Reading the Book of Chocolate Saints
Meta-fiction about a couple of poets, and, by extension, a whole generation of poets — the Hung Realists. Part oral history as told by people who knew the poets, and were part of the said generation, part third-person narration following the motley cast. And what an abundant cast it is — created by putting together many real people the author has seen up-close, and his own slices fill up more than one character. There is no one-to-one correspondence between the real people and the fictional, and the real themselves make appearances in fictional garb — without shedding their real names.
No surprise this work is in conversation with Bolano’s writings — The Savage Detectives and its Visceral Realists in particular. The structure and the tone seems to have been picked up from there, and work tells the older one — So, is that how it was in your space and time? This is how it was in mine.
Also, I think, only poets should be allowed to attempt this bulky an opus — after all there love for economy makes even the fattest books breezy to read.
But don’t let this make you think of the The Book of Chocolate Saints as a derivative work. It is not — it is one of the more original novels to come out in a while, a confirmed copy of the original poets and lives the inhabited. It is a tribute to them, while also a critique of who they were and an appraisal of who they could have been. Of course, Jeet Thayil loves these poets, but he also knows that they were hopeless addicts who slipped away from reality when they could afford it, reshaped it when luck favoured them and deserved your ear always.
Is art an attempt by the artist to become immortal? I don’t really think so — immortality is just a side-effect.Death, though, is inescapable conclusion.