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Demagoguery and boleros with Roberto Bolaño

June 11, 2008 |  3:12 pm

Robertobloano One of the few big buzz books at BEA was Roberto Bolaño's "2666." It is big -- more than 900 pages -- and it's a rapid follow-up to "The Savage Detectives," which won much praise last year. Although I did pick up an advance copy at Book Expo America, "2666" is not due in stores until November, so it doesn't make much sense to taunt you with its contents.

But I can point you to Triple Canopy, a Web-based art and literary magazine, which has a translation of a speech Bolaño gave in Caracas when he accepted the Rómulo Gallegos prize in 1999. In the speech, which meanders and digresses -- and discusses digression -- the novelist talks about writing and soccer, about Cervantes and the number 11, about arms and letters and of confusions of place and language.   

It's all the same to me if people say I'm Chilean, even though some Chilean colleagues prefer to see me as Mexican, or if they call me Mexican, though some Mexican colleagues prefer to call me Spanish, or even disappeared in combat. And in fact it's all the same to me if I'm considered a Spaniard, even if some Spanish colleagues hit the ceiling and start proclaiming I'm from Venezuela, born in Caracas or in Bogotá, which doesn’t bother me much, quite the contrary, in fact.

What's true is that I am Chilean, and I am also a lot of other things. And having arrived at this point, I must abandon Jarry and Bolivar and try to remember the writer who said that the homeland of a writer is his tongue. I don't remember his name. Perhaps it was a writer who wrote in Spanish. Perhaps it was a writer who wrote in English or French. A writer's homeland, he said, is his tongue. It sounds a little demagogic, but I agree with him completely, and I know that sometimes there is no recourse left us but to get a little demagogic, just like sometimes there is no recourse left us but to dance a bolero under the light of streetlamps or a red moon.

-- Carolyn Kellogg