By Night in Chile

By Night in Chile Summary and Analysis of Pages 101-130


Urrutia learns that a rumor was beginning to spread that he had given classes on Marxism to the Junta and he is angry that Farewell could have told anyone such privileged information. Urrutia waits to see if he is going to be chastised by the military or disciplined by the church for his actions, but he soon finds that no one truly cares. No one even calls to complain to him about it. Urrutia remembers those years as being ones in which people simply attempted to live out their lives: “we were all reasonable...we were all Chileans, we were all normal, discreet logical, balanced, careful, sensible people....” Though he is committed to “thinking reasonably,” he does admit that the “wizened youth” was there in the background, though utterly unheard.

Urrutia recalls that during Pinochet’s reign he continued to write and to publish his articles and books. He would visit Europe and North America, though he would always return to Chile to “cry out in the desert” for a return to culture, a return to reading the great classics of literature. He relates how Chile became more dumbed down through television and that even the intellectual got bored because “you can’t read all day and all night” and because the 10pm curfew meant that artists and intellectuals couldn’t gather at night. And, anyway, he says, people didn’t notice the details of what was really going on because they didn’t want to find the “coffins, makeshift cemeteries, ghost town, the void and the horror, the smallness of being its ridiculous will...”

Urrutia recounts how he met a women named Maria Canales, a young writer, who hosted parties at her large house outside the city. Twice or three time a week Maria would throw parties for the literati of Santiago and Urrutia and his colleagues would go to her and her husband Jimmy’s house where they would drink whiskey and recite poetry all night until the curfew lifted at six the next morning. Urrutia couldn’t help but notice, however, that Maria’s young son Sebastian looked “drawn,” and that something was not right with the child, though the maid of the house snatched the child away when he tried to inquire. For Urrutia, Maria Canales was only a mediocre writer and he and Farewell lament the state of contemporary Chilean literature.

In one conversation Maria Canales claims to love one particular feminist novelist but Urrutia points out that the novelist had borrowed much of her language from French feminists in the 1950’s. Canales slyly asks if he doesn’t like the Chilean novelist and Urrutia simply defends his act of criticism. Urrutia claims to never want to go back to Canales’s house, but after a disappointing visit with the old and senile Farewell he decides that he will - a clear attempt to stay in with the current literary scene. Canales now has won a prize for a short story that neither Urrutia nor Farewell thought was very good and Urrutia finds it odd that “with all the racket and the lights” during her parties “the house was never visited by a military or police patrol.”

One evening while alone, Urrutia has a dream. He is visited by Father Antonio, the old priest from Spain. Father Antonio walks him out to a courtyard and shows him a tree where, perched on a branch, sits his old falcon Rodrigo. Urrutia is happy to see the bird but Father Antonio cries in his arm and finally tells him that the tree he is looking at is the Judas Tree. Realizing it to be true, Urrutia walks towards the tree and touches it just as the falcon flies off and he wakes from the dream. Urrutia realizes that “Chile itself, the whole country, had become the Judas Tree, a leafless, dead-looking tree, but still deeply rooted in the black earth....”

Urrutia says that he went to one more of Maria Canales’s parties, but then never went back. Later, he found out from a friend that a guest at one of her parties had gotten lost in her house and accidentally stumbled down into the basement. Upon opening a closed door he found a naked man, tied up and blindfolded to a bed, looking as if he had been beaten. The man closed the door and went back up to the party where he continued to drink and never said a word.

Months later Urrutia heard the same story but with some of the details changed, and then later the same story with more details changed. Soon, everyone knew the story and Urrutia recalls how after the fall of Pinochet and the return of democracy word got out that Canales’s husband, Jimmy Thompson, had secretly been a government agent and had been running an interrogation room out of his house for prisoners. Urrutia, deep inside, finds it disturbing that a woman would hold parties in her house while people in her basement were being tortured; that people with children in their household would do such things; and that writers and artists would say nothing about it when they knew the truth. Urrutia, trying to show he was not culpable for this hypocrisy, claims that he would have said something but, of course, wasn’t present to take action.

