Last Evenings on Earth

by Roberto Bolaño

Other authorsChris Andrews (Translator)
Paperback, 2006




New York : New Directions Books, 2006.


"The melancholy folklore of exile," as Roberto Bolano once put it, pervades these fourteen haunting stories. Bolano's narrators are usually writers grappling with private (and generally unlucky) quests, who typically speak in the first person, as if giving a deposition, like witnesses to a crime. These protagonists tend to take detours and to narrate unresolved efforts. They are characters living in the margins, often coming to pieces, and sometimes, as in a nightmare, in constant flight from something horrid. In the short story "Silva the Eye," Bolano writes in the opening sentence: "It's strange how things happen, Mauricio Silva, known as The Eye, always tried to escape violence, even at the risk of being considered a coward, but the violence, the real violence, can't be escaped, at least not by us, born in Latin America in the 1950s, those of us who were around 20 years old when Salvador Allende died." Set in the Chilean exile diaspora of Latin America and Europe, and peopled by Bolano's beloved "failed generation," the stories ofLast Evenings on Earth have appeared inThe New Yorker andGrand Street.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member parrishlantern
Exile on dead-end street

"A minor poet disappears without leaving a trace, hopelessly stranded in some town on the Mediterranean coast of France. There is no investigation. There is no corpse. By the time B turns to Daumal, night has fallen on the beach; he shuts the book & slowly makes his way back
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to the hotel."

The last evenings on earth, shouldn't make sense, it's a book about failure, not the usual fireworks & all guns blazing failure I've come to expect from Bolano's work (The savage detectives, 2666). No this is wretched, abject - from the Latin "abjectus" meaning, cast away, this is the flotsam & jetsam of Latin- America, exiled from their own past. Individuals washed up on the shores of Europe, some having escaped torture & violence under General Pinochet's regime, yet having not really escaped, still wearing the chains, still bearing the scars, still living haunted lives of utter anonymity. Bolano also writes about the writers, poets and artists that history forgot, the ones who regardless of talent, pursued a life of dedication to their muse, the ones who sacrificed themselves upon its altar & left not a blood stain.

"Have you found Henri Lefebvre? asks M. She must be still half asleep, thinks B. Then he says no. She has a pretty laugh. Why are you so interested in him? she asks, still laughing. Because nobody else is, says B. And because he was good."
These characters work as dishwashers, send poems to obscure magazines, enter competitions for a pittance of a prize, for the one chance that a light may illuminate their genius, that some voice will sing out & proclaim their worth. Lives are spent travelling from A to B, but B's never different, it's the same cheap hotel, the same bar filled with the same shades, just a different costume on the same whore .

These stories fall into two categories, they are either 1st person recollections, where the narrator recounts an episode from his past - a chance encounter, meeting old friends or enemies - or 3rd person accounts of a writer named B, (Belano/Bolano). Exiled from his homeland & subsisting on the margins of his adopted country, of time spent travelling in search of something long lost & settling for some short lived comfort, some transient shelter. Yet at the heart of these tales, this is just one story, that is not a criticism of the book. This is the story of artists, writers & poets exiled from all that could be called home. Individuals caught in their own private quests, hunted by nightmares, always on the edge. These are chased shadows no longer relevant.

Despite all this, the book is addictive. By the time you've started the third story, you will belong to these characters, it will matter what happens to them. The French poet who shone in the resistance only to fadeout as a teacher in some remote village, the exiled writer who goes home to recover his sons body then languishes & dies, or just following Ann Moore's life from the age of 20 - 40. It will matter, fold the corner on the page, put the book down, leave the room & it will be there, just behind your eyes, in between your thought processes, it will be the beat that paces your journeys, it's shadow will dog your footsteps & your sleeping self, will continue to turn the pages.

"There's nothing for me to do here, says B. This sentence will pursue him throughout the return journey like the headlights of a phantom car"

Although last evenings on earth is compiled from 2 previous collections (Llamadas Telefonicas & Putas Asesinas) of Bolano's, it doesn't feel bolted together, if there are joins, if in places it doesn't quite match, I couldn't find them. Yes it's fragmented, but the fault lines are those of the characters, the fractures are the human lives that he writes about.

