Sunday, March 9, 2014

Say It With A Book #1 | AMULET by Robert Bolaño

With Guest Book Reviewer | Emir Gamis

At the beginning of March, I've hinted that I am going to launch another feature which I have confessed that I am most excited about... and this is it. I have reached out to some bookish friends to grace this feature and most of them did agree. And so, every month we will get to read a book review from a non-blogging friend who I believe has great things to share about a book he/she read. And who best open this feature than my good friend and Neighbor, Emir Gamis.

A Necessary Encounter

In one scene at the start of Roberto Bolaño’s Amulet, the narrator Auxilio Lacouture was observing a vase owned by the poet she was serving as a house helper,  “tracing a more or less spiral path” toward it. Just when she was about to pick up the object of her curiosity, she broke down and cried.
“Then still shaking, I got up and walked over to that vase again, with, I think, the sensible intention of picking it up and smashing it on the floor, on the green tiles of that floor, and this time the path I traced toward the object of my terror was not spiral but a straight line, admittedly rather hesitant, but straight nevertheless. And when I was a few feet from the vase, I stopped again and said to myself: If it isn't Hell in there, it’s nightmares, and all that is lost, all that causes pain and is better forgotten.”
Her narration is similar to her treatment of the vase under suspicion: circuitous and imaginative. The first paragraph of the novel serves as a forewarning: “This is going to be a horror story. A story of murder, detection, and horror. But it won’t appear to be, for the simple reason that I am the teller. Told by me, it won’t seem like that. Although, in fact, it’s a story of a terrible crime.”

From here the novel proceeds digressively, as Auxilio dithers with her story: Her entrapment at the women’s bathroom on the fourth floor of the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma in Mexico City (UNAM) during an army and riot police occupation of the campus in September 1968. The woman’s bathroom becomes Auxilio’s “timeship” as she started seeing her past, present, and future all mixed in during and after that fateful ordeal from 18th to 30th of that month.

Auxilio Lacouture: Cleaning woman, house help of old poets, go-to lady for literati’s odd jobs, a citizen of Uruguay, defender of autonomy of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and self-proclaimed mother of Mexican poetry – a character straight out of literary fodder and thrust into the limelight. In fact, she comes from another Bolaño creation, The Savage Detectives, wherein she merited a few pages. In Amulet, Bolaño gives her full reign and the result is a bizarro account of people, time, and events real and imaginary.

Bolaño’s treatment is clever but nevertheless heartbreaking: He promoted a marginal character; mixed reality with fiction; and stressed the gravity of his intention with the same levity reserved for a novel that relies heavily on some lunar checkers being played on the tiles of a woman’s bathroom. Auxilio’s tale of entrapment also serves as a springboard to a bigger, darker horror: “Not many people were killed in the university. That was in Tlatelolco.”  This is only mentioned in passing and only hinted at in the book.  Bolaño hits the target by shooting the periphery.

Amulet stresses the inescapable relationship of history and literature, especially the latter’s role of creating something out of a propitious encounter with the former. An encounter between history and literature would be something like Auxillo’s encounter with the soldier on the women’s bathroom: “And then I saw myself and I saw the soldier who was staring entranced at his image in the mirror, our two faces embedded in a black rhombus or sunk in a lake, and a shiver ran down my spine, alas, because I knew that for the moment the laws of mathematics were protecting me, I knew that the tyrannical laws of the cosmos, which are opposed to the laws of poetry, were protecting me and that the soldier would stare entranced at his image in the mirror and I, in the singularity of my stall, would hear and imagine him, entranced in turn, and in our singularities, from that moment on, would be joined like the two faces of a terrible, fatal coin.” It needs no physical collision and breaches the laws of the ordinary.

What more, Bolaño seems to point out that with whatever face history reveals itself to us, be it with the face of a murderous soldier or “that time that plants its big feet wide apart, bends down, puts its head between its legs, looking at me upside down, one eye winking crazily just a few inches below its ass”, we can always return the compliment through Literature and its riches, its books, its poetry, its songs.

This, indeed, is a horror story, but Amulet rises above the rubble of time and overcomes the horrors of a history it confronts.

Book details:
Title:  Amulet
Author:  Roberto Bolaño
Genre:  Literature & Fiction
Rating:  «««««

About Emir Gamis:

TPW:  What is your favorite genre? 
Emir: I have no particular genre preference. I read based on what I find and what other people, mainly friends, recommend, directly or indirectly. 
TPW:  How would you define yourself as a reader?
Emir: I'd say I'm moody. I read depending on what I fancy at the moment. Ditto my take on what I had finished reading. I could be generous or exacting, all depending on my state of mind or emotion. Makes me utterly unreliable in my reviews and invalidates me from writing in your blog, so I take the bit back.
TPW: Yours is one of the reviews I always look forward to in Goodreads, Emir. And would gladly have you here again. Thank you very much.


  1. Nice feature, Mommy Louize! I hope you could feature Mae here, as well. :D

    1. Thank you, Monique.
      Mae is on the "undecided list". Maybe you're the right person to give her the push? ♥

  2. I also always read Emir's reviews on Goodreads every time he posts one. (I hope he'd do it often, though haha!)

    This is a very cool feature, Mommy Louize! :)

    1. Thank you, Lynai. Yes, I do hope he often does. ♥