Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bolaño's bamboozle & the real Chilean heroes

I know I'm a little late to this, but I have to say it surprises me not one bit. (The news, not my lateness. Well, my lateness too.) Roberto Bolaño, the Chilean writer whose translated work is lately all the rage among U.S. literary tastemakers, was not in Chile at the time of the September 11, 1973, coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende. Nor was he one of the roughly ten thousand people arrested, most of whom were soon killed by Pinochet's fascist troops. It's all a lie. Which kinda undercuts the romantic hype casting Bolaño as some sort of actual leftist activist and his writing as somehow politically radical. He wasn't and it isn't. I read The Savage Detectives a couple years ago and was terribly disappointed. My own fault--why did I even for a minute fall for the hype? As if the literary establishment in this country, whose lionization of Bolaño continues to accelerate, would ever champion a truly revolutionary writer, even a dead one.

Anyone interested in the reality of the Chilean struggle, or in getting to know actual Chilean activist artists, need look no further than the case of Victor Toro. Victor was a founder of the MIR, the main revolutionary party in Chile at the time of the Allende presidency. He and Nieves Ayress were arrested during the coup, imprisoned, and tortured mercilessly. They survived, and fled the country, and have lived in New York for over 20 years, where they've been leading organizers in the Latino community. In the summer of 2007, during an ICE sweep on an Amtrak train looking for undocumented workers--yes, for those who are still unaware, right now, every day in this country, the Gestapo-like anti-immigrant police force actually stops trains and buses and sweeps up anyone who looks Latino--Victor was seized for not having papers. Since then the government has been trying to deport him to Chile. He and his supporters are fighting to demand instead that he be granted political asylum.

UPDATE: In a shock to no one, the National Book Critics Circle has named Bolaño's 2666 book of the year. Meanwhile Victor Toro fights on.