Can you decipher the word CWBOOY?

Roberto Bolaño: "Cowboy Graves"The illusion of freedom and happiness

"When I got home, I said to my father that I had quit my job in Sonora. (...) What do you want to do instead? Asked my father. The revolution, I said. What revolution?" Asked my father "The American Revolution, of course, I said. What American Revolution?" He asked. For God's sake, said my mother, who had been silent so far. Then I said I was going to Chile. The Chilean Revolution? Asked my father. Me nodded. But you're Mexican, said my father. No, I'm Chilean, I said, but that doesn't matter, we Latin Americans should all go to Chile to support the revolution. "

A scene from Roberto Bolaño's eponymous story "Cowboy Graves", another publication from the estate of the Chilean who died in 2003. This text, as well as two other unpublished stories by Bolaño, revolve around the subject of revolution, the hopes associated with it and its failure in a mixture of fiction and autobiographical details.

At the age of sixteen, Bolaño had left Chile with his mother to live with his father in Mexico. There, in the land of his 'fatherly' ancestors, in the land of the "cowboys", nothing stopped him. Four years after moving, he plans to return to what was then socialist Chile when he was just under 20. After a long journey across the continent, he arrives in his home country in those days of September when President Allende is overthrown by a military coup.

The first story, "Cowboy Graves", is about the family's departure for distant Mexico, about encounters with picturesque city dwellers and their own poetic beginnings. It's about that legendary September 11, 1973, the day of the coup. Bolaño invents a fictional first-person narrator, Arturo Belano, his alter ego to describe the events of the time. When he arrives in Chile, Arturo is staying with a painter friend.

The coup and poetry

"I dreamed of a woman with shining eyes when I was woken up by the screams of Juan de la Cruz, the painter and carver of Mary in whose house I lived. At first I thought I would be thrown out of the house or I would have a call from Mexico and something bad happened that might have to do with my mother's health, then I realized that Juan de la Cruz was not screaming but moaning and pulling his hair with one hand while he was me with the other shook him awake. (...) The military have put in a coup, it's all over. "

"It's all over" - as in the novel, also in reality: The revolutionary dreams of the young generation were gone. In the aftermath of September 11th, thousands of students, intellectuals and Allende sympathizers were arbitrarily arrested, imprisoned, tortured or murdered. Roberto Bolaño was also imprisoned, but was soon released through the intercession of a policeman who was his friend.

Obviously, however, the experience of his imprisonment significantly influenced Bolaño's entire literary work and his writing style.

The experience of power and violence in one's own body, the experience of the destruction of youthful illusions of freedom and happiness, he transfers into an empathic narrative in which reality and fiction are constantly mixed. A narrative style that breaks with the tradition of magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez, with the romanticizing themes of Mario Vargas Llosa and with the solemn verses of Pablo Neruda.

Reality and fiction

Bolaño's role models are others, for example the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra, the founder of "antipoetry". Like Parra, Bolaño also deals with the formative experiences of his own biography, but at the same time he changes them by playing with fictional scenarios. That is why Bolaño offers several versions of how and where his narrator claims to have experienced Pinochet's military coup in the volume of stories "Cowboy Graves". In the second long story, entitled "Fatherland", his hero Belano is no longer in a suburb of Santiago on September 11th. Looking back, he remembers that that day he was far from the capital in the countryside in southern Chile.

"It all began many years ago, on September 11, 1973 at seven o'clock in the morning in the library of Antonio Narváez's country house (...). In front of my tired eyes, around twenty people were lounging on sofas and carpets. All of them had in this one At night I stopped drinking and quarreling. (...) Then at the request of the host (...) I climbed into a chair and began to recite a poem to lighten the mood and bridge the time (...) ( I) recited one of the best poems by Nicanor Parra from memory. My voice trembled. My gesturing hands trembled. (...) I was tackling the fifteenth verse when (...) the news was broadcast on the radio. that a military coup is in full swing in Santiago. "

"Fatherland" is divided into a total of twenty short texts. Love scenes mix with dream scenes, speech manuscripts and discourses about literature. The stylistically and thematically very different "Vaterland" episodes have the character of drafts and are possibly related to the planning of books such as "Die Naziliteratur in Amerika" from 1996 or Bolaño's first extensive novel "The Wild Detectives", published three years later ". They can hardly be seen as a closed narrative.

French Guiana and Surrealism

The third, masterfully composed story with the strange title "Comedy of the Terror of France" is quite different. Bolaño wrote it in the last year of his life. A group of young people stop at a sidewalk cafe on the French Guiana coast during a solar eclipse. On his way home from the beach, Diodoro Pilon, the narrator, passes a phone booth where the phone keeps ringing. He picks up the receiver, curious. To his surprise, none other than the French author André Breton answers the phone. Diodoro is supposed to join its "surrealist underground league", which lives and writes in the sewers of Paris.

This time Bolaño renounces any pseudobiographical game of hide-and-seek. Perhaps the author wanted to express his respect for an artistic trend that already almost a hundred years ago made the intermingling of memory and fantasy worlds part of its artistic program. Based on André Breton's concept of abolishing "dream and reality", Bolaño transports us with seldom beautiful clarity into the only true reality, the surreal realm of literature.

Roberto Bolaño: "Cowboy Graves. Three Tales"
from the Spanish by Christian Hansen and Luis Ruby
with an afterword by Heinrich von Berenberg
Hanser Verlag, Munich. 191 pages, 22 euros.