savage Detectives and 2666. Bolaño: A Biography in Conversations is assembled from a series of rich interviews with the people who knew Bolaño best: we meet Bolaño’s first publisher, who printed 225 copies of his first book of poetry; glimpse the young author through interviews with his parents and an array of childhood friends, who watched a precocious young man turn into an obsessive writer who barely left the house; and witness the birth of Bolaño’s famed Infrarealist literary movement. The book also sheds new light on aspects of Bolaño’s life that have long been shrouded in mystery: for the first time, we learn the details of Bolaño’s fatal illness and the drama of his final days. Throughout the book, Maristain present an image far removed from the stereotypes that have been created over the years to introduce a writer whose works grabbed readers worldwide. Maristain writes as a journalist and admirer, impressed with the power of Bolaño’s prose and the cool irony with which he faced the literary world.


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The first biography of Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño, whose Savage Detectives and 2666 were bestsellers in the U.S. Written by a noted magazine writer who knew and interviewed Bolaño. How to know the man behind works of fiction so prone to extravagance? In the first biography of Chilean novelist and poet Roberto Bolaño, journalist Mónica Maristain tracks Bolaño from his c The first biography of Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño, whose Savage Detectives and 2666 were bestsellers in the U.S. Written by a noted magazine writer who knew and interviewed Bolaño. How to know the man behind works of fiction so prone to extravagance? In the first biography of Chilean novelist and poet Roberto Bolaño, journalist Mónica Maristain tracks Bolaño from his childhood in Chile to his youth in Mexico and his early infatuation with literature, to his beginnings as a poet, and to the stardom that came with the publication of the novels The Savage Detectives and 2666. Bolaño: A Biography in Conversations is assembled from a series of rich interviews with the people who knew Bolaño best: we meet Bolaño’s first publisher, who printed 225 copies of his first book of poetry; glimpse the young author through interviews with his parents and an array of childhood friends, who watched a precocious young man turn into an obsessive writer who barely left the house; and witness the birth of Bolaño’s famed Infrarealist literary movement. The book also sheds new light on aspects of Bolaño’s life that have long been shrouded in mystery: for the first time, we learn the details of Bolaño’s fatal illness and the drama of his final days. Throughout the book, Maristain present an image far removed from the stereotypes that have been created over the years to introduce a writer whose works grabbed readers worldwide. Maristain writes as a journalist and admirer, impressed with the power of Bolaño’s prose and the cool irony with which he faced the literary world.

