Roberto Bolaño — The Insufferable Gaucho

In death, Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño has become the Tupac Shakur of the literary world. Since succumbing to liver failure in 2003, he has consistently released books every year (including the 900-page masterpiece, 2666). I realize that this incredible feat is due more to the slow process of translation than any powers Bolaño may have developed from beyond the grave, but I really wouldn’t put anything past him.

This year’s offering is The Insufferable Gaucho—a slim but powerful collection of short stories as well as a pair of essays in which he elliptically explores his own approaching mortality and place in the pantheon of Latin American literature.

Bolaño’s Police Rat revisits Franz Kafka’s hidden world of Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk. Pepe the Cop, a nephew of Josephine’s who, like his famous aunt, has a sensitivity that raises him a cut above the common rat, is on the tail of a killer in their midst. Unfortunately for Pepe—and as we have learned through countless police stories—individuality isn’t necessarily a trait that is appreciated by superior officers.

As Josephine’s star wanes, Kafka’s narrator muses, “She is a small episode in the eternal history of our people, and the people will get over the loss of her.” One has to wonder if Bolaño was winking at us from his own position as a singing rat of some renown and one fully aware of his own demise. Perhaps it was a poke back at his own growing fame in the years right before he died when he chose the epigram for this book from the end of Kafka’s story: “So perhaps we shall not miss so very much at all.”

If Martin Scorsese ever decides to direct an animated movie for Pixar, I’d like to see Police Rat on the big screen. I could just imagine Robert De Niro doing the voiceover for Pepe: “Have you ever taken on a weasel? Are you ready to be torn apart by a weasel?” Maybe it’s time for the studio to leave behind Lady and the Trampist fare like Ratatouille, and get real. I digress.

In Literature + Illness = Illness, a many-faceted facing of the terminal disease that cut his life short at 50, Bolaño writes, “Books are finite, sexual encounters are finite, but the desire to read and fuck is infinite; it surpasses our own deaths, our fears, our hopes for peace.” It is a shout back from the ragged edge of things, and about as true as anything I’ve ever heard.

This is one rat that will miss Bolaño when publication finally catches up to his work’s inevitable conclusion.

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