Posts Tagged ‘Roberto Bolano’

‘By Night in Chile’ by Roberto Bolano – Silence in the Face of Evil


‘By Night in Chile’ by Roberto Bolano (2000) – 118 pages        Translated from the Spanish by Chris Andrews

I was getting somewhat tired of reading too much simplistic fiction where the good guys or gals contend with the bad guys or gals, and everyone is sharply defined. I wanted something more difficult, more ambiguous. So I read ‘By Night in Chile’ by Roberto Bolano, a challenging author that I have enjoyed before.

For one thing, the entire novel is one long paragraph, and there are no convenient stopping points for the reader. For another, the main character in the novel who tells the story, a literary priest, is not someone that Bolano wants us to applaud or approve of but is instead someone we readers are supposed to deplore and reject. Finally, the story is somewhat difficult to follow and understand, so I had to do a lot of research as I was reading just to follow the story. So it was a challenging read, and that is just what I wanted.

The entire novel is a deathbed confession by this literary Chilean Jesuit priest, Father Sebastian Urrutia LaCroix. Early on, Father Urrutia prefaces his words by saying:

One has a moral obligation to take responsibility for one’s actions, and that includes one’s words and silences, yes, one’s silences, because silences rise to heaven too, and God hears them, and only God understands and judges them, and so one must be very careful with one’s silences.”

Yes, silence in the face of evil is the sin we are dealing with here. We are confronted with the Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet came to power in Chile in a United States backed coup that overthrew the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende and ended civilian rule in Chile. During Pinochet’s and the military’s time in power, 2279 people were murdered by the military government, 31,947 people were tortured, and 1312 people were exiled. During this time Bolano himself was arrested, and though he was not tortured himself, he could hear the cries and screams of others being tortured.

‘By Night in Chile’ is Bolano’s critique of the Catholic Church and the Chilean literary establishment for standing by and allowing Pinochet and the military to murder and torture so many Chilean people. In one scene Father Urritia attends a literary soiree in a prominent lady’s house, and one of the other attendees searching for a bathroom opens the wrong door and witnesses someone being tortured in the house while they are talking about literature upstairs. On his deathbed, Father Urrutia makes the convenient excuse for not speaking out against this torture by saying he “would have been able to speak out but didn’t see anything [and] didn’t know until it was too late.” Sure, sure.

‘By Night in Chile’ is a challenging read in more ways than one.


Grade:     B+


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