by Roberto Bolaño

Hardcover, 2006




New York : New Directions, 2006.


Amulet is a monologue, like Bolano's acclaimed debut in English,By Night in Chile. The speaker is Auxilio Lacouture, a Uruguayan woman who moved to Mexico in the 1960s, becoming the "Mother of Mexican Poetry," hanging out with the young poets in the cafés and bars of the University. She's tall, thin, and blonde, and her favorite young poet in the 1970s is none other than Arturo Belano (Bolano's fictional stand-in throughout his books). As well as her young poets, Auxilio recalls three remarkable women: the melancholic young philosopher Elena, the exiled Catalan painter Remedios Varo, and Lilian Serpas, a poet who once slept with Che Guevara. And in the course of her imaginary visit to the house of Remedios Varo, Auxilio sees an uncanny landscape, a kind of chasm. This chasm reappears in a vision at the end of the book: an army of children is marching toward it, singing as they go. The children are the idealistic youngLatin Americans who came to maturity in the '70s, and the last words of the novel are: "And that song is our amulet."… (more)

Media reviews

Romanen är ett raffinerat litterärt drömmeri och rik på outtalade och uttalade författar- och konstnärsnamn.
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Roberto Bolaño har inte bara the magic touch vad gäller stilen, han har också en unik blick för det annorlunda och intressanta.

User reviews

LibraryThing member pgmcc
Roberto Bolaño came to my attention when his book 2666 appeared on a shelf in my local bookshop. 2666 is an enormous book and it looks impressive and is quite pretty. Always being susceptible to the charms of a pretty book I investigated, saw the ebullient praise of Bolaño’s work and got
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suspicious. Is he this good? Will I like his work?

“Amulet” provided the toe in the water for this author’s writing and my impression, having finished this teaser, is that I shall be reading his other works.

In “Amulet”, Bolaño gives the reader a view of the world of South American poetry, and the poetry scene in Mexico City in particular, over a period spanning the 1960s and 70s. The narrator is a lover of poetry who has devoted her life to being near the poets whose work she loves, and the young poets whose energy, enthusiasm and freedom of thought touches her.

If asked what this book is about I would say it is about poetry, revolutionary thoughts, love, the passing of time and growing old.

Bolaño’s mechanism for presenting this history is interesting and I think frees the reader from the linear passage of time, and blurs the boundaries between real memories and possible memories.

I would suggest the narrator is not one hundred percent reliable, but the result comes across as a credible perception of Mexico City in those decades and the symbiotic relationship between the poetry movements and South American revolutionary thought, and indeed, action.
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LibraryThing member berthirsch
Roberto Bolano's Amulet:

Another magical Latin American tale by the late Chilean author Robert Bolano.

Auxilio Lacouture, a homeless muse from Montivideo, Uruguay moves to Mexico City in the 1960's. Her love of poetry leads her to the university where she ingratiates herself to the two leading
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grandfather figures of Spanish-Mexican Poetry, Leon Felipe and Pedro Garfias. She latches on to them by providing cleaning services and errands free of charge; in return she is pleased to be allowed to be in the near proximity of these literary giants. She begins to call herself "the Mother of Mexican Poetry" and builds an idealistic self mythologizing image which culminates when the student riots of 1968 at the University of Mexico City are put down by police armed forces; she hides in the 4th floor female bathroom of the School of Philosophy and Literature buiding, beginning a 13 day self imposed exile there that becomes an underground tale retold by many and well known within the circle of Mexican poets and university students.

Auxilio moves from house to house floppping on couches, floors and roof tops along the way collecting clothes, books and tales that she leaves behind when she picks up to move to her next stop.

Frequenting the avant-guard bar scene of the city she befriends the younger, more rebellious poets one of whom she is particularly enamored with being Arturo Bolano-the author's alter ego.

One large section is centered around a re-telling of the Greek mythology of Orestes and Erigone as told to her by one Carlos Coffeen Serpas, a somewhat disabled and dependent painter who lives with his mother the poet Lilian Serpas, who sells his odd, stick-like figure sketches to patrons in bars throughout the city's varied barrios. Escaping his presence, Auxilio falls into a bizarre fugue-like state in which she is visited by a personal angel she is surprised to be from Buenos Aires. In a Nostradamasian barrage she begins a cascade of literary predictions in which the future reputations of various giants are spelled out: "Marcel Proust, a desperate and prolonged period of oblivion shall begin in the year 2033...Cesar Vallejo shall be read underground in the year 2045...Louis Ferdinand Celine shall enter Purgatory in the year 2094...the complete works of Roberto Arlt shall be adapted for the screen in 2102...etc,etc (the, at times, funny and strange predictions go on for four pages).

