Neuman, touched by grace

Roberto Bolaño


(text included in the posthumous book of essays Between Parentheses, by Roberto Bolaño; Anagrama, Barcelona, 2004, p. 149. Published in English by New Directions, 2011).

Among young writers who already have published their first book, Neuman is perhaps the youngest, though his precociousness, adorned with bolts of lightning and discoveries, is not his greatest virtue. Born in Argentina in 1977 but raised in Andalusia, Andrés Neuman is the author of a book of poems, Métodos de la noche (Methods of the Night), published by Hiperión in 1998, and Bariloche, an excellent first novel that was a finalist for the latest Premio Herralde prize.

The novel is about a garbage man in Buenos Aires who spends his free time doing puzzles. I had the opportunity to form part of the panel of judges for the Herralde prize and Neuman's novel both enthralled me, if one can still use this early-twentieth century word, and hypnotized me. No good reader will miss in its pages something that can only be found in literature of the highest rank, the kind written by true poets who dare to penetrate into the darkness with their eyes open, and who keep them open no matter what. This is the most difficult test (and also exercise and torsion), and Neuman, not infrequently, passes it with a naturalness nothing short of frightening.

Nothing in his work feels fake: all is real, all is illusion, the dream in which the Buenos Aires garbage man Demetrio Rota moves like a sleepwalker, the dream of great literature rendered by the author in precise words and scenes.

When I encounter these young writers it makes me want to cry. I am unaware of the future that awaits them. I do not know if a drunk driver will run them over one night or if one day they will suddenly decide to stop writing. If none of this happens, the literature of the 21 st century will belong to Neuman and a few other blood brothers of his.

(read on Granta online)