In Roberto Bolaño's fictional world, writers are the vagabond heroes who partake in literary quests in search of other elusive writers. Now there exist similar groups in search of Bolaño himself, exhuming newly-found works by the Chilean following his death in 2003, at age 50. Translator Natasha Wimmer is among them.
"I never met him," says Wimmer, speaking by phone from her home in Brooklyn. "I only read The Savage Detectives after he died." Her 2007 translation of the 1998 novel brought Bolaño huge acclaim in the English-speaking world, a reputation cemented by the translation of his posthumous epic 2666, which won Wimmer the PEN Translation Prize in 2009.
Wimmer's latest translation, the newly published Woes of the True Policeman (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), is Bolano's third posthumous novel. It was pieced together from various computer files and handwritten documents found in Bolaño's desk where he died in Spain.
Typically episodic, Woes fleshes out the recurring Bolaño character Amalfitano, a literature professor exiled to a region of Northern Mexico that continually fascinated the writer. Critics have suggested it's a missing part to 2666.
"It's possible that he had 2666 on his computer at the same time as this novel and just moved pieces back and forth." Wimmer says. "I think it's definitely of interest to people wanting to find out about his writing process."
Wimmer herself is still unpacking this. "Borges is the obvious comparison, but I just recently read Life A User's Manual and it was kind of a revelation. Bolaño took a lot from [French experimentalist Georges] Perec; lists, stories inside of stories and building up a narrative from multiple strands."
Wimmer came to translating via publishing. Among the six Bolaño books she's translated is one with the blurb "The definitive collection of everything Bolaño was working on just before his untimely death," a collaboration with his other translator, Chris Andrews.
She met Andrews just last month. "When I met him I definitely had the feeling of being in ‘The Part About the Critics,'" Wimmer says, referencing a section of 2666. "Two Bolaño translators and scholars meeting and talking about Bolaño. It was very Bolaño-esqe."