"The secret story is the one we'll never know, although we're living it from day to day, thinking we're alive, thinking we've got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn't matter. But every single damn thing matters! Only we don't realize. We just tell ourselves that art runs on one track and life, our lives, on another, and we don't realize that's a lie."
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LibraryThing member rnarvaez
These 14 bleakly luminous stories are all told in the first person by men (usually young) who yearn for something just out of their grasp (fame, talent, love) and who harbor few hopes of attaining what they desire. New Yorker readers may remember two selections: "Gómez Palacio," concerning the
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grimly uneventful encounter of a Mexico City writer with the woman who directs the backwater writing program where he comes to teach, and the title story, set in 1975, in which a young Mexico City man and his father vacation in Acapulco—a trip their relationship is not strong enough to survive. The stories are similar, in theme and voice (though not in locale), and they are perfectly calibrated: Bolaño limns the capacity of a voice to carry despair without shading into bitterness. (May)
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LibraryThing member lriley
When I think of literature coming out of Chile I think of Nicanor Parra and I think of Roberto Bolano. There have been other great Chilean writers--Neruda, Donoso, Mistral and Lihn but Parra and Bolano IMO are its two brightest stars. Bolano is just a wonderful writer. Last evenings on earth does
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not have even one dud--one story approaching a dud out of its 14 stories. Maybe not quite the masterpiece that the Savage Detectives is or has become--nonetheless it is a gem. Starting with 'Sensini' about an Argentine exile writer from the 70's-80's military dictatorship eking out a living in Spain doing translations and entering and sometimes winning literary contests for prize money--Bolano in his clear, lucid and unsentimental prose shows the sorry existence of an artist forced to live outside his milieu. The stories sometimes narrated by his alter-ego Belano or at other times just B can be described as a kind of living history of coping with exile--not unknown to many Latin American writers of his era. B is often itinerant--almost always a wanderer-a man without a home often connecting with the disastrous effects of his displacement and the displacement of other South American refugees. They are left mostly with their dreams of what could have been and what will never be. Beyond that the prose is remarkable--a living current--that carries the reader along effortlessly--a kind of morning after lucidity that has you wishing at the end there were even just one more story to go. A masterful writer.
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LibraryThing member 1morechapter
This book of stories by Roberto Bolaño is a NYT Most Notable Book. Bolaño is a Chilean author whose book The Savage Detectives was named to the most recent NYT Most Notable list as well. It seems to be getting a lot of buzz on many ‘Best of 2007′ lists. Although Bolaño died in 2003, some of
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his works are just now being published in English.

The settings of these stories are in Chile, Mexico, Spain, and many other countries. It has a very international feel to it. Bolaño’s writing is fascinating. Without really enjoying many of the stories, I still felt compelled to read them. There is always something literary going on; perhaps that’s why they intrigued me. However, many of the stories just had too much violence and seediness for my taste–otherwise the book would have had a higher rating from me.

I’m curious about The Savage Detectives, though, and I may try to read that one in 2008.
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LibraryThing member joe1402
A wonderful book of short stories focusing primarily on the experiences of exiles from Pinochet's coup in 1973 or other Latin American fascist regimes. The stories are set in Mexico, Spain, or France, generally amongst poets, artists, and professionals. My favorite story is the first, "Sensina,"
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about a short story writer, older than the narrator, who supports himself in exile by entering literary contests. Eventually he returns to Argentina to look for his "disappeared" son, and dies. None of the exiles overtly support or talk of Allende, or commit themselves to political action, but their lives all seem to be lacking something that they cannot describe.
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LibraryThing member John
This is a collection of fourteen stories. Common themes deal with writers living in exile, primarily Mexico and Spain but also more broadly in Europe, forging their own communities that are often sectarian and prejudiced, where high-level intellectual discussions or pretensions of the same, cut
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across social and personal conflicts, writers barely eking out a living, some that remain true to their craft, others that compromise to live, names that might be notable for a time and restricted space but will not be noteworthy in the grander context, people disconnected from their roots and so buffeted by events. I don’t know that anyone ends up happy in these stories and yet they are not entirely unhappy stories; they are just stories of life and lives, of the over-arching value of literature and poetry and the demands and sacrifices they impose, of the “hells” that descended on so many Latin American countries with repression, torture, disappearances and that scattered so many of a generation. As Bolano notes in one story, “…violence, real violence, is unavoidable, at least for those of us who were born in Latin America during the fifties and sixties and were about twenty years old at the time of Salvador Allende’s death”. But through it all there is literature and, as Bolano says in another of the story: “We never stop reading, although every book comes to an end, just as we never stop living, although death is certain”.

