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2666: A Novelby Roberto Bolano
"Well, it's not dead yet. The modernist idea, which is really a Romantic idea, that the truest art comes from the margins, from the social depths, from revolt and disgust and dispossession, from endless cigarettes and a single worn overcoat....A young man can still get up in a Mexico City bookstore and declare war on the literary establishment, give the finger to coffeehouses and Octavio Paz, plunge like a burning wreck into willed obscurity, toil in poverty for twenty years, and wind up forging, at the cost of youth and health and finally life, works that mark a time and point a new way forward....This was Roberto Bolano's story, and beyond his works' particular merits — which are indeed great, though not quite as great as generally claimed — their value is just this: the tremendous courage that they bespeak." William Deresiewicz, The New Republic (read the entire New Republic review)
Synopses & Reviews
Composed in the last years of Roberto Bolaño's life, 2666 was greeted across Europe and Latin America as his highest achievement, surpassing even his previous work in its strangeness, beauty, and scope. Its throng of unforgettable characters includes academics and convicts, an American sportswriter, an elusive German novelist, and a teenage student and her widowed, mentally unstable father. Their lives intersect in the urban sprawl of Santa Teresa — a fictional Juárez — on the U.S.-Mexico border, where hundreds of young factory workers, in the novel as in life, have disappeared.
"Last year's The Savage Detectives by the late Chilean-Mexican novelist Bolao (19532003) garnered extraordinary sales and critical plaudits for a complex novel in translation, and quickly became the object of a literary cult. This brilliant behemoth is grander in scope, ambition and sheer page count, and translator