30 review for Bolaño: A Biography in Conversations

  1. 5 out of 5

    s.penkevich

    when you read him, you get the urge to read and write yourself. i think that that's the best thing anyone can say about a writer. -Rodrigo Fresán Roberto Bolaño is both the myth-maker and the myth. He creates a realm where reality and fiction copulate to birth a new, better, brighter world. In his works we find literature to be the paramount importance, where literature may not save your life or change your status, but will save your soul. That is the sort of thing I choose to believe in. I want when you read him, you get the urge to read and write yourself. i think that that's the best thing anyone can say about a writer. -Rodrigo Fresán Roberto Bolaño is both the myth-maker and the myth. He creates a realm where reality and fiction copulate to birth a new, better, brighter world. In his works we find literature to be the paramount importance, where literature may not save your life or change your status, but will save your soul. That is the sort of thing I choose to believe in. I want to carry around in my pocket a medallion with Bolaño’s face on one side, and his wordless poem on the other and make him the Patron Saint of the doomed and damned artists who truly believe their craft makes more difference than any political leader, army or god. Bolaño is who I choose to believe in. Bolaño: A Biography in Conversations is a stunning look into the life of the legend, brilliantly structured, cycling between personal research and essay by Mónica Maristain (with whom Bolaño gave his final interview) and her interviews with those who knew the master. What appears is a piercingly beautiful portrait of a sensitive and playful¹ man fiercely dedicated to his craft. I remember him as a man who wanted to seem tough but had a very sweet side. - Paola Tinoco The biography chronicles his life from boyhood (we see the truth behind the relationship with his father, a former boxer, that appears in glorious fictionalized truth in his story The Last Evenings on Earth) to his death at an early age from liver failure. Bolaño died while on the waiting list for a new liver (can I please make a stipulation as an organ donor to only give mine to poets and novelists far from the top of a waiting list?). While some of the myth is dispelled and the drug-addicted tough guy attitude cast in a new light (Bolaño neither drank nor did drugs. It is amusing that he always insisted upon being photographed smoking to add to his ‘tough guy’ image), it casts light on a life well lived and one worth honoring. We strip away the errors but find more gold to enjoy, and the list of authors interviewed and works mention is sure to bulk up any to-read list (particularly the list of 16 best novels that he made for Playboy Magazine) The escapades as a Visceral Realist are told with great hilarity, little-known poets turning up at literary meetings and wrecking havoc, and we can be assured that Bolaño was every bit the poet bad-ass he wanted us to see. The mythology of Bolaño is fascinating. In this modern age, it is tough to keep a low-profile, yet so much of his life is still shrouded in ‘did that really happen?’. The answer is that it truly doesn’t matter if it did or not, but what does it mean to us. His works are so blended with biography and fiction to create a better world imbued with meaning and message that can save us, protect us, comfort us and entertain us. We can choose to believe in the blended myth and find solace there. Why bother with the semantics? Like warring religions debating whose is the ‘truth’ when what really matters is taking the message to heart, mind and action and living life in a better way. Bolaño showed us the route to a world where art is of the utmost importance, and that is something you can take with you forever. And hopefully let it guide your own artistic endeavors. He gave us the beauty in slums or exile, the emotion of defeat, loneliness and the importance of sticking true to your beliefs. Bolaño is on our side, a man both folk-tale and reality, a man worth believing in. You are missed, goodnight sweet prince. 4.5/5 ¹ There is a great story told by Fresan where Bolaño turns up at his door awhile after they had parted ways. Bolaño is pale and soaking wet and tells him he killed a man who tried to mug him because he felt their money dedicated to literature was too important to be taken away by a Skinhead. After much disquieting discussion and alarm, Bolaño finally laughs and asks how Fresan could believe that. He says he needed to call a cap but that seemed to vulgar and boring so he'd spice the story up a bit. Apparently Bolaño was known for such joking around.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Cymru Roberts

    Everyone's got that one friend that went pro. By virtue of being like real good friends with them for a summer in sixth grade, you're kind of a big deal, at least by proxy. Some of the conversations in this biography played out like that, as if the subjects knew their proximity to Bolaño was going to be the highlight of their careers. I liked it though. It read curiously like a Bolaño novel of sorts -- unsurprising since his life and legend blurred together so much. Another pleasurable attribute Everyone's got that one friend that went pro. By virtue of being like real good friends with them for a summer in sixth grade, you're kind of a big deal, at least by proxy. Some of the conversations in this biography played out like that, as if the subjects knew their proximity to Bolaño was going to be the highlight of their careers. I liked it though. It read curiously like a Bolaño novel of sorts -- unsurprising since his life and legend blurred together so much. Another pleasurable attribute was the reminder of the depth and richness of the Latin American anticanon. Really highlights the differences between the world's various literary establishments, from country to country, region to region, era to era. At the end of the day, Bolaño is still more than the sum of his friends. If anyone deserved to go pro out of his crew(s), it was him.

