Roberto Bolano's "Ambiguities"
This morning's NY Times treats us to a brief article, "A Chilean Writer’s Fictions Might Include His Own Colorful Past," meaning of course, that some people think that Mr. Bolano was/was not a heroin user and was/was not in Chile on 9/11/73. It's hard to weigh in for either side of either question. Bolano was playing with what I call "faction," mixing fact and fiction, and he was not alone in Latin American fiction of the late 20th century to say that a piece of fiction was actually written by someone else (Ricardo Piglia wrote a piece by Roberto Arlt) or to create "ambiguities" (Juan Carlos Onetti seems to have reveled in this) about what was fact and what was fiction.
Part of the controversy might be financially motivated, an attempt to sell even more books-- "2666", published in English in 2008, and "Savage Detectives," published in English in 2007, both received wonderful reviews-- books to those who would like to speculate about the facts and hunt for clues:
But his widow, from whom he was separated at the time of his death, and Andrew Wylie, the American agent she recently hired after distancing herself from Mr. Bolaño’s friends, editors and publisher, are now challenging part of that image. They dispute the idea, originally suggested by Mr. Bolaño himself, endorsed by his American translator and mentioned in several of the rapturous recent reviews of “2666” in the United States, that he ever “had a heroin habit,” that his death was “traceable to heroin use” or even that he had “an acquaintance with heroin.”The heroin controversy is fueled by a piece Bolano submitted to a Spanish magazine in response to a request for stories about the worst summer in his life. Others who submitted submitted autobiographical sketches. Was Bolano's, which by all accounts resembed Jack Kerouac's "On The Road"?
And the question of whether he was in Chile or still in Mexico City when he said or let others say he was in Santiago is based on friends in Mexico City and Chile who say he was/ was not actually with them or didn't know what he should have known about Chile if he had actually been there.
Roberto Fresan, interviewed by the Times, summarized the situation perfectly:
Rodrigo Fresán, an Argentine novelist living in Barcelona, said, “Roberto’s biography is going to be interesting to read, and I am thankful that I was only his friend and not the one who is going to have to write it.” Somewhat ruefully, others who know Mr. Bolaño only from his work have come to the same conclusion.