A novel so deeply impressive makes you depressed to know the fate of the author. Bolaño, the most penetrating and galling Chilean of his generation (beloved by few), died of liver failure in 2003 while awaiting a transplant. He was 50.
This novel — published as “Estrella Distante” in 1996 — works like a telephoto lens moving closer to, then panning away from, the life of one Carlos Wieder, charlatan dissident, aviator, torturer, romantic nationalist.
Bolaño’s shy narrator makes Wieder into a terrifying metaphor for Christian militarism gone elegantly mad. Few are as adept as Bolaño at portraying both the banality and self-righteous allure of evil. He eviscerates authoritarianism while it sleeps, the proud, absurd Wieder an accomplice. Bolaño’s dissent is the jab. And he throws them well.