By Night in Chile

By Night in Chile Summary and Analysis of Pages 56-75


Urrutia tells readers that he was a member of Opus Dei, a secret Catholic order that held influential political ties. He relates, perhaps hyperbolically, the amount of literary power he amassed in ensuing years. Urrutia, from his deathbed, can hear the “wizened youth” yelling at him, accusing him of selling his soul to the dictatorship that would come, but Urrutia retorts back to the youth that “even the poets of the Chilean Communist Party were dying for a kind word from me, a word of praise for their poetry. And I did praise their poetry.”

It is during this time that Urrutia begins to suffer from an incurable state of boredom. He frustratingly writes poems that he then destroys the next day. He still writes book reviews, but they aren’t of the same quality as his previous work. He stops giving mass. Fellow priests and poets come to call on him, but he has nothing to give to them or say to them. He takes long walks through town, once getting mugged, and can’t help but be dismayed by the change in the city.

It is on one of these walks that Urrutia meets Mr. Raef. Raef was in the import-export buisiness and several fellow priests had recommended Urrutia to go to Europe to do some business for Mr. Raef in order to lift his mood. Raef tells Urrutia that he has been keeping up with him and the literary circles he runs in and that he would be perfect for this particular job. He takes him to several different restaurants, suspiciously leaving one and going to another, then finally ending up at a bar called “Haiti” where they drink coffee. Urrutia is disgusted by the bar, a “repulsive place that collects the scum of the city offices, the middle management, vice-this, assitant-that...” and he is embarrassed that a person like himself, a man “with a name, indeed with two names, and a reputation to think of...” would be seen in a place like this. In the bar, however, he has the thought that “Pigs suffer too,” and he imagines the people around him as pigs whose “pain purifies and ennobles them.”

After coffee, Raef takes Urrutia to meet his partner, Mr. Etah. Etah then explains the job that the two men want Urrutia to do. The two men are working for the Archepiscopal College and they need someone to travel to Europe to research “the preservation of churches.” Urrutia would travel Europe for a year in order to write a report on European preservation of churches. Urrutia is delighted with the work and can’t believe that he would be so lucky to get the job. Etah assures him that he is the man for the job.

Urrutia begins his voyage, setting off on an Italian ship. They pass by Columbia and through the Panama Canal, then across the Atlantic with a stop in Portugal and finally to Italy. Urrutia makes casual friends with some of his shipmates and recites poetry, says mass, and generally begins to regain his literary sensibilities after his debilitating boredom.

In Italy, Urrutia first visits the church of St. Mary of Perpetual Suffering where he meets a young priest, Father Pietro, who tells him that the biggest challenge of church preservation involves finding a way to keep the multitude of pigeons from ruining the church building. In response to the pigeons, Father Pietro tells him that he was testing a “radical” weapon. The next day he shows him this weapon, a falcon, which preys on the pigeons. Urrutian travels to several other churches and learns that those priests are also falconers. He ventures to France where the priests also keep falcons to keep the pigeons away. Urrutia takes solace in the “harmony of nature” as the priests’ falcons splash the blood of their prey “like an abstract expressionist painter.”

Urrutia then travels to Spain to pay his Opus Dei brothers a visit. He was not interested in church preservation here because, as he said, the churches “were simply not maintained at all....” In Spain, he is persuaded to write a book with his Opus Dei brothers and Raef sends him a letter asking of his journey, though Urrutia thinks that there is an “invisible letter” concealed within. He then goes to visit Father Antonio, an old priest, who, though he owned a falcon, was too old to help it hunt and who had “begun to have doubts about using such an expeditive method to be rid of birds which, in spite of their shitting, were God’s creatures too.” Urrutia’s picture of the old priest is a sad one. The priest is “hollowed by doubt and untimely repentance” and not a thing like the grand and stately priests in the other European countries. Father Antonio tells Urrutia that killing pigeons is a bad idea, since pigeons, or doves, are the “earthly symbol of the Holy Spirit.”

