Did Bolaño exaggerate about his “Jimmy-Boy Frey” days? It’s like me and my tortured relationship with Spicy Thai Kettle chips. If I could only get that monkey off my back, I just might be happy.
But his widow, from whom he was separated at the time of his death, and Andrew Wylie, the American agent she recently hired after distancing herself from Mr. Bolaño’s friends, editors and publisher, are now challenging part of that image. They dispute the idea, originally suggested by Mr. Bolaño himself, endorsed by his American translator and mentioned in several of the rapturous recent reviews of “2666” in the United States, that he ever “had a heroin habit,” that his death was “traceable to heroin use” or even that he had “an acquaintance with heroin.”
At the same time, some of Mr. Bolaño’s friends in Mexico, where he lived for nearly a decade before finally settling down near Barcelona, Spain, are questioning another aspect of the life story he constructed for himself.
They say that Mr. Bolaño, who is rapidly emerging as the pre-eminent Latin American writer of his generation, was not in Chile during the military coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power, despite his claim to that badge of honor.
Regarding Mr. Bolaño and drugs, numerous Latin American and European critics and bloggers have taken the side of his widow, accusing American critics and publishers of deliberately distorting the writer’s past to fit him into the familiar mold of the tortured artist. Mr. Bolaño’s life and work have been made into “a trivial spectacle,” Julio Ortega, a Peruvian critic and scholar, wrote in El País, the leading daily in Spain.