Sansini by Roberto Bolaño, 1997
The magic trick:
Quickly developing rich, detailed characters
Who is this story about?
The narrator? The titular Sensini?
All of them.
We get to know four characters very well very quickly. OK, maybe we don’t really get to know Miranda and Gregorio all that well, but we get enough to make us imagine things about them very well.
It’s just a beautiful story. It flows and moves like a stream of consciousness, but of course, it’s very carefully told. The words and the characters just jump off the page.
And that’s quite a trick on Bolaño’s part.
Little by little I learnt more about him. He lived in a flat in Madrid with his wife and his daughter, Miranda, who was seventeen years old. He had a son, from his first marriage, who had gone to ground somewhere in Latin America, or that was what he wanted to believe. The son’s name was Gregorio; he was thirty-five and had worked as a journalist. Sometimes Sensini would tell me about the enquiries he was making through human rights organisations and the European Union in an attempt to determine Gregorio’s whereabouts. When he got on to this subject, his prose became heavy and monotonous, as if he were trying to exorcise his ghosts by describing the bureaucratic labyrinth. I haven’t lived with Gregorio, he once told me, since he was five years old, just a kid. He didn’t elaborate, but I imagined a five-year-old boy and Sensini typing in a newspaper office: even then it was already too late.
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