This one, like the others I have read, contains characters inspired by people he knew and associated with, apparently highly recognizable if you happened to be hanging out where Bolaño was hanging out in the later 60s and early 70s. The narrator of Amulet is Auxilio Lacouture, a Uruguayan poet who emigrates to Mexico to be the queen of Mexican poetry, becomes good friends with a variety of writers and artists both older and younger than herself, and at one point spends a dozen days in the bathroom of the department of philosophy and literature when the Mexican army occupies the campus in the fall of 1968, after the infamous Tlateloco massacre. I gather from an April, 2007 article in The Nation that a Uruguayan poet named Acira had more or less the same experience.
In fact, I'm not sure the whole novel doesn't take place in the bathroom, with Auxilio both recalling the past and foreseeing the future as she anxiously listens, perched in a toilet stall, to the sound of army boots in the corridor. The novel is organized around her own own account of her experiences, always circling back to the tiles in that besieged bathroom.
The final chapter contains one of the most astonishing passages I've read in recent years: a poetic vision of the massacred students of 1968, a lyrical memorial to their ideals and their...martyrdom, if one can put it that way.
What is it about Bolaño? I picked up By Night in Chile just out of curiosity and a bit out of duty, latest buzzworthy Latin American author and so on, ought to check it out -- but then by the second page I was hooked, hooked, hooked. But he's one of those writers who are more interesting than anything one can say about them.