‘Mauricio (‘The Eye’) Silva’ by Roberto Bolaño

Mauricio (“The Eye”) Silva by Roberto Bolaño, 2001

The magic trick:

Telling the story of the titular character but in an off-kilter, detached way

When a character’s name is in the title, it’s reasonable to expect that the story will provide a portrait of sorts of said titular character. Right?

In “The Eye,” it’s a little more complicated. He is a photographer, and, well, his nickname is The Eye. It figures then that we really only ever get to know him through the things he sees.

There is the additional layer of detachment courtesy the first-person narration that limits our understanding of The Eye. You never feel like you have a handle on his character, but somehow there is an extraordinary emotional feeling that resonates by the end of the story. And that’s quite a trick on Bolaño’s part.

The selection:

For a while we said nothing. I lit a cigarette. Then The Eye described the brothel for me and it was as if he were describing a church. Covered interior courtyards. Open galleries. Cells from which hidden eyes watch your every move. They brought him a ennuch who couldn’t have been more than ten years old. He looked like a terrified little girl, said The Eye. Terrified and taunting at the same time. Do you understand what I’m saying? Sort of, I said. We fell silent again. When I was finally able to speak I said, No, I have no idea. Neither do I, said The Eye. No one can have any idea. Not the victim. Not the people who did it to him. Not the people who watched. Only a photo . . .

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