Despite his untimely death, the legacy of Chilean author Roberto Bolaño lives on, as he is often considered one of Latin America’s most prominent contemporary literary voices. Catch a glimpse of Bolaño’s brilliance and learn about the author’s critically-acclaimed novels and short stories in this comprehensive list of his best works.
Released one year after Bolaño’s death, 2666 is arguably one of the author’s most well-received novels, earning international critical acclaim. The book takes place in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, where a series of femicides are occurring. The city is meant to bear a similarity to the violence-plagued Ciudad Juárez in Mexico. With reoccurring themes of violence and peril, the five-part novel follows interactions with several different international writers and intellectuals and their experiences with the ongoing murders, though part four focuses on the stories of the victims themselves.
This collection of short stories undoubtedly reflects Bolaño’s reality as a Chilean who emigrated to Mexico, attempted to return to Chile before the military coup and later on moved to Spain. Bolaño’s short stories in this collection are set in Latin America or Europe, following the experiences of members of the Chilean diaspora, especially the exiled, and other Latin American characters.
This three-part 1998 novel by Bolaño experiences frequent changes in narrator. Taking place over the course of 20 years, the book follows the adventures of realist poets Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, from Chile and Mexico respectively. As the poets travel in pursuit of the disappeared poet Cesárea Tinajero, they come across a diverse array of characters, each adding their unique story to the novel.
Bolaño published this well-received satirical novella in 2000. The story is told completely through the eyes of the decrepit priest Father Urrutia over the course of one night. The novella is a confession of sorts for the priest, who admits to having worked for Pinochet and his generals, teaching them about Marxism. Over the course of the Father’s monologue, the reader also learns of Urrutia’s success as a literary critic and of his encounters with falconry, when he decides to release a caged falcon.
Though this novel was written back in 1989, the manuscript wasn’t published until 2010 – after Bolaño’s death – with the English translation coming out in 2011. The world of war games – highly strategic board games – is explored in this four-part installment, which was published in the Paris Review. The story’s protagonist, German Udo Berger’s talent and obsession for war games keeps him inside playing during his vacation on Spain’s Costa Brava. The novel explores the brutality and strategy of war, the human desire for control and the experience of anxiety and obsession.
Narrated by Arturo B, assumed to be Bolaño’s alter ego, Distant Star focuses on the narrator’s encounters with Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, a neo-fascist writer who the narrator meets at a college writing workshop. After the violent Chilean coup in 1973, Ruiz-Tagle starts a type of multi-media poetry about torture and murder. While captured in a political prison, Arturo spots the writer again. Ruiz-Tagle is writing nationalistic messages in the sky as an aviator for the Chilean airforce and Arturo’s obsession with the writer grows.
Latin America’s pain and suffering is on display in Amulet, published in 1999. This short novel is told by the Uruguayan exile, Auxilio Lacouture, a woman who is meant to embody the region’s ongoing terror. In the novel, Lacouture recalls her resistance to the invasion of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the continuous losses she has suffered under siege in Mexico, particularly between 1965 and 1976.
Published in 1996, Bolaño’s Nazi Literature in the Americas is a fictitious book that includes a series of biographies of fictitious, Nazi Pan-American authors. Profiling these imagined fascist writers, largely from South America, Bolaño explores Latin American leftist and right-wing politics, while also commenting on the literary and intellectual worlds of his colleagues.
Though mostly known for his novels and short stories, Bolaño was also an accomplished poet. His book The Romantic Dogs is a collection of some of his best works, spanning nearly two decades of his poetry writing. Many of the 43 poems dig into the experiences of detectives, while Bolaño’s experiences in Mexico are also a major influence.
Though it wasn’t published until 2002, a year before Bolaño’s death, Antwerp is a prose-poem novella considered part of Bolaño’s most important early works. The novella is split into 56 different fragments, vignettes of sorts, and doesn’t carry a central narrative. Reoccurring themes in the work include crime, violence, outsiders, drifters and poetry.