  3. 5 out of 5

    jeremy

    in late 2003, months after liver failure claimed the life of roberto bolaño (who, at the time, was awaiting a transplant), illustrious new york-based publisher new directions released by night in chile in translation – the first swell of a literary tsunami that would soon engulf english-speaking audiences with nearly unprecedented rapidity. the chilean novelist and poet, already considered one of the most eminent writers of his generation throughout the spanish-speaking world, would find a posth in late 2003, months after liver failure claimed the life of roberto bolaño (who, at the time, was awaiting a transplant), illustrious new york-based publisher new directions released by night in chile in translation – the first swell of a literary tsunami that would soon engulf english-speaking audiences with nearly unprecedented rapidity. the chilean novelist and poet, already considered one of the most eminent writers of his generation throughout the spanish-speaking world, would find a posthumous stateside fame typically reserved for perhaps a handful of authors each century. following the publication of the savage detectives and 2666 (masterworks rendered from the spanish by natasha wimmer), bolaño’s renown surged to frenzied levels – leaving considerable acclaim, as well as scant and often conflicting biographical detail, in its wake. with some twenty of bolaño’s books now available in english (including novels, short stories, poetry, and essays), and the tide of as-yet untranslated works all but receded, the near-simultaneous publication of a “provisional” biography and his final novella offers readers a satisfying sojourn. bolaño: a biography in conversations, written by mónica maristain (and translated from the spanish by kit maude), is not a biography in the conventional sense, but instead comprises conversations and interviews with those who knew the late author most intimately: his parents, friends, literary colleagues, and fellow writers. maristain, an argentine-born journalist based in mexico, conducted the last interview with bolaño prior to his death. bolaño presents a vivid profile of both man and author – dispelling so many of the erroneous claims about his life that became mythologized as part of his legend and legacy. for example, the liver disease that bolaño ultimately succumbed to was once held to be the result of years’ worth of hard living, including a heroin addiction. bolaño, we learn, did not use drugs nor drink alcohol, however. the descriptions of bolaño are remarkably consistent: a voracious reader and film enthusiast possessed of frankness, good humor, and ample enthusiasm. tracing his life from a chilean working class background to his infamous antics as an infrarealist poet agitator to his final days along the spanish mediterranean coast, bolaño foregoes much of the romanticism of his public persona, instead providing a more insightful and impartial glimpse into his life, personality, and dedication to craft. roberto bolaño is now rightly considered a titan of contemporary world literature. the success of his books has not only introduced english-speaking readers to one of the most important latin american writers of the past half-century, but has also helped to usher in a greater interest in translated literature. with maristain’s revealing biography, we are granted a portrait of an artist as seen through the words and memories of his contemporaries. [rodrigo] fresán: as a writer, what i ask from other writers is the pleasure of reading. i don't approach great writers expecting them to teach me something. what i learned from bolaño, and i think that he is an excellent example, was seeing someone who very firmly, emphatically, and vigorously took pleasure in his work, in reading and writing. you can say that new generations were attracted to roberto because he died young, by the idea of someone who has nothing triumphing in the end, which is very attractive to anyone who wants to be a writer, but i think that what will remain in time, once the mystique that surrounds roberto has faded, is that when you read him, you get the urge to read and write yourself. i think that that's the best thing anyone can say about a writer.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jim Coughenour

