Distant Star


Distant Star Spanish: Estrella distante is a novella by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, first published in Spanish in 1996. Chris Andrews’s English translation was published by New Directions in 2004. The story is based on the chapter "The Infamous Ramírez Hoffman" from Bolaño's book Nazi Literature in the Americas, where the protagonist's name is Carlos Ramírez Hoffman.

Plot summary

The book is narrated from a distance by Arturo B. (probably Arturo Belano, Bolaño's frequent stand-in) and tells the story of Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, an aviator who exploits the 1973 Chilean coup d'état to launch his own version of the New Chilean Poetry: a multi-media enterprise involving sky-writing, torture, photography, murder, and verse. The narrator first encounters him in a college poetry workshop, where Ruiz-Tagle only has eyes for the beautiful Garmendia twins, Veronica and Angelica. As the novel progresses it becomes clear that Ruiz-Tagle is far more and far less than a mere poet through progressively darker and ironic twists and turns.

The next sighting comes as the narrator stands in prison camp for political undesirables, gazing up at a World War II Messerschmitt skywriting over the Andes. The aviator is none other than Ruiz-Tagle, now serving in the Chilean force under his actual name, Carlos Wieder, and writing nationalist slogans in the sky. The narrator becomes obsessed with Ruiz-Tagle, suspecting that he is behind every evil act in Pinochet’s regime. After his release the narrator struggles to survive and make sense of his situation, but his destiny is eventually reconnected with that of Ruiz-Tagle/Wieder when a Chilean private detective seeks his help in tracking Wieder down by trying to identify the airforce pilot's hand behind various articles printed in neo-fascist publications.

"The Infamous Ramírez Hoffman"

As stated in its introduction, Distant Star is an expansion of the final chapter of Bolaño's earlier work, Nazi Literature in the Americas, an encyclopedic novel composed of short biographies of imaginary Pan-American authors on the political right. The section, entitled "The Infamous Ramírez Hoffman", is the longest in the novel and is markedly different from the other sections of the book, taking on a less encyclopedic and more personal tone. In the expansion of the text some of the characters' names remained unchanged (e.g. the narrator's fellow prisoner Norberto and the detective Abel Ramirez) but for most of the main characters the names were altered:

Character Distant Star "The Infamous Ramírez Hoffman"
Protagonist Carlos Wieder/Alberto Ruiz-Tagle Ramírez Hoffman/Emilio Stevens
Narrator Arturo B. Bolaño
Twin Sisters Veronica and Angelica Garmendia María and Magdalena Venegas

In spite of the differences between the texts Bolaño places them within the same fictional world, claiming that the story was narrated to him by Arturo B. in Nazi Literature in the Americas, but Arturo was displeased with the outcome:

"So we took that final chapter and shut ourselves up for a month and a half in my house in Blanes, where, guided by his dreams and nightmares, we composed the present novel. My role was limited to preparing refreshments, consulting a few books, and discussing the reuse of numerous paragraphs with Arturo and the increasingly animated ghost of Pierre Menard."[1]
  1. ^ Bolaño, Roberto. Distant Star, New York: New Directions, 2004. Introduction.
External links
  • Written in the Skies - review by Nick Caistor, The Guardian, 23 October 2004.

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