With the translations of his sprawling shaggy-dog tales of Latin American leftists and bohemians on the run from political repression in the 1970s and 1980s, Roberto Bolaño became something of an international phenomenon over the past decade or so. From The Savage Detectives to 2666 and The Spirit of Science Fiction, the Bolaño voice is irresistible—raw, omnivorous, a hopped-up mélange of gritty sex, revolutionary politics, and literary infighting. Bolaño, who died in 2003 at the age of 50, was himself an exile from Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile—which lasted from 1973 to 1990—settling first in Mexico and then Spain.
Recently, out of Bolaño’s shadow, a new generation of writers, from Chile and Argentina in particular, has emerged with its own take on the region’s violent legacy. (Argentina’s military junta ruled from 1976 to 1983.) The Chilean writer Alejandro Zambra, born in 1975, offers miniaturist meta-novels about growing up on the outskirts of Santiago in the 1980s. In his 2013 book, Ways of Going Home, Zambra presents a seemingly typical coming-of-age-story, yet ominous tremors are felt just below the surface—earthquakes both real and political. This slim, oblique novel exemplifies, in part, what Zambra calls a “literature of the children.” “While the adults killed or were killed,” he writes, “we drew pictures in a corner. While the country was falling to pieces, we were learning to talk, to walk, to fold napkins in the shape of boats, of airplanes.”