The book ends in a dreamlike biblical description of marching children seeking their fate in a vast valley in the countryside and the reader is left with a most satisfying experience.
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LibraryThing member jveezer
Wow! That was an amazing book. What is it about latin american writers? Is it just that we only get the good ones translated? That can't be it.
This novel moves back and forth in time from it's anchor point of the women's bathroom on the fourth floor of the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature of
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the Autonomous University of Mexico. The mother of Mexican poetry tells us of the young poets that came and went through the cafes and streets of Mexico City.
"And that is when time stands still again, a wornout image if ever there was one, because either time never stands still or it has always been standing still; so let's say instead that a tremor disturbs the continuum of time, or that time plants its big feet wide apart, bends down, puts its head between its legs, looking at me upside down, one eye winking crazily just a few inces below its ass, or let's say that the full or waxing or obscurely waning moon of Mexico City slides again over the tiles of the women's bathroom on the fourth floor of the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature, or that the silence of a wake falls over the Cafe Quito and all I can hear are the murmurs of Lilian Serpas's ghostly court and once again I don't know if I'm in 1968 or 1974 or 1980, or gliding, finally, like the shadow of a sunken ship, toward the blessed year 2000, which I shall not live to see."
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LibraryThing member lriley
Auxilio Lacouture--the heroine (female voice) of Roberto Bolano's Amulet is a Uruguayan woman living in Mexico moving amongst the bohemian circles of would be artists, poets, and writers. In september 1968 she finds herself in the ladies room of the major University in Mexico City sitting on the
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toilet with a commotion going on outside--an outside as in out in the open air and an outside as in out in the hall. Looking out the window she sees the Mexican Army in full force--fully armed with tanks etc. hauling away students, professors, university workers etc. Off to the hoosegow. She retreats back to her stall and for the next dozen or so days there she stays. When finally found by some who have returned she is incoherent and having had nothing to eat in that during that period--starving. This story should also be familiar for those who have read Paco Ignacio Taibo's '68'. Bolano--like Taibo gleaned it from a true event. There the similarities pretty much end between the Bolano and the Taibo books.

Bolano's Auxilio sees herself as the mother of Mexican poets. She takes them in whenever she can, feeds and supports them, sometimes has sex with them. She has a special affection for one Arturo Belano--a refugee from Pinochet's Chile and alter-ego of Bolano himself and this shorter work (184 pages) IMO should be seen as a kind of prequel to Bolano's masterpiece 'The Savage Detectives'. Just like me to read them in the wrong order. C'est la vie. What can you do? In any case adventures relating to Belano (Bolano) and his derelict friends and would be poets provide the background to the kind of nightmare of history for those on the bottom end of events as they happen are what is described here. These dark tones more stated than implied give to this work its moral quality. One can picture the same kind of devastated quality in Bolano's vision of Mexico City in comparison to say Louis Ferdinand Celine's Paris in his landmark novel 'Journey to the end of the night'--Bolano's writing being equally compelling and exciting as Celine's but in its own destinctive way. In this respect I can see Bolano becoming a major influence for writers for perhaps generations to come and from all over the world and not just from Latin America.

In any case I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of Bolano's works. If not all masterpieces they all border on it. A wonderful writer.
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LibraryThing member michaelbartley
the story of a poet living in mexico city in the late 60's early 70's . the novel is a poem, lots of symbolism. in a way a romantic novel with a dark soul
LibraryThing member FredSmeegle
Auxilio Lacouture is a friend to Mexican poets and artists. Finding herself trapped in the women's bathroom during the military seige on the University of Mexico in 1968, she sees the past and the future from the vantage point of her trauma.

A remarkable book, but the ending comes off a bit
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LibraryThing member JimElkins
This book really stays in your mind! I hadn't thought I would write a review, because Bolano is the Latin American author du jour in North America. But this novel has genuine staying power. The central image -- a woman cowering in the women's room on the fourth floor of the Philosophy and
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Literature building in UNAM in Mexico City during the police incursion -- is itself very memorable, but really it's her inner monologues, dreams, and hallucinations, and the strange sinuous voice that connects everything into a single book, that stays with me.

One of the more acute reviews of Bolano recently was, I think, in the "London Review of Books"; the reviewer noted thaqt Bolano writes continuously about writing, and that his novels chronicle novelists and poets, but that somehow his books aren't exactly novels. The authorial voice, and in this case also the narrator's voice, are presented as if they are talking. It's as if this is what happens in a writer's mind when he or she is contemplating the craft and social world of novel writing, before it's time to settle down and actually write. I think that's an excellent insight, and it explains an odd effect in Bolano: when you encounter a passage that is beautifully written, it seems somehow out of place, as if that is something that should only happen in the novels that Bolano's characters are forever discussing. Or to put it another way: it is as if novel writing is no longer possible, and the only way forward for the novel is rumination about the novel.

Wonderful book. I dare you to forget it.
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LibraryThing member gaskella
Bolano is the flavour of the moment; his posthumously published epic 2666 is generating acres of discussion and review. However I wanted to read something shorter before deciding whether to commit myself to 900+ pages of the other. Published before he died, Amulet is a short but and slightly
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surreal novel set in Mexico during a period of political unrest. Auxilio, a Uruguayan woman who hangs out with the poets of Mexico City is trapped in a bathroom at the university when the army invades to put down a student revolt in 1968. She's there for 12 days, and lies on the floor starving, remembering and fantasising the future about her life with the poets.

Knowing nothing of Mexican poetry or politics it was hard to know what, if anything, was real in the background to the novel. I was hoping to be dazzled by the writing, but found the confusing nature of the plot darting between Auxilio's memories and reveries difficult. The opening lines promise much - a horror story of murder, detection and horror, but immediately takes that away as the teller says it won't seem like that told by her. Interspersed among the ramblings which become increasingly surreal prophecies are some more conventional scenes of life with the literati, and their experiences with both the underbelly of Mexican society and regimes in charge in Latin America; these episodes briefly brought the novel to life.

As for reading more of Bolano, I may well try The Savage Detectives, but find the prospect of 2666 about 600 pages too much for me.
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LibraryThing member DRFP
Amulet is a slightly rambling novel by Bolano. The story starts strong but fails to develop and then becomes increasingly surreal as our narrator becomes more and more dislocated from reality. Bolano then tries to yank it back to normalcy in the final few pages and spell out his message - that this
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is a novel dedicated to those who fought during South America's dark decades - but by then it all feels muddled and inconsequential.

There's little of the deft touches that grace 2666 (I think that's particularly apparent in a scene where Auxillo talks to herself about being mad - 2666 features a similar scene with Amalfitano written with much more skill). Our main character is conundrum too - how much are we supposed to believe of what she says? Are we to be annoyed by her constant name dropping and self-promotion? Or should we feel pity and consider her quite delusional? Differing voices are given scant, if any, time here.

I believe Bolano has a noble message with his stated aim in this book but I feel this story misses the mark. He simply doesn't punch hard enough or direct his point with enough precision. The free flowing, rambling narration of this novel has an appeal but, for me, it undermines what Bolano wanted to achieve. Not a bad book but one well below his best.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
Bolano has written some excellent shorter novels and collections of short stories, but none of them work as well as his magnum opus, 2666. Amulet appeared as one of the tangential passages in The Savage Detectives, and although it is expanded upon neatly here, one wonders if it would have been best
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to leave it as the anecdote that it was. It is barely long enough to deserve the title of novel, and without the trademark panache of a Bolano piece it would have been a real disappointment. Worth reading, then, but only if you're something of a Bolano completist, which it looks like I'm becoming.
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LibraryThing member Voise15
Beautiful and dreamlike and unmistakeably Bolano. I was intrigued to read this following the reference in The Savage Detectives.
Bolano blurs the distinction within the narrative between fact and fiction to a dizzying extent and asks some telling questions about how we experience the world (see also
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Monsuier Pain).
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LibraryThing member Ameise1
What a fantastic story which is written with a great of love for the main character Auxilio Lacouture who is hiding for twelve days alone in a lavatory on the fourth floor of the university of Mexico during a police riot in 1967. She is in a state of hallucinatory and is calling herself the mother
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of Mexican poetry. She is telling stories about poets and artists which she could have met and the experiences she could have made. Mostly the reader has the feeling that everything had happened in real and only occasionally is reminded that she is making things up due to still be trapped in the lavatory.
The language is very strong and kept me gripping until the very last page. A lot of poets and authors who are mentioned in this book I do know by name or I've read something from them.
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LibraryThing member PZR
This novella/short novel takes an incident from Bolaño's brilliant 'The Savage Detectives' and weaves a new tale from it. The incident in question concerns the narrator, Auxilio Lacouture, and the Mexican regime's violent repression of student protest in the turbulent year that was 1968. Auxilio
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refers to this incident, the defining moment of her life, time and again throughout the book.

Like the longer work from which it derives, 'Amulet' is set in the world of Mexico City's poetry scene. It slips between description of a number of events and a series of hallucinations. The atmosphere Bolaño creates is unnerving.

Bolaño writes fairly convincingly from a female perspective, a notoriously difficult trick for a male writer to pull off. I guess it helps that his narrator is an oddball, not a 'conventional' woman. The dream-like repetitions move the narrative along in a fevered state of tension, reflecting the unease that habitually accompanies this writer's work. And it's a pleasure to make fleeting re-acquaintance with a few of the characters from 'The Savage Detectives'. And Bolaño knew what he was doing, of course. The opening and last lines are both memorable ones.

Unless it was self-deprecating high irony, the least likeable aspect of this book was the narrator's account of Arturo Belano, the fictionalised version of our novelist who first appears in 'The Savage Detectives'. Auxilio/Bolaño paints a picture of a romantic and heroic figure, returning from his defence of Allende against Pinochet to take on the lords of Mexico City's underworld. Hmm... According to some accounts, Bolaño never even returned to Chile at that troubled time (bringing to mind the controversy over Laurie Lee and the Spanish Civil War, another prose writer who saw himself as primarily a poet). There's nothing wrong with self-mythologising but a little due modesty doesn't go amiss.
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Best Translated Book Award (Longlist — 2008)


Original language



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