This short novel has some similar elements to The Savage Detectives, but it's much darker. Bolaño looks at the sinister side of Latin American poetry movements and politics, as he explores the dark careers and identities of Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, aka Carlos Wieder, a member of the Chilean air force who achieves as small measure of fame as a poet-aviator practicing a dark kind of performance art by skywriting over the Andes. The book's narrator, who met Ruiz-Tagle/Wieder in a series of poetry workshops during their youth, describes the clues that he, a friend, and a private investigator uncover in their efforts to find Wieder, whom they suspect of committing violent acts.
The ominous political reality of Chile in the 1970s and after pervades Distant Star. Friends and acquaintances disappear or are disappeared. Fascist villains as well as leftist heroes move easily throughout the Americas and Europe, adopting and discarding identities as they go. Bolaño threads a strong sense of menace and evil about to be detected throughout, so this book is not a fast read, in spite of its short length.
While reading, I also considered some questions of culpability. What is our responsibility in the face of violence, racism, hatred, and evil? How do we as readers understand the impact of literary movements and art on crimes perpetrated against individuals? What is the relationship between the individual and the repressive state? And how do we as an audience negotiate the relationship between acts of violence and art? All necessary questions, raised by Bolaño in his inimitable style.