    Like any other fan, I've got an image in my mind of Bolaño pieced together from the way he fictionalized himself in his books and interviews. Mónica Maristain provides a more rounded picture, based on indefatigable interviews with his old friends and acquaintances. I'm not sure it adds anything to the pleasure of reading Bolaño – it may actually detract from the experience – but it does satisfy a reader's curiosity. She clears up a couple legends, for example, the story that he'd been a heroin a Like any other fan, I've got an image in my mind of Bolaño pieced together from the way he fictionalized himself in his books and interviews. Mónica Maristain provides a more rounded picture, based on indefatigable interviews with his old friends and acquaintances. I'm not sure it adds anything to the pleasure of reading Bolaño – it may actually detract from the experience – but it does satisfy a reader's curiosity. She clears up a couple legends, for example, the story that he'd been a heroin addict, which is apparently completely wrong. Not surprisingly, he sounds like a guy it would have been a blast to know. There are some entertaining exchanges, for example: MARISTAIN: He wasn't at all handsome, but he was very seductive… RIPPEY: Who told you that he wasn't handsome? He was extremely handsome, of course.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    I've been on a Bolaño kick lately, reading some of the books I'd picked up during my book tour last year before tackling Savage Detectives: Antwerp (Green Apple Books, San Francisco), Tres (London) and Monica Maristain's Bolaño (Skylight Books, Los Angeles). The subtitle of Maristain's book is "a biography in conversation," which means it's part oral history part biography, but a lot of Maristain's prose is dedicated to introducing the many voices that weigh in on Roberto Bolaño: the man, the my I've been on a Bolaño kick lately, reading some of the books I'd picked up during my book tour last year before tackling Savage Detectives: Antwerp (Green Apple Books, San Francisco), Tres (London) and Monica Maristain's Bolaño (Skylight Books, Los Angeles). The subtitle of Maristain's book is "a biography in conversation," which means it's part oral history part biography, but a lot of Maristain's prose is dedicated to introducing the many voices that weigh in on Roberto Bolaño: the man, the myth, the legend. It's not a perfect book. It has it's own logic and while the interview roughly follows the arc of Bolaño's career, it's hardly comprehensive, which is to be expected in a book that's largely anecdotal. What's interesting about the book is that it contains the voices of his contemporaries and peers -- Chileans, Argentineans, Mexicans and Spaniards -- voices that we often don't hear in the U.S. And that's a good thing. As a result, there's a fascinating give and take as these writers and critics poke holes in the legend of Bolaño in one story, and then build it back up in the next. One gets the impression that Bolaño was well liked by his peers in spite of the fact that Bolaño himself was a vituperative critic who was especially hard on his countrymen, as this story by Argentine writer Rodrigo Fresan: "Roberto liked Philip K. Dick a lot and had a very philipkdickian suspicion that he had died during the first liver attack, and that had everything to him in the subsequent ten years was the life that he hadn't been able to experience in reality. I said to him that it was a little unpleasant for him to say things like that, because they meant that I was just a character of his, that we're all just his fantasies. He replied: 'Well, Rodrigo, it's better than being one of Isabel Allende's characters. There are worse fates...'"* No one enjoys speaking ill of the dead. The overall effect of reading Bolaño is a bit like being inside a Bolaño novel in which writers gather to discuss the work of a literary giant who isn't there. For those who have fallen under Bolaño's spell, Maristain's book is an essential guide. *Besides being very funny, this story made me recollect a similar dream I experienced during college after falling asleep on the floor of friend's dorm room. I dreamt I was still in the Navy so that when I awoke I was convinced my reality was the dream spurred by my ceaseless wondering what my life would be like when I got out of the military.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Chris Molnar

    It's a series of interviews padded out by excruciatingly bad writing, but done in an endearing sort of way that you know Bolano would've appreciated. That element of it is infuriating in the beginning of the book, where it's talking about Bolano's childhood in overwrought terms with people who didn't know him very well. At the end there's a big payoff, though, as more significant figures open up to Maristain, with otherwise untold stories about Bolano at his height. The family doesn't cooperate w It's a series of interviews padded out by excruciatingly bad writing, but done in an endearing sort of way that you know Bolano would've appreciated. That element of it is infuriating in the beginning of the book, where it's talking about Bolano's childhood in overwrought terms with people who didn't know him very well. At the end there's a big payoff, though, as more significant figures open up to Maristain, with otherwise untold stories about Bolano at his height. The family doesn't cooperate with her, but the tradeoff is some really interesting stuff from his mistress, and freedom to say whatever. A recurring theme about how hanging around him meant slipping into his "universe" bleeds into the book itself, as it feels like the interviewees view Maristain as the sort of not-so-good yet somehow significant writer that pops up in his stories, one that they should agree to talk to because it's a very Bolano thing to do. There's still a lot of stuff that she doesn't go into that would require a real biography, and obviously there's nothing from the family or any letters. But I'm aware of a lot more than I was before, and it's an interesting starting point. Just beware that some interesting threads are introduced without resolution, and that the writing is really fucking bad

  7. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    kind of a mess? but I learned a fair bit? and I'm glad I read it? but do I have to read everything his name is on? apparently yes? kind of a mess? but I learned a fair bit? and I'm glad I read it? but do I have to read everything his name is on? apparently yes?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Wren

