When Nazi Literature in the Americas was published in Spain in 1996, Chilean-born Roberto Bolaño captured the attention of Latin American and Spanish critics for the first time. The book consists of thirty entries, ranging from one to twenty-seven pages, each devoted to assessing a writer who has some relation to fascism. These include not just contemporaries of Hitler and Mussolini but members of subsequent generations, down to that of Pinochet. In addition, there is some important back matter: a bibliography of all the works produced by the authors examined, a list of the publishing houses and magazines that brought them out and a quasi glossary that provides snippet descriptions of personalities referred to in the major pieces (and, as well, some who have not been previously mentioned in the book).
In its style and organization, Nazi Literature in the Americas fits comfortably into a long-established Latin American genre–the personalized literary encyclopedia–in which an author or critic offers not neutral information about a topic in all its manifold aspects but rather her or his very particular take on the canon of the day. The most recent addition to this tradition is Christopher Domínguez Michael’s Critical Dictionary of Mexican Literature, published in Mexico City in 2007, in which the author, one of the most influential literary critics in our language, feels free to omit authors who are beloved and widely read throughout Mexico and Latin America–notably, novelist Ángeles Mastretta and novelist-journalist Elena Poniatowska. Lovers of Mexican literature may criticize Domínguez Michael’s assessments, but all should acknowledge his right to argue his notion of who should be included in the contemporary literary pantheon.
Unlike Domínguez Michael’s book and most other encyclopedias in this tradition, Bolaño’s is arranged somewhat quirkily; he presents his authors not in alphabetical order but grouped into thirteen categories, such as “Forerunners and Figures of the Anti-Enlightenment” and “The Aryan Brotherhood.” His entries don’t follow a standardized format either: some are mini-biographies (most begin at birth, though some work backward from death), some catalog and discuss the works, and others deal mainly with assessing the writer’s reputation.
The range of those analyzed is unusual in its breadth. Some of the authors were renowned in their times; others were ignored by their peers. They are geographically diverse, too, from all the Americas. There’s the Chilean Willy Schürholz, the Haitian Max Mirebalais and the Kansas-born J.M.S. Hill, who published “more than thirty novels and more than fifty stories” in twelve years. Some are professional writers, like Segundo José Heredia, who produced a novel, Sergeant P, about “a Waffen SS veteran lost in the Venezuelan jungle,” and Harry Sibelius, who wrote a book imagining that Germany defeated England in 1941 and invaded the United States in 1946. Others wrote only as a hobby, like preacher Rory Long, who “founded the Charismatic Church of California” but took time out to write a poem “in which Leni Riefenstahl makes love with Ernst Jünger,” and Thomas R. Murchison, alias The Texan, a “con-man, car thief, drug dealer and all-round opportunist” who wrote “more than fifty short stories and a seventy-line poem dedicated to a weasel.” Some were scrupulous academics, like Luiz Fontaine da Souza, “whose Refutation of Voltaire (1921) was hailed by Catholic literary circles in Brazil”; others were notorious, even prolific, plagiarists, like Mirebalais (“alias Max Kasimir, Max von Hauptman, Max Le Gueule, Jacques Artibonito”), who stole liberally from Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor and Edouard Glissant, among others.