Book review: Nazi Literature in the Americas

Nazi Literature in the Americas by Robert Bolaño, translated by Chris Andrews Picador, 272pp, £16.99

THE fame of Chilean-born novelist Roberto Bolao has been almost entirely posthumous in the English-speaking world. The first translation of any of his novels appeared a few months before his death in 2003, aged 50. Last year's publication here of his sprawling posthumous masterpiece, 2666, made him a worldwide phenomenon; yet he published his first novel only in 1993, after years as a "poet and vagabond".

His life was almost as idiosyncratic as some of the writers he sketches in Nazi Literature in the Americas, first published in 1996. The subjects of this deadpan survey of 31 far-right authors are, however, entirely imaginary.

Many are obscure, such as Brazilian anti-Enlightenment philosopher Luiz Fontaine da Souza, author of a five-volume refutation of Sartre's Being and Nothingness, greeted critically with "sepulchral silence". A few are deranged, such as the maniacal Haitian plagiarist and Hitler admirer, Max Mirebalais.

The obvious comparison here is with Bolao's idol, Borges. Yet there is a hard undercurrent, an uneasy sense of very bad things happening beneath the surface. The writers publish and squabble but we are reminded of the torturers and death squads exercising power in much of post-war South America.

Not that this is a difficult read. It is short and extremely funny.