One afternoon, years later, Urrutia drives out to see Maria Cantales again. The house she lives is falling apart and overrun with weeds. She tells him she is being taken to court by the Jews who own it. They want to tear it down. In the room where she used to throw her parties they sit and talk about her life, her sons, her husband. She has been abandoned by them all and now only journalists come to her house to try and find out more about the torture that happened in her basement. She knows that her literary career is over, but she desperately hopes to be a part of the literary elite once again. Urrutia leaves her and tells her to pray because “That’s how literature is made in Chile.”

Urrutia recalls Farewell’s funeral and how he is now the old decrepit one. He remembers returning to Farewell’s estate and attempting to revisit the peasants he saw when he was younger. He remembers asking about Maria Canales to a young writer who had attended her parties, but the writer denies ever having known her. He remembers talking with a group of working class men, asking them how their land was doing, but they tell him they all work in factories now and have never worked the land. And he wonders where the wizened youth was in all this, and the realizes that the wizened youth was himself. It was his younger self, accusing him of all the wrong and culpability that he accrued through his life. He thinks of all the faces of those that he admired, loved, envied and despised. He remembers those he protected and those he attacked. The novel ends with the image of those faces and Urrutia declaring that “then the storm of shit begins.”


Urrutia’s recollections of the Pinochet years firmly pin his guilt of association with the regime. He continues to engage in a political ignorance, writing his reviews and calling for a return to classic art, though no one is listening. Bolano is here critiquing the act of criticism. What use, he asks the reader, is art when people are mindlessly suffering. What use is the critic if he or she cannot be critical of the most infamous evil surrounding them. Though Urrutia, and by association the church and the literati, might not have physically been in legion with the Pinochet regime, their inaction is as much of a sin as the regime’s brutal action.

The climax of the novel surrounds the parties at Maria Canales’s house. Canales and her husband, Jimmy Thompson, were real historical figures and the events that Bolano describes are apparently true events. That writers and artists gathered in the house while torture and executions were being committed under their feet is the most damning scene for the literati in the book. Their inaction is turned to direct association after one of the artists sees the torture first hand and then does not tell anyone. Later, a young artist denies ever having been associated with Maria Canales. Bolano asserts that these literari elites were more concerned with their own selves, their career and their art, than they were with justice. The brutality of the Pinochet regime creates as much blood on their hands as those who are directly responsible.

Several metaphors grace this section of the book that complexifies Urrutia’s inner struggle over this fact of brutality. The first is the likeness that Urrutia sees in Canales’s son, Sebastian. They share a name, but Urrutia believes they share more as well, though he cannot place it. The child symbolizes Urrutia’s own feelings of involuntary association with the evil of Pinochet. The child cannot help what family he belongs to, though Urrutia does believe he hates his parents. Like the child, Urrutia is attempting to tell the reader that he had no choice in what he was involved in.

The other powerful symbol in this section is the Judas Tree. This is an allusion to the story from the Book of Acts in the New Testament in which Judas, after having betrayed Jesus for silver, hangs himself out of shame for what he did. The tree and the land that the tree was on were forever cursed according to the Bible. After the dream in which Urrutia sees the tree and Father Antonio, he realizes that the tree symbolizes Chile. However, it symbolizes more than that. Like the falcon sitting on the tree, the tree symbolizes Urrutia himself, as well as the other artists of Chile. They betrayed their wizened youth and what they knew to be the right thing to do. The reader is also asked to remember the scene in which Farewell envisions himself and Neruda in the shadows, but then realizes it was just a tree. The tree was a foreshadowing of the guilt that all of Chile’s great artists and critics were to bear for the political failures of their country. While Neruda remains a great literary figure, the tree of shame is still cast over his legacy as well as that of all of Chile’s artists.

The final imagery in the novel harkens back to the symbols of pigeons. As Urrutia remembers the faces of all those that were both his friends and enemies he remarks, in the last line of the book, this is now when the “shit storm began.” The reader is reminded that it was the job of the falcon to protect the church from pigeons and their “shit” which were causing damage to the church buildings. All of those common people in Urrutia’s lives are represented by the pigeons and Bolano here suggests that in his final deathbed confession, they are finally gaining some measure of revenge for the oppression of the church symbolized by a figure like Urrutia. They are casting a “shit storm” upon him, tearing down his legacy as unjust and cowardly. Bolano’s novel, then, ends with a note of revenge and dark optimism that some measure of justice will ultimately prevail.