The sport of falconry appears as a metaphor in Bolaño’s novel for the cruelty of fascism (that is, a radically right-wing, anticommunist government ruled by a dictator, such as Hitler, Mussolini, or Pinochet). Falcons are birds of prey, trained by falconers to hunt on command. In the book, the priests of Europe employ falcons to kill all the pigeons, who they believe are desecrating the Church’s buildings with their droppings. The pigeons here represent people—Marxists in particular—who question the absolute power of the Church and the State. In participating in the killing/silencing of these pigeons, the Church also becomes the enemy of peace (as doves represent peace).
In the first part of the book, the critic Farewell is likened to a falcon or a hunter: “Farewell’s voice was like the voice of a large bird of prey soaring over rivers and mountains and valleys and ravines, never at a loss for the appropriate expression.” Farewell’s country home is like a hunting lodge, with a dozen mounted heads, including pumas bagged by his father. Farewell, a wealthy estate owner accustomed to preying on the common people, represents the intellectuals who support fascist regimes in Latin America, just as the falconer priests in Europe represent the Church’s implicit support of fascism.
Death and Damnation
Imagery of death and damnation recur throughout the novel as Urrutia, on his deathbed, contemplates his soul’s destiny as well as the legacy he will leave behind. The silhouette of the carriage that takes Urrutia to Farewell’s country estate is described as “ruinous, as if that equipage were coming to take someone away to Hell.” (7) This indicates that Urrutia is a kind of Faustian figure who sells his soul for literary fame, while forsaking the common people of Chile whom, as a priest and artist, he is morally bound to defend. At Farewell’s estate, Urrutia describes seeing Neruda’s “[o]blong-shaped shadow like a coffin” (12). The image underscores the moribund state of Chilean literature as it is no longer relevant to the political situation at hand.
The “Judas Tree”
Toward the end of the novel, Urrutia has a nightmare about a leafless tree he comes to recognize as “the Judas Tree.” In the Bible, Judas is the apostle who betrays Jesus Christ to the Romans, leading to Christ’s punishment by crucifixion. The nightmare means that Urrutia sees himself and other Chilean writers as having betrayed their country by not speaking out against the Pinochet regime. Urrutia is the worst kind of Judas because he ignores his calling as both a priest and as a writer to take a stand against injustice, allowing fascism to take over. He realizes that the Judas Tree is the state of Chile after fascism. Poetry and art are stifled in a police state in which everyone is afraid to speak out, and critics cannot say what they really mean. He realizes: “Chile itself, the whole country, had become the Judas Tree, a leafless, dead-looking tree” (118).