Cowboy Graves: Three Novellas

by Roberto Bolaño

Other authorsNatasha Wimmer (Translator)
Hardcover, 2021




Penguin Press (2021), Edition: 1st Edition, 208 pages


Fictio Literatur Short Storie HTML:One more journey to the universe of Roberto Bolaño, an essential voice of contemporary Latin American literature Cowboy Graves is an unexpected treasure from the vault of a revolutionary talent. Roberto Bolaño's boundless imagination and seemingly inexhaustible gift for shaping the chaos of his reality into fiction is unmistakable in these three novellas. In "Cowboy Graves," Arturo Belano�??Bolaño's alter ego�??returns to Chile after the coup to fight with his comrades for socialism. "French Comedy of Horrors" takes the reader to French Guiana on the night after an eclipse where a seventeen year old answers a pay phone and finds himself recruited into the Clandestine Surrealist Group, a secret society of artists based in the sewers of Paris. And in "Fatherland," a young poet reckons with the fascist overthrow of his country, as the woman he is obsessed with disappears in the ensuing violence and a Third Reich fighter plane mysteriously writes her poetry in the sky overhead. These three fiercely original tales bear the signatures of Bolaño's extraordinary body of work, echoing the strange characters and uncanny scenes of his triumphs, while deepening our reverenc… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member browner56
Roberto Bolaño died in 2003 at age 50, bringing to an apparent end his astonishing career as a novelist and a poet. I say “apparent” because it is simply amazing how prolific the author has been since his premature passing! With Cowboy Graves, we get another of his (mostly) original works,
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this time almost two decades after his death. Packaged as a collection of three separate novellas—although one is really more of a longish short story—the volume reads like a collection of unfinished sketches of characters who have been placed in extraordinary circumstances. If there is a common theme connecting the three parts, it would involve living during a time of revolution or social upheaval. However, looking for such connections risks missing the point; as always, the real joy in reading Bolaño’s fiction lies is savoring the stories-within-the-story that he created.

The first novella, which gives the book its title, is divided into four lengthy vignettes and tells the story of Arturo Belano, who will become one of the Visceral Realist poets at the center of the author’s great The Savage Detectives. Loosely autobiographical, the story covers Arturo’s boyhood in southern Chile before moving to Mexico, where he drops out of school to pursue left-wing causes which, in turn, takes him back to Santiago around the time of the Pinochet coup. According to the very informative Afterword written by Spanish literary critic Juan Masoliver Ródenas, the story was written less than ten years before the author’s passing.

‘French Comedy of Horrors’ is the second work and it comes the closest to being a traditional linear narrative. The story involves a young college student in French Guiana who, after watching a solar eclipse with his mentor and some colleagues, takes a long walk home by an unfamiliar route. Along the way he answers a ringing phone at a public booth and gets a strange request from an unknown man asking him to come to Paris to join an underground surrealist group that operates out of the city’s sewer system. The tale of how the Clandestine Surrealist Group was formed is itself a tribute to the French surrealist movement, which influenced Bolaño’s own work. Masoliver Ródenas dates this novella, which has no real ending to speak of, as one of the last things the author wrote in 2002-03.

‘Fatherland’ is the final novella in the book. It is also set in Chile at the time of the coup and it is told from the perspective of a 20-year old Rigoberto Belano, who seems for the most part to be identical to the Arturo Belano character that appears in ‘Cowboy Graves’ (and some of the author’s other work). The story is laid out in about twenty brief sections that vary considerably in style—they involve police reports, a funeral oration, recollected dreams, as well as straightforward storytelling—and jump around quite a bit in both time and location. At the heart of the tale is the heart-breaking loss of one of the protagonist’s first loves. The novella, which also ends with no real resolution, was written in the early-to-mid 1990s.

I enjoyed reading this volume, mainly for the electric way that Bolaño had in a telling a story, especially those “interior” tales that seem to come out of nowhere within a larger narrative arc. However, reading Cowboy Graves was also something of a nostalgia trip for this fan, given the frequent embedded allusions to some of the author’s more celebrated works (e.g., 2666, By Night in Chile, Last Evenings on Earth). Also, the very fragmentary and disjoint nature of the fiction it contains—“puzzle pieces”, in Masoliver Ródenas’ words—make it a book that you might have to be a Bolaño completionist to really appreciate. Readers new to this remarkable writer should begin their journey elsewhere.
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
These novellas leave much to be desired. I absolutely loved Bolaño's "2666", so had high expectations for this trio of novellas. I did not like the meandering style and did not find the author's prose anywhere near as engaging as in "2666". As is the case of much of Bolaño's writings, this trio
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have been published posthumously. I think whomever decides what to do with his works should be a little more discerning.
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LibraryThing member berthirsch
Book Review, Cowboy Graves by Roberto Bolano

In 2007 I opened Savage Detectives and became a huge fan of Roberto Bolano. Before that I had read a stray story here and there, but Detectives exploded with echoes of Kerouac and Kesey. Since then, I have devoured 2666, Amulet, and Between Parentheses.
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With his untimely death his estate and publishers have released a steady diet of found pieces, many of which have not lived up to the brilliance of those earlier works. How fabulous that with Cowboy Graves I have rediscovered the magic of Bolano.