    Two short passages from Bolaño: A Biography in Conversations: For me, the word “writing” is the exact opposite of the word “waiting.” Instead of waiting, there is writing. Well, I’m probably wrong – it’s possible that writing is another form of waiting, of delaying things. I’d like to think otherwise. But, as I said, I’m probably wrong. Those who have power – even for a short time – know nothing about literature; they are solely interested in power. I can be a clown to my readers, if I damn well p Two short passages from Bolaño: A Biography in Conversations: For me, the word “writing” is the exact opposite of the word “waiting.” Instead of waiting, there is writing. Well, I’m probably wrong – it’s possible that writing is another form of waiting, of delaying things. I’d like to think otherwise. But, as I said, I’m probably wrong. Those who have power – even for a short time – know nothing about literature; they are solely interested in power. I can be a clown to my readers, if I damn well please, but never to the powerful.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Bioy Casares: “I take the liberty of advising people to write, because it is like adding a room to the house of life. It is life and it is thinking about life, which is another way to experience it more intensely.” Roberto liked Philip K. Dick a lot and had a very philipkdickian suspicion that he had died during the first liver attack, and that everything that had happened to him in the subsequent ten years was the life that he hadn’t been able to experience in reality. I said to him that it was Bioy Casares: “I take the liberty of advising people to write, because it is like adding a room to the house of life. It is life and it is thinking about life, which is another way to experience it more intensely.” Roberto liked Philip K. Dick a lot and had a very philipkdickian suspicion that he had died during the first liver attack, and that everything that had happened to him in the subsequent ten years was the life that he hadn’t been able to experience in reality. I said to him that it was a little unpleasant of him to say things like that, because they meant that I was just a character of his, that we’re all just his fantasies. He replied: “Well, Rodrigo, it’s better than being one of Isabel Allende’s characters. There are worse fates …” Some trashing some myth making

  10. 4 out of 5

    J Murnaghan

    Messy but essential for the Bolaño superfan. Sets the record straight on a few details and is worth trudging through for its glimmering anecdotes.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jane Losaw

    Terrible translation, mediocre “biography”

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jin Z

    A very Bolaño-esque collection of friends’ and colleagues’ accounts of the author’s life and work. I say “Bolaño-esque” because it does remind me of parts of The Savage Detectives.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Required reading for any Bolaño super-fan, but probably of little interest to the average reader of literary biography. Serious scholars will have to wait for a more thorough biography, one that comes after Bolaño's substantial collection of letters has been made available to a biographer. The most interesting aspect of "A Biography in Conversations" is the way it parallels the form of the middle section of The Savage Detectives. Portions of interviews with an assortment of characters from Bolaño Required reading for any Bolaño super-fan, but probably of little interest to the average reader of literary biography. Serious scholars will have to wait for a more thorough biography, one that comes after Bolaño's substantial collection of letters has been made available to a biographer. The most interesting aspect of "A Biography in Conversations" is the way it parallels the form of the middle section of The Savage Detectives. Portions of interviews with an assortment of characters from Bolaño's life are assembled to construct this often contradictory narrative about the author.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Herb

    Monica Maristain admits that a full biography of Roberto Bolano will have to wait until someone with access to notebooks, correspondence, etc., but this book is a good first approximation, compiling excerpts from interviews with Bolano, as well as with family members, friends and colleagues, many of which are not easily available in English. The book was also useful to me as a resource for many contemporary Spanish-language writers whom I did not previously know about.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Tekla

    I read this to try to understand why some people are such huge Bolaño fans and I feel like I did get a lot of insight into that. I may even try "The Savage Detectives" again. Maristain uses quotes and interviews from many many people who knew Bolaño to paint a picture of the man and his view of the world. A very enjoyable read. I read this to try to understand why some people are such huge Bolaño fans and I feel like I did get a lot of insight into that. I may even try "The Savage Detectives" again. Maristain uses quotes and interviews from many many people who knew Bolaño to paint a picture of the man and his view of the world. A very enjoyable read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Arvinder S.

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. +Sheds great life on the other and an even greater light on how morphed his image has become. The thread of grief that his friends and family felt over how he was being portrayed posthumously was really sad.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Rafael Lubner

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alex

  19. 4 out of 5

    Will Pittman

  20. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Edwards

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jesse K

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

  23. 5 out of 5

    Holly

  24. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mike Decker

  26. 4 out of 5

    Decolonize D Native

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay Frahn

  28. 4 out of 5

    Greg Lehman

  29. 5 out of 5

    Keith Harvey

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pickle Farmer

    Fun read. The Rodrigo Fresán interview is by far the best.

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