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I had no idea, when I wrote the letter to Bolaño herein, in 2001, that Vladimir Nadal was such a mysterious case. And to think that I first met him at the Bar Marsella, in the Raval, on the early afternoon that Bolaño recounts in his introduction to this book. And that I apparently spoke to them both about the book of footnotes I was writing then, Bartleby and Co. I took Nadal, that day, as merely a Bolaño tagalong. How wrong I was. For I can see now that he was, above all, a consummate writer of the No—one of the finest examples of the case I was then building, in fact. Not that I have a sure memory of that first encounter with him in Barcelona. But I do remember well the magnificent cliff terrace of the Hotel Brighton, in Valparaíso, Chile. And of the thin, jaundiced man (an older Nadal, now) who nervously asked me questions about my interview with Marlon Brando many years back, among other things. Yes, I remember that meeting much better. As clearly, indeed, as I remember being with Bolaño in his prime and glory, the few and special times I was with the man. This rescue of his enigmatic compatriot is certainly among Bolaño’s strangest, most moving works. Whether it is true, or not. Whether he wrote it or not. I have not yet decided which.
Why is it that the mingling of fact and fabrication in our civic life fills us with vertigo and dread, while the same thing in a work of imaginative literature can be the source of mysterious exhilaration? Beats me. But suppose that Roberto Bolaño had written a sort of disheveled novel about an apocryphal writer called Vladimir Nadal, fellow-traveler of various late-twentieth-century avant-gardes. Then suppose that this same apocryphal writer had taken a deep dive into the real life and writings of the Surrealist Benjamin Péret, and had returned with a double-handful of Péret-centric material, some authentic, some not. Then stop supposing and read El Misterio Nadal, which is all that and more. Whoever “A.B.,” supposed translator of this dossier, might be, he has given us, in the mysterious Nadal, a figure worthy to join the company of Ern Malley, John Shade, Araki Yasusada, and other illustrious non-existents.
Author of The Cambridge Introduction to Postmodernism