The novelist Roberto Bolaño died in 2003. What follows is an excerpt from his last interview, published in Playboy Mexico the month of his death and now appearing in English in “Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview & Other Conversations” (Melville House Publishing). The interview was conducted by Monica Maristain and translated by Sybil Perez. (It is also reprinted in the current issue of Stop Smiling, though not available online.)
Monica Maristain: If you hadn’t been a writer, what would you have been?
Roberto Bolaño: I would like to have been a homicide detective, much more than being a writer. I am absolutely sure of that. A string of homicides. I’d have been someone who could come back to the scene of the crime alone, by night and not be afraid of ghosts. Perhaps then I might really have become crazy. But being a detective that could easily be resolved with a bullet to the mouth.
M.M.: Have you shed one tear about the widespread criticism you’ve drawn from your enemies?
R.B.: Lots and lots. Every time I read that someone has spoken badly of me I begin to cry, I drag myself across the floor, I scratch myself, I stop writing indefinitely, I lose my appetite, I smoke less, I engage in sport, I go for walks on the edge of the sea, which by the way is less than 30 meters from my house and I ask the seagulls, whose ancestors ate the fish who ate Ulysses: Why me? Why? I’ve done you no harm.
M.M.: Which five books have marked your life?
R.B.: In reality the five books are more like 5,000. I’ll mention these only as the tip of the spear: “Don Quixote,” by Cervantes; “Moby Dick,” by Melville. The complete works of Borges, “Hopscotch,” by Cortázar, “A Confederacy of Dunces,” by Toole. I should also cite “Nadja” by Breton; the letters of Jacques Vaché. Anything Ubu by Jarry; “Life: A User’s Manual,” by Perec. “The Castle” and “The Trial,” by Kafka. “Aphorisms,” by Lichtenberg. “The Tractatus,” by Wittgenstein. “The Invention of Morel,” by Bioy Casares. “The Satyricon,” by Petronius. “The History of Rome,” by Tito Livio. “Pensées,” by Pascal.
M.M.: John Lennon, Lady Di or Elvis Presley?
R.B.: The Pogues. Or Suicide. Or Bob Dylan. Well, but let’s not be pretentious: Elvis forever. Elvis and his golden voice, with a sheriff’s badge, driving a Mustang and stuffing himself full of pills.
M.M.: Have you seen the most beautiful woman in the world?
R.B.: Yes, sometime around 1984 when I worked at a store. The store was empty and in came a Hindu woman. She looked like a princess and well could have been one. She bought some hanging costume jewelry from me. I was at the point of fainting. She had copper skin, long red hair, and the rest of her was perfect. A timeless beauty. When I had to charge her, I felt embarrassed. As if saying she understood and not to worry, she smiled at me. Then she disappeared and I have never again seen anyone like her. Sometimes I get the impression that she was the goddess Kali, the patron saint of thieves and goldsmiths, except Kali was also the goddess of murderers, and this Hindu woman was not only the most beautiful woman on earth, but she seemed also to be a good person — very sweet and considerate.
M.M.: What do you wish to do before dying?
R.B.: Nothing special. Well, clearly I’d prefer not to die. But sooner or later the distinguished lady arrives. The problem is that sometimes she’s neither a lady nor very distinguished, but, as Nicanor Parra says in a poem, she’s a hot wench who will make your teeth chatter no matter how fancy you think you are.
M.M.: What kinds of feelings do posthumous works awaken in you?
R.B.: Posthumous: It sounds like the name of a Roman gladiator, an unconquered gladiator. At least that’s what poor Posthumous would like to believe. It gives him courage.
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