Roberto Bolano’s Amulet: Book Review
By Armando Ortiz
Migration of birds come and go every season, during the summer months, they fly north to the plains and plateaus of North America, and return south to the Caribbean and southern parts of Mexico during the winter months. At one time these movements of birds might have created visuals in the sky of ever moving dancers, and clouds could have been metamorphosing into splatters. Imagine farmers and hunters, just four generations ago, shooting buck shots into the air and seeing hundreds of birds just fall to the ground. Mix with that years of polluting fumes and oil spills. Now, all we see are glimpses of things that were, the sounds that we hear are just an acoustic tune to the symphonic sounds that the wildlife of the America’s once breathed. We wake up, and might not put much care to the sounds that emanate from outside of the window. Its background noise that disturbs our waking life, like a squeaky wheel that demands attention, whether you like it or not, it’s there, like the small birds that make tiny dust bowls on the ground of local parks, that is what remains, a forgotten memory mixed with the present.
|1968 Summer Olympics, Mexico City.|
That is what we have in Roberto Bolano’s Amulet who brings that into focus through Auxilio Lacouture, the main character and narrator of the novel. She is an imaginary figure that survived the Mexican military’s take over the UNAM in 1968, a few months before the Olympics were hosted in that city. By chance she finds herself in the women’s bathroom that’s on the 4th floor of the philosophy building. She claims to be the mother of Mexican poetry, while some characters in the book might contend that she is the mother of all American poetry. Hiding in the 4th floor for several days marks her and those memories become intertwined her legendary status throughout the novel.
We can feel her breath, the passing of time, the withering of her body, but also the hopes that emanate from her spirit. We learn more about her by what she reads, but this is also a way for Bolano to introduce us to more authors, different artists and music that we might not be familiar with from the two Spanish poets that appear at the start of the story, two writers that have very different political views, but similar talents in poetry, to artist like Remedios Varo a surrealist painter who created some amazing pieces of art, and music from Spain. She lives a harsh life, spending time at bars and cafes with fellow writers and artists. She’s is a free spirit, born in Uruguay, living illegally in Mexico City and always doing odd jobs for professors and writers alike. Living a true poet’s life, one that Roberto Bolano probably lived. Though she has not had “success” she is a definite presence amongst the literary crowds of the city, and it is through her encounters with other writers and artist that we also learn and gain insight into the richness of the Spanish language and its legacy in the Americas.
|Roberto Bolano and Inferalists from Mexico.|
Spending most of the time roaming the streets with fellow artists she is known by the underground and is a close friend to recently returned from Chile poet Arturo Belano, the author’s alter ego. She finds affinity for the young writer because he too has experienced hardships, he too has traveled and walked through the different valleys of Spanish speaking Americas and he too has hopes and dreams like she does. Bolano shows us how even without her papers being in order, Auxilio is able to navigate herself and intermingle with Mexico City’s creative currents that interact with the seedier sections of Mexican society. She sees the different facets of an artist’s life and the hacks that exist amongst the crowds; she lives a few months in a room and moves on. Her life is a continual ebb and flow of experiences, but poetry and the culture that surrounds her gives her sustenance, which in many ways is a metaphor to Bolano’s life as a writer and testament to his travels throughout the Spanish speaking world. As she reflects on her passing of time and the moments spent in the restroom of the 4th floor it all becomes clear that the only reason to live is to hope for another day of ecstasy where she gets to live through the night again and welcome the rising of the sun and see the inhabitants of the city wake up to a hustle and bustle.
|Amulet by R. Bolano.|
Towards the later part of the novel Auxilio has a vision or dream where she is walking a tall mountain and she seems a sea of humanity converging into one, and from that crowd emerge a migrating sparrow and the elusive quetzal, indigenous to the Americas, there are defeats and victories, and within that a new hope, a new tomorrow, and a new rise, essentially the forging of a new culture and the dream of having the art of writing nurtured by those who roam the night and write their thoughts on paper. Another way of looking at Roberto’s vision is by looking at a map of the world and seeing that the Spanish world continues to exist and that the influences that each valley, nation, and region have over other Spanish speaking communities is still significant and relevant, with a culture that is flourishing and vibrant.