08 October 2010

Conversation about a cathedral: Or, what would Roberto think?

Of course, the well-read and opinionated Bolaño has certain opinions of Vargas Llosa. When asked about what comes to his mind when he hears the name of García Márquez, he replied: "A man who's enchanted by the fact that he's known so many presidents and archbishops." And Vargas Llosa: "The same, but more polished."

Among the celebrated Boom writers (García Márquez, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, and Cortázar), Cortázar is apparently the one he most admired. As for Carlos Fuentes, he also had some things to say. He thought that Octavio Paz is "more universal" than Fuentes, that Paz is a "more interesting" writer of prose (in his essays) than Fuentes, and if he had to sit between them, he'd rather "sit closer to Octavio Paz than to Fuentes."

Bolaño's writing is seen as a break from the magical realist mode of the Boom writers and their imitators. His fiction is a sort of reaction to the previous generation's realism. However, it doesn't mean that he entirely objected to the literary outputs of the rest of the Boom writers. Possibly, he didn't like their politics or he just didn't like them as persons. But still he was an avid reader of their books. In a 1999 interview with two writers of a Chilean magazine (one of his published interviews in English), he shared his positive assessment of the (now) two Nobel winners.

Soto & Bravo: Perhaps the emblematic figures of the [Boom] movement were too adored, an injustice for quieter figures like Monterroso and Onetti, who are vindicated more and more. They’ve stayed relevant with the passage of time.

Bolaño: I don’t believe so. The literature of Vargas Llosa or García Márquez is gigantic.

Soto & Bravo: A cathedral.

Bolaño: More than a cathedral. I do not think time will harm them. The work of Vargas Llosa, for example, is immense. It has thousands of entry points and thousands of exit points. So does the literature of García Márquez. They’re both public figures. They’re not just literary figures. Vargas Llosa was a candidate for president. García Márquez is a political heavyweight and very influential in Latin America. This distorts things a bit, but it shouldn’t make us lose sight of the position they have in the hierarchy. They are superiors, superior to the people who came after and, to be sure, to the writers of my generation….

I suppose, though I’m not entirely sure, he didn’t answer in an ironic tone.


  1. Amusingly of all my 100 odd posts no-one commented a word upon my review of the new Nobel literature winner Vargas Llosa's 'The Note-books of Don Rigoberto'!

    But then Vargas is known for being a friend of Mrs. Thatcher when running for Presidency!

  2. Kevin, I haven't read him really though I have 2 of his books. I guess I'll read them eventually to see what this "cartography" about him is all about. My work involves making maps so it makes me curious. Hehe.

  3. I've seen those Bolaño quotes before that you mention in the first paragraph, Rise, but they always crack me up! I've read two Vargas Llosa novels so far--The Feast of the Goat and The War of the End of the World--and was amazed by Vargas Llosa's abilities to get inside his characters' heads. Super juicy reads, too. At the same time, I thought both novels suffered from having totally gratuitous rape scenes--an odd "coincidence" for such an otherwise imaginative writer. Despite my qualms about his judgement in this matter, I'd like to read all his major works at some point. Will be reading his first novel on my own later this year and Conversation in the Cathedral next year as part of a group read for the Non-Structured Group. By the way, my Latin American blogging friends tend to all praise VL for his writing and dismiss him for his politics. Maybe Hydriotaphia's comment about VL being a Thatcherite explains this!

  4. Great. Those are the same 2 books I have on my shelf. I have The Feast of the Goat pegged for next year's reading, as well as Rebellion in the Backlands (I'd like to try this first so that I can maybe compare Vargas Llosa's version of the same events). I'll def. try to find a copy of Conversation in The Cathedral in order to join the group reading!

    I guess the reader will have to trust the novelist, not the politician. :p

  5. Never read Bolãno, don't feel like it actually, his rise to stardom out of nowhere always seemed fishy to me...

    But I have all the fiction of García Márquez, and I've read some 8 books by Vargas Llosa. I couldn't really care.

    Ah, I did exactly what you want: read Euclides da Cunha first and then The War of the End of the World. It's a great non-fiction work, dense with twisted syntax and archaic language, a revealing work about Brazil's backlands at the end of the century and the conditions that led to the creation of a mythical figure like António Conselheiro. Vargas Llosa's novel was also very good.

  6. Miguel, I understand that sentiment as I'm also wary of writers who shoot up to popularity. I don't like to ride the wave. I want to read writers without the mediation of a hype machine. But this time I was lucky to read Bolano (in translation) fairly early, when the reviews and articles are relatively few, so somehow (I'd like to believe) I discovered him on his own terms.

    Thanks for reminding me of Rebellion. I left it hanging in the early middle page. Not because I don't find it absorbing. It's very good, yes. But I got distracted. I need to get back to it before the end of the world.