The two late novelists, W. G. Sebald and Roberto Bolaño, would appear to have little in common, except for the nearly equal, exalted place they hold in the literary culture of the twenty-first century. Both were poets who chose to write fiction in an era that no longer values poetry’s representations of reality. Both employ poetic means of organization, mostly juxtaposition and association rather than cohesive narrative, to structure their novels, as if the framework of fragile connections arose from a shared belief in the tenuousness of knowledge and civilization. From an American point of view, much of the contrast between them is inseparable from their “culture,” where gainful generalization intersects bald stereotype: Sebald, the northern European, is controlled, measured, depressive, and scholarly, whereas Bolaño, the Latin American, is wild, bohemian, melancholy, and rapaciously intelligent. Bolaño can move me to tears, whereas Sebald moves me to wonder. I never laugh at Sebald, whereas Bolaño’s genius is rollicking and fearless, even death-defying. He wrestles me to the ground, sometimes aggressively, sometimes lovingly, whereas Sebald never touches me physically, except to shake my hand; he is more like an extremely cultured guide who takes me on a long walking tour, almost spectral in his recessiveness, only gesturing now and then at some extraordinary sight I hadn’t noticed. Oddly, if Bolaño’s prose were poetry, it would be of a type that I don’t particularly like, a borderline logorrhea reminiscent of the Beats; in prose, his work becomes controlled and resonant through the need to construct a narrative. I wasn’t surprised to learn that his accounts of his life, like his stay in Pinochet’s Chile or his heroin addiction, may have been tall tales, because I always sense with Bolaño the fabulist’s delight in the power of myth to improve reality and the idealist’s sadness at human frailty and credulousness. Sebald is a follower of perhaps my favorite English prose writer, Thomas Browne, and his work seeks to revive the pleasures of Browne’s erudite, meditative prose. But, despite the exquisite style, Sebald sometimes bores me; I can see a little too far in advance how the “ring of Saturn” that he is exploring—sericulture or Roger Casement or the Empress Dowager—will become another example of a moon violently broken from its orbit. Boredom in Bolaño is a different creature, the boredom of an all-night party, one in which too many intoxicants are imbibed and too many pleasures are induced, and the result is the dullness of overstimulation. In both Sebald and Bolaño I push through whatever qualms I may have, allowing myself to savor the longueurs just as I savor the dull stretches of a hike to some summit I know to be just out of view. Does the fact that I can read them in a way I cannot read any American writer, with a near-constant desire to succumb to the rapture of their sublimity, a fault of American literary culture, of its trashy, commercial insipidity and parochial conformities? Or does the intensity of my knowledge, my self-knowledge, of American life make me turn to the foreign splendors of 2666 and The Rings of Saturn with a longing born of self-loathing?