||A Brief Review of :
Antwerp: A Novel .
Hardback: New Directions, 2010.
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Reviewed by Chris Enstad.
Roberto Bolaño was born in Chile in 1953. He moved to Mexico City in 1968 but returned to Chile in 1973 one month before Pinochet’s coup. He was arrested as a political dissident. When he was released he moved first to Mexico and then to Barcelona. His 10 novels and two short stories were produced before his untimely death at the age of 50, in 2003. The novels are just now beginning to appear in English. 2666, is a sweeping, majestic novel that is a result of the “big bang” that Antwerp, at only 78 pages, represented. 2666 is considered by many, including me, to be the first great piece of literature of the 21st century. The back of the little book contains a quote from Bolaño, “The only novel that doesn’t embarrass me is Antwerp.”
Of the 54 chapters that occur in such a small package one is bumped hither and thither. You will meet victims of crime, crooked cops, drifters, and misfits. You will be confronted with poetry and visions of warped time and reality. This novel will challenge the average reader but is a primer to the methods that Bolaño used in his later career and, whereas, 2666 requires a briefcase to move it from one place to the other, Antwerp will fit in your back pocket.
Antwerp represents a microcosm of not only what the author more fully developed later in his career, but, within its pages lies a microcosm of the human condition. Crime, aesthetics, poetry, love, constant threats of violence, youth, the aged, in short, reality for the vast majority of humanity are gathered by Bolaño’s pen and we become guests at, literally, the event horizon of existence.
In a foreword added to the book 22 years after it first appeared, Bolaño writes, “I wrote this book for myself, and even that I can’t be sure of.” This is the end product, it seems, of many days spent in a semi-delirium, convinced that an anarchic end was coming in the revolution of Salvador Allende. Bolaño describes this novel in organic, living terms and despite the frantic nature of it’s layout and the intense requirement for concentration it demands of its readers, we can be thankful that regardless of for whom this book was written, we are able to read it today.