"And although the song that I heard was about war, about the heroic deeds of a whole generation of young Latin Americans led to sacrifice, I knew that above and beyond all, it was about courage and mirrors, desire and pleasure.
And that the song is our Amulet."
This is how the book ends, but it starts with Auxilio Lacouture, trapped in the women's bathroom on the fourth floor of the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Where she is witness to the army's occupation of the campus. The year is 1968 & the Government is brutally suppressing any signs of rebellion among it's student population leading to the army's massacre of hundreds (at least) of students in main square of the Tlatelolco district of the city.
Auxilio, self proclaimed Mother of Mexican Poetry , finds herself trapped in the bathroom, whilst horror & chaos rule outside, we see all of this through her tales of the writers & poets she may or may not have known. From her eyrie, in the bathroom of U.N.A.M, she spins the history of her adopted country, she describes the bars she frequented, the poets she knew, barely knew, or dreamed of, she speaks of future meetings, of periods of time, dates that coalesce as one point where 1964 is 1968 or 1960 or 1970 . Through these visions she haunts the times, appearing almost wraith-like, pale & insubstantial amongst the young poets whose fire she may have nurtured or at least warmed herself against, her tales forever circling, skirting the real terror, her memories not blank just incompatible with the horror, as she hides on the fourth floor of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, with Poetry her refuge & sustenance.
Back at the beginning of this piece I said it starts with Auxilio, trapped in the women's bathroom, what I mean by that is that this book revolves around the real tragedy of theTlatelolco massacre of October the 2nd 1968, when an estimated 200 to 300 student protesters were killed by the Mexican army. In Amulet, Roberto Bolano describes the lost ones, the writers & poets , the wanna - be's & the has beens (if only for a brief flicker) marching to the abyss.
"a mass of children" or "young people" who were the "prettiest children of Latin America, the ill-fed and the well-fed children, those who had everything and those who had nothing," all of whom are "walking unstoppably toward the abyss."
They could not stop, their fire burnt too bright, with too much passion until it was quenched by gunfire, but through Auxilio's visions you realise that it can spark anew, because it matters, literature, poetry, fiction, words etc. matter. For Roberto Bolano this was definitely true, his abiding image of himself was as a poet & through the first person narrative of this women, you can hear his cries for those lost to it's calling & his contempt for those he deems unworthy of it. In fact this is the fourth book of his I have read & if he can be pinned down to a single message it would be THAT LITERATURE MATTERS. Amulet, although it carries through with some of the same themes (& characters) of his other novels, is a highly original, beautifully told story, that will confound you, that will make you come back to it & not know why. It's not that it doesn't provoke your thought's, it does, but it's more that to leave it alone, would be like removing the marrow from your skeleton because like all great literature it has the ability to change you at the core.
Amulet at only 184 pages long, packs an intensity that will have you turning the pages & coming up to breathe, only when it's absolutely necessary, but for all that passion, it's the melancholy that haunts. Like "Last Evenings on Earth" it's quieter & although the prose in places is quite hallucinogenic, the overall feeling is the warmth Auxilio, self proclaimed mother of Mexican poetry, has for those young poets & the despair she has experienced when faced with the abyss.
Amulet begins: "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 the story of a terrible crime."
Auxilio tells us this, that this horror won't be so because it's her tale & through her there's hope, changed she maybe, bruised, even battered, but she's a survivor & with that there's the optimism, the realization that through it all, regardless of the horror, the spirit is indomitable, it endures.