Primarily set in Chile and beginning in the year 1971 – two years before the military coup which unseated then President Allende and put General Augusto Pinochet in power for the next twenty-five years – Bolaño renders a tumultuous period in Chilean history for readers.
Events are described by a first person narrator; a struggling Chilean poet* who recalls how he spent the years leading up to the coup attending poetry workshops with his best friend Bibiano.
Or they just remain among the missing – no news, no closure.
In the absence of facts it is inevitable that rumors fill the void.
In one of these workshops, led by the Bolshevik poet Juan Stein, our narrator and Bibiano meet the lovely and talented Garmendia twins.
It is in Stein’s workshop that they also first encounter Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, the man who we are told will .
The epigraph of Distant Star is a quote from Faulkner: I’m not sure which Faulkner novel or short story the quote appears in, but it’s easy to see similarities between Bolaño’s Distant Star and, for example, Faulkner’s masterpiece Absalom, Absalom.** Both authors use one person’s obsession with the life and history of another as a way to structure their novels.
Both stories are told through a mixture of rumor, innuendo, bits of information gleaned from interviews, imperfect memories and a willingness to extrapolate of the facts.
The following weekend I went back for Nazi Literature In the Americas.
Distant Star began life as the final chapter of Nazi Literature in the Americas.