The novel opens in 1973, just before President Allende is overthrown by Augusto Pinochet. In Concepción, a group of left-leaning idealists discuss Pablo Neruda and Che Guevera. Members of this group include both the novel's unnamed narrator and the enigmatic Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, a little known poet who is attractive to women and viewed with suspicion by men. After the coup, Ruiz-Tagle is revealed as a Pinochet supporter. He has German heritage, and his name is Carlos Weider. He is also a murderer who eliminates opponents of the junta.
Weider is the central character in this novel, but the unnamed narrator and other characters demonstrate a complex interplay between politics, history and literature. The brutal events depicted underscore both the cruelty of the regime and the ambivalence of literature.
`The increasingly distant stars.'
This is a novel that can be read in one sitting, as I did, but I do not believe that it can be fully absorbed in one reading. I am not looking forward to re-reading it, but I think I will need to. I became engrossed in some of the stark contrasts in imagery which pervade the novel. Weider skywriting in his old Messerschmitt over Concepción seems particularly appropriate: whether the words he chose were timeless, the delivery guaranteed their ephemerality. Contrast this, though, with the scatological references as the new literature is created. Not subtle, but very effective.
This is my least favorite of the three Roberto Bolaño novels I've read so far, but I'm hooked.