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Los Detectives Salvajes (Vintage Espanol) by Roberto Bolano
Los Detectives Salvajes (Vintage Espanol)

Sinsal, June 12, 2013

Bolaños, Roberto. "Los detectives salvajes" (Vintage Español 1996). The reader who picks this book in search of a Latin American who-dunnit will be highly disappointed. It looks like professional literati including literature professors consider Bolaños’ “one of the greatest and most influential modern writers” today, especially in Latin America, and they hold this book as their best example.

"Los detectives salvajes," translated into English, is a story about a set of young, so-called poets in Mexico City. The author follows their antics beginning in the mid-1970s all the way to the 1990s, a chronological focus that allows him to plot the progressive development of a handful of these self-regarded bards as they mature in life, one of them supposedly standing in for the author himself. They are said to be searching for an influential poetess like them who allegedly lived reclusively.

Forcing myself into appreciating this book I found it useful to keep in mind that hippiedom flourished in the 1970s but in Mexico, in addition to the emergence of hippy styled youngsters, of middle class origin mostly, there were other protestors locked in battle with the government over the 1968 slayings of another kind of dissenters by government troops and the bloody aftermath requiring many of them to run and hide. These "jovenes" fall out of Bolaños’ focus. His young protagonists, by contrast, seem to align themselves more with the sexual revolution of the time than with any notion of political freedom. This is why the story itself struck me as pointless and inane leaving me to question why the “novel” was so well regarded.

The only way I can understand the exalted preference by professional critics, beyond Bolaños’ excellent writing style which is not superior in my estimate to other Latin American authors, is to focus on his subject matter�"the young self-regarded poets themselves whose poetry, by the way, Bolaños decided was scarcely worth show casing.
Instead, he portrays their despondent lives as “[t]hey sever friendships, quit jobs, abandon apartments without giving notice, skip the return flight home, assume new identities, flee combustive love affairs, cut off ties to everyone they have ever known, head off into the desert, simply disappear.” They seem to regard themselves as the James Deans of Mexico’s poets, “rebels without a cause.” Bolaños himself, now deceased, is said to have felt or behaved this way too although it seems to me that he found his cause.

Judging from this book and from some written critiques, his claim to fame is to have protested the literary hegemony of the masters of Latin American letters: Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Pablo Neruda, and Gabriel García Márquez (the creator of “magical realism”), among others. The idea is that Bolaños became tired of the dominance of these masters and wrote this book as what I would call an antithesis. He created his “guerrilla”poets, as one critic wrote; I would add: instead of real guerrillas. They served him as antiheros, those who flopped around scribbling bad poetry and failing as real rebels. This is what this dreary book is about.

And, it seems that other young Latin American writers, poets and otherwise, are also tired of the masters and so they’ve applauded Bolaños. He’s their new Octavio Paz.

I’m not clapping hard for Bolaños, but of course I’m an old guy. [May 2013]
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