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Bolano Versus Crack

No, this isn't another reset of the Bolano/heroin thread. Rather, Chad Post makes a good addition to the Bolano myth discussion from last week. He notes some Latin American writers contra Bolano that are generally getting ignored:

Post-Garcia Marquez, it’s been near impossible for a non-magical realist from south of our borders to get published in America. A certain Isabel Allende-tainted vision of what “counted” as good Latin American literature came into being, and anything that didn’t fit that mold wasn’t marketable.

The “Crack group” (Jorge Volpi, Eloy Urroz, Ignacio Padilla, etc.) rose up as a response to this situation, this sort of pre-marketing that filters out certain types of literature in favor of more “marketable” books. And it would be foolish to pretend that marketing doesn’t play a role in which authors get published—especially in translation.

This is a great point, as the Crack group gets about zero visibility in the organs that are plastering Bolano to the wall. (On that score, I'm pleased to say that we reviewed the one Eloy Urroz book that's been published in English, we're going to review Volpi's book from Open Letter (plus have him on as part of a special section in the winter issue), and in the Best of Contemporary Mexican Fiction anthology that we reviewed earlier this year there are some Crack authors.)

Chad also shares this story about W.G. Sebald:

Another aspect of American cultural imperialism is our general arrogance that an author doesn’t exist until he/she is discovered by the American public. Although Bolano was huge in the Spanish-speaking world for years before his big novels were translated into English, there’s a tendency to treat him as a “new” author who has finally broke through. (Although the majority of reviews I read for 2666 and TSD were by really thoughtful, perceptive critics who were more engaged with the complexity of the work than with the myth of Bolano. So this is by no means a blanket statement.)

A good example of American publishing arrogance is what Scott Moyers said about W. G. Sebald on a “buzz panel” a few years back. I wrote about this at the time but his comment about how Sebald had been “getting his name out there a bit” thanks to New Directions, but that it was Random House’s publication of Austerlitz that put the “stamp of authority” on Sebald as one of Europe’s great writers still makes me vomit in my mouth a little bit.

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  1. Rushdie: Bolano Proves We Should Translate More Opening the PEN World Voices Festival, Salman Rushdie has declared that the example of Roberto Bolano proves that there are tons of great writers still...
  2. 3x Bolaño in The Nation Roberto Bolaño gets triple coverge in The Nation, including, impressively, a review of one of his titles not yet available in English. Happy as I...
  3. n + 1 on Bolano n + 1 has a fairly good take on why Bolano matters for U.S. readers. As always, it’s nice to see writing on 2666 that...
  4. NYT Reports on The Bolano Myth Readers will remember that about a month ago there was a kerfuffle over whether or not Roberto Bolano used heroin. In case you haven’t heard...
  5. Horacio Castellanos Moya Is Disgusted with the “Bolano Myth” I'm not sure I can translate this properly, but this has to be one of the best lines I've read recently: El mercado tiene dueños,...

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9 comments to Bolano Versus Crack

  • Stephen

    The argument of Bolano v. the Crack writers is an interesting to make contextually (as in, yes, certain writers are more “marketable” than others), but as a literary argument it holds no water.
    Would you make the argument that any of the Crack writers have written anything comparable to, say, Distant Star? They take an interesting polemical stance, one that needs to be taken perhaps, but as of what I’ve read of Volpi and Urroz, they just aren’t as “good” as Bolano.
    Instead of congratulating ourselves about how we know who Urroz, Volpi, etc. are, why can’t we use Bolano’s rise in a constructive way?

  • JR

    Are you kidding? Yo, Chad, why don’t you head over to Thailand, the Philippines, or sub-Saharan Africa, and take your bitching about how Latin American writers get no respect in the US. Lol. Oh, and you think places like Germany or England are much more attuned to the supposedly good writers of Latin America than us gringos? Please… Latin American authors get WAY too much exposure in the US. And yet all you can do is bitch.

  • I’m with Stephen on this.
    JR, did you ever set foot in a German, French or Dutch bookshop? You should. If you think they get too much exposure in the US, you’d be shocked by how much more is made available in Europe…

  • Stephen,
    First of all, I’m not sure what you mean by “use Bolano’s rise in a constructive way,” but I made the argument in an earlier post that American readers have been rising to Bolano’s books. So I assume that we are.
    It’s true that the Crack authors I’ve read aren’t as good as Bolano’s best work, but I don’t think that’s the point (and there’s lots, lots, more that we haven’t read yet). The point is that Garcia Marquez was chosen to define an entire generation of writing, despite the fact that not everyone in Latin America wrote like him. Similar to Bolano. This is counterproductive and unfairly neglects other writers who are trying to mark out territory different from Bolano.
    This shouldn’t be such a controversial point. In The Quarterly Conversation we’re obviously going to make value judgments–and I think it’s clear that we hold Bolano in high esteem–but we’re not going to ignore other schools of fiction just because one is ascendant.

  • JR

    Fausto, yes, but when I’m in those countries I buy German, French, and Dutch books. I can read all three of those languages and about half of my library is of foreign-language books from Europe. You may well be right. I mean, it is well-known that the US publishes a pathetic amount of literature in translation. So, let me put my point another way: I’ll bet if you compare all the foreign-language novels translated in the US, Latin American novels come up way, way on top.

  • JR,
    First off, thanks for making this comment without ad hominens or profanity–appreciated.
    If you look at stats on what’s been translated into English by U.S. publishers over the past several years, I think it’s France that’s on top, with a number of European nations following. It’s not Latin America.
    That said, we do have a wide range of great Latin American authors to choose from, which is nice. But they are very much defined around Garcia Marquez, which is not so nice.

  • JR

    Hey Scott,
    “Bitch” is a profanity?
    Anyways, you just said you “think” that France and other European countries are on top. But is it really true?
    Oh, and what about the Philippines and sub-Saharan Africa? How many of their novels get translated in the US?

  • Yes, JR, it is really true. I said I think France is number one, but I’m certain that Western Europe gets more translated than Latin America.

  • Stephen

    I wasn’t making any argument that we should ignore other schools of writing in favor of Bolano-mania. I don’t know if you read that in(to) my response or not, but I hope that’s not how it came across. What I was arguing is that while, yes, Bolano may have been targeted as the “Latin American” writer of his generation – just as Garcia Marquez was previously – it takes a leap to the hyperbole of Chad’s statement that:
    “Post-Garcia Marquez, it’s been near impossible for a non-magical realist from south of our borders to get published in America.”
    Doesn’t the popularity of Bolano’s work disprove that statement?
    Of course there are a number of non-magical realist books that have been translated and are continuing to be published (and reprinted – I think Serpent’s Tale is reprinting Onetti, which is fabulous, Clarice Lispector’s biography is getting wide coverage, etc.). And while there are undoubtedly scores of books that haven’t been translated, it is equally “counterproductive” to complain about the lack of coverage that other movements/writers get in comparison. What I meant by using Bolano’s rise in a constructive way: let’s simply cover the lesser known writers and stop complaining about how pitiful the state of translation is in this country. Wouldn’t our energy be better served that way?

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