Urrutia realizes that Father Antonio is very sick, and that his falcon was freezing to death, so he calls a doctor for the old priest and takes the falcon up to the bell tower of the church. He tells the bird to fly away, and it does, killing several pigeons and depositing them at Urrutia’s feet before it flies away. The doctor comes, but the old priest dies that night and no one ever asks what happened to the falcon.


In this portion of the narrative, Bolano focuses on the church’s collusion with the destructive political power of Pinochet’s regime. He tells the story of how Urrutia begins to be tied up in these circles and how his disposition to associate with powerful people leads him directly into the upheaval of the Chilean government. Urrutia is quick to try and defend himself, arguing that the Communist Party of Chile was eager for his approval. His “wizened youth’s” political associations obviously lie with the leftist political movement, and the youth accuses the old Urrutia of knowing full well of the damage that his own political association caused for the country.

Urrutia’s case of boredom is symbolic of the boredom experienced by the bourgeois elites and the creature comforts they attain. These comforts, Bolano reveals, are not enough, and it is not until Urrutia becomes involved in a pseudo-capitalist/government operation that he once again finds his literary passion. Bolano is here suggesting that art does not completely fulfill, and that action is necessary. Unfortunately, Urrutia’s course of action is not one that betters the world.

The scene in the coffee house is one of brief enlightenment for Urrutia, though that enlightenment is fleeting. His assessment of the place - that it is a collection of the scum of the city, underlies his class-biased view of the world. But his realization that “pigs suffer” brings forth complicated emotions for Urrutia. The common folk that he encounters are still pigs, a dirty animal, but yet he briefly glimpses a beauty in their suffering. This is a play on the biblical notion of the sacrificial lamb. Jesus, as the sacrificial lamb for all of humanity, experienced purifying pain while suffering on the cross. It is then the Christian’s obligation to experience Christ’s suffering to join in his mission for the world. Bolano turns this metaphor around, giving it a political meaning. The pig is an unclean animal, just as the common people are not as “pure” as the religious and literary elites. Yet even Urrutia glimpses for a moment that even the suffering of the poorest and most common has deep significance, though, as is the case throughout the novel, this realization has little lasting effect on Urrutia.

Urrutia’s trip to Europe gives Bolano a chance to explicate an extended critique of the church as it relates to political power. Urrutia’s mission, a study of church preservation, is a coy play on the purpose of the church’s collusion with political power. By associating and pandering to the whims of dictators and oppressive capitalism, the church was attempting to simply preserve itself instead of providing a distinct religious voice to counter the injustices of the world. Urrutia’s trip to Europe is Bolano’s way of saying that the Chilean church learned much from its European counterparts on how to bend and pander to political power.

The other powerful symbol in this part of Urrutia’s trip is the symbol of the priest and the falcon. The falcon represents the elites of the church while the pigeons that the falcons prey on are symbols of the common masses. Bolano uses coarse wording here to convey his message - the pigeon “shit” is destroying the facade of the church, just as the vulgarity of the common masses threatened to destroy the elegance of the church. The priests then have devised methods of keeping the common masses under their control or exploiting them for their purposes, just as the falcons prey on the pigeons. The one priest who expresses reservations about the killing of pigeons, for they are “God’s creation” too, is ridiculed by Urrutia for being “hollowed by repentance.” Bolano asserts here that the church gained its strength by forging a strong arm of power that preyed on the common mass of people. All those within the church who harbored doubts or regrets of such action were immediately spurned from the institution.

One notable comment that Urrutia makes is that the churches in Spain needed no preservation. This is an attack on the Opus Dei organization, a secretive order of lay and cleric Catholics who are accused of being intricately involved with the dictatorship of Franco in Spain throughout the twentieth century. By saying that the churches in Spain needed no preservation, Bolano is slyly criticizing the church’s full compliance with Franco’s political regime and suggesting that underhanded tactics were used to influence political power and gain standing in the church.