Here are three novellas that cover familiar territory to those who have read through Bolano’s work. We follow the young poet as he discovers the world. He struggles to differentiate himself from family and friends finding his way via a love of poetry as he travels from Chile to Mexico and back again to Chile.

In Mexico we see the high school student cutting classes to spend his mornings in bookstores and his afternoons watching films and searching out sex. A young spirit his eyes wide open to experience the world around him. He befriends ‘The Grub” an older inhabitant whom he sees daily on a park bench in the Alameda of central Mexico City (this section, first appeared in Last Evenings on Earth, yet placing it here as part of Cowboy Graves works seamlessly). The Grub, a mysterious tragic figure, a fellow native of the protagonist’s father’s hometown in Sonora where cowboys die on the open range. In Cowboy Graves we learn more about Bolano’s upbringing, his relationship to his parents, early education, and poetic influences. He continuously sites both Nicanor Parra and Pablo Neruda as literary forefathers and heroes. On a boat trip to Chile, “I want to be a revolutionary”, he meets a burlesque performer, Dora, another older female he seeks knowledge from, “she smelled spicy, a combination of Italian food and perfume”.

What I admire most about Bolano’s work is that the poet is seen as a hero for culture and truth. He celebrates the poetic spirit as undying and vital. His characters continuously live within the poet’s skin, experiencing both the highs and lows of human experience.

In the 2nd novella, French Comedy of Horrors, Arturo Belano, receives a call from nowhere; walking home after a late-night party he stops to pick up a ringing call from a public phone booth, a voice on the other end asking if he is a poet and, though unpublished, the young man says, “yes I am a poet”. Summoned to Paris by the founder of the Surrealist Group of Clandestinity, Andre Breton, he joins a cadre of young surrealists living underground where they are supported by black veiled widows of famous Surrealist artists. It is well known that when Breton was sent to Mexico City by the French government he said, “I don’t know why I came here. Mexico is the most surrealist country in the world”.

The third novella, Fatherland, is the best of the three. In a series of 20 vignettes, Arturo returns to Chile as Pinochet steals power from the budding Socialist movement. Activists, artists, and their young followers form the cadre of revolution. He meets a young woman, Patricia, a beauty who guides the young poet, still innocent and naive yet a willing student eager to serve the effort.
The most intriguing character is Victor Diaz who becomes Juan Cherniaskovski, a photographer who carries his projector and slides in a traveling exhibition. The first show highlights a trip to India where holy men and eunuchs share the stage. He later isolates himself, writing poetry and saving a prostitute from her pimps. Sailing for Europe he dedicates himself to saving children from a system of organ harvesting. This brief episode is reminiscent of Bolano’s grand opus 2666: “beggar children, homeless children, are the most common source of raw material.”

Commenting on how people ignore what is happening, Bolano sites another great poet, WH Auden: “about suffering they were never wrong/the Old Masters: how well they understood/its human position; how it takes place/while someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along” …

“The silence…is almost total. Every so often there’s a bit of news, not in the papers or on television, but in magazines, like stories about flying saucers. We know it exists, but the reality is so awful that we’d rather pretend we don’t. That’s human progress…Meanwhile business prospers and the Siquerios sun rises and falls like a mad mandrill. The witches touch up their warts with French makeup. The child hunters play cards and fondle their privates like degenerate Narcissuses, fathers and brothers to us all. Diaz…falls in love with an adolescent prostitute and embraces the Terror. His formula is expressed as the curtain falls: if paradise, in order to be Paradise, is fertile soil for a vast hell, the duty of the Poet is to turn Paradise into Hell. Victor Diaz and Jesus Christ set fire to the palm trees.”

Roberto Bolano’s manifesto for poets and artists. His body of work, a testament to his poetic and imaginative powers. He is a grand master. His estate, editors, publishers, and the translation by Natasha Wimmer (who also translated both Savage Detectives and 2666), together have pulled a rabbit out of the hat.

Bolano’s fans have been patiently waiting for another masterpiece; we are happy to have been rewarded with Cowboy Graves.
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LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
I loved this book. From the first page, I loved this book, and the love didn't end until the very last sentence, and it will carry on beyond that. I was not expecting this. I loved 2666 - more passionately, sure, but should that be a surprise? - and I have loved many other Bolanos in the years
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since, but there have been disappointments as well, Bolano books that should have stayed on the notepaper on which they were scrawled. I'm looking at you, True Policeman. I had my worries when I set out on this latest adventure with the Chilean, but those first pages reassured me, and there are some real highlights here. The unfinished ant-alien sci-fi; the surrealists being led into the sewers of Paris... these tales and others will stay with me for a long time.
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LibraryThing member snash
Confusing disjointed stories of poets in Chile and Mexico. The lack of a clear plot is purposeful.


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