Wonderful writing. Recommended reading.
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LibraryThing member dr_zirk
Last Evenings on Earth is the first book by Roberto Bolano that I've ever read, and I am deeply impressed. Even in translation, Bolano comes across as a sort of poet laureate of vaguely dissatisfied intellectuals, delivering these wonderful short stories with a wry humor and an eye for detail. Most
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impressive is Bolano's skillful use of fast-flowing language that really does sweep the reader along in a journey that is simultaneously thrilling, confusing, and never subject to obvious interpretation. And that's the strength of Bolano's gift - he seems to accept the world as it is, without the endless re-invention found in so much contemporary fiction that can reduce it to mere fantasy. After this first sampling of his art, I'm sure I'll be reading much more of Bolano's output in the coming years.
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LibraryThing member DRFP
A decent collection of short stories. It feels as if Bolano's personal ticks are a little too in evidence here (the themes of exile, discourses on literature, etc) and at times I thought this almost a little self-indulgent (in the same way that Murakami's pop culture referencing or excessive detail
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regarding food feels a little invasive).

Bolano is an excellent writer - 2666 was a surprisingly readable 900 pages - and nothing has changed here. When he sets about writing a story that stands alone and is free of his self-insert ruminations then the results are good. Sensini, Phone Calls and the title story demonstrate this and are the best of the bunch. Only one short is actively bad - I found nearly nothing redeemable in Ann Moore's Life. The rest of the collection is neither here nor there, well written but ultimately hollow.

Bolano was certainly a great author but, on this evidence, the short story wasn't his forte. Best to stick with his full length novels and novellas.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
I wondered as I read this collection of short stories if these really were stories at all. Most have no discernable plot or story arc. However, everything that Bolano writes is sometimes touched with magic. Every word is right - credit due to the translator - and every sentence perfectly weighted.
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His stories, his memories, his anecdotes - whatever you want to call them - are haunting and memorable.
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LibraryThing member Voise15
There is an unmistakable sense of joy in Bolano's writing - and that optimistic faith in literature and the craft of literature shines through these short stories which, once again, concern themselves with exile and alienation.
This collection is earthy and gawdy - I particularly liked Sensini and
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Dentist - some of the other stories were less memorable.
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LibraryThing member MSarki
There is something special about a Bolano short story, at least in this collection and The Insufferable Gaucho. I believe Bolano had the Hemingway iceberg theory down in these stories. Highly recommend. Good stuff.
LibraryThing member pivic
This is my first trip into Bolaño; I wasn't really prepared for this, what happened to me upon reading this book, but it was a mixed bag: a bit of ADHD, a bit of yanking my chain, but mainly, this was some exciting reading from a very talented writer.

When Paul was gone, Anne and Rubén shut
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themselves in the bungalow and spent three days in a row making love. Anne's money soon ran out and Rubén went back to selling drugs outside The Frog. Anne left the bungalow and went to live at Ruben's house in a suburb from which you couldn't see the ocean. The house belonged to Rubéns grandmother, who lived there with her eldest son, Ruben's uncle, an unmarried fisherman, about forty years old. Things soon took a turn for the worse. Ruben's grandmother didn't like the way Anne walked around the house half-naked. One afternoon, when Anne was in the bathroom, Ruben's uncle came in and propositioned her. He offered her money. Anne, of course, refused the offer, but not firmly enough (she didn't want to offend him, she remembers) and the next day Ruben's uncle offered her money again in return for her favors. Without realizing what she was about to unleash, Anne told Rubén. That night Rubén took a knife from the kitchen and tried to kill his uncle. The shouting was loud enough to wake the whole neighborhood, Anne remembers, but strangely nobody seemed to hear. Luckily, Ruben's uncle, who was a stronger and more experienced fighter, soon disarmed him. But Rubén wasn't about to give in, and threw a vase at his uncle's head. As bad luck would have it, just at that moment his grandmother was coming out of her room, wearing a very bright red nightgown, the likes of which Anne had never seen. Ruben's uncle dodged the vase and it struck his grandmother on the chest. The uncle gave Rubén a beating, then took his mother to hospital. When they returned, the uncle and the grandmother marched straight into the room where Anne and Rubén were sleeping and gave them two hours to get out of the house. Rubén had bruises all over his body and could hardly move, but he was so scared of his uncle that before the two hours were up, they had packed all their gear into the car.

It's a very good book at times, and at others, e.g. when Bolaño endlessly name-drops authors and books, it gets tedious as hell. At that point I wish he'd had an editor to rein him in a lot.

Some sentences, though, are just great:

One day Anne's love for Tony ran out and she left Seattle.

A lot goes on in very little time:

One night, while they were making love, Bill suggested they have a child. Anne's reply was brief and calm, she simply said no, she was still too young, but inside she could feel herself starting to scream, or rather, she could feel, and see, the dividing line between not screaming and screaming. It was like opening your eyes in a cave bigger than the Earth, Anne remembers. It was around then that she had a relapse and the doctors decided to operate again.

In total: a very worthy read.
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LibraryThing member steve02476
Funny sad short stories.


Original language



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