This is the story of a boy who wanted to be a poet but ended up as a Opus Dei priest Father Sebastian Urrutia. But he continues his literarary pursuits as a successful critic, although he writes poems occasionally and unsatisfactorily. He is sent to europe to study the challenges for preservation of churches. He encounters priests who consider pigeon shit as the most challenging. They keep falcons to drive away the pigeons. But then one of the priests confesses that falconry is destruction of the very symbol of the Holy Spirit.
Father Urrutia gets an assignment to teach Marxism in ten lessons to General Pinochet and his Junta secretly. He frequents the house of a literary lady Maria Canales who hosts all-night parties for the authors and artists while the city is clamped in night curfew. Later they discover that the American husband of the hostess colludes with the Chilean secret service to detain, interrogate and kill those suspected as subversives, in the basement of the house where his Chilean wife had literary soirees. This last part is based on the realife story of Mariana Callejas, a Chilean who was married to Michael Townley an American involved in the repression in Chile.
Father Urrutia describes the dilemma/excuse/explanation/ justification of those who went along with the dictatorship in these words:
"At the end of the day, we were all reasonable ,we were all Chileans, we were all normal, discreet, logical, balanced, careful, sensible people, we all knew that something had to be done, that certain things were necessary, there's a time for sacrifice and a time for thinking reasonably."Father Urrutia confesses that he has spent his entire life fleeing from the wizened youth.
The novel brings out the creative and destructive forces which had shaken and shaped the Chilean politics, literature and society in the last thirty years. The author uses magical realism to take the readers between reality and imagination; between Neruda and Pinochet; between Chile and Europe; and between the church and the state. He relishes sarcasm and satire in his powerful imageries and graphic style of writing.
Bolano himself was a victim of the military dictatorship. He was imprisoned. Later he went into exile in mexico and Europe. he died at the age of fifty in 2003.
This is the second book of Bolano for me. I have already read his other novel "Distant Star", which was also about literature caught in Chilean dictatorship.