In Roberto Bolaño’s riotous compendium of fictional pan-American writers, Nazi Literature in the Americas, we read of an Argentinean author who “had been dandled by the Führer” and who “treasured the famous photo of her baby self in Hitler’s arms.” If her house was on fire and she could save only one possession it would be this picture, “even over her own unpublished manuscripts.” Earlier, in another fictional entry, we hear of another Argentinean writer who “financed the magazine The Fourth Reich in Argentina and, subsequently, the publishing house of the same name.” There’s yet another, a successful sci-fi writer, who’s creator of something called the Fourth Reich saga.
Such writing manages to incorporate several of Bolaño’s themes—violence, evil, Nazism, the value of literature—while showcasing his in-built trademark style and tone: blackly humorous, bitingly satirical, and so weirdly inventive that we don’t question any blurring between the real and the absurd. The Third Reich, his latest novel to be translated into English, doesn’t take us into a Fourth Reich, rather it deals with ways or “variants” to reimagine the Third. It was probably the first novel Bolaño wrote (it has been dated as late ’80s), and consequently those themes and styles, though undeniably present, are only nascent, and would not be developed and perfected until the later exuberant masterpieces, The Savage Detectives and 2666. This debut is decidedly slight in comparison and yet there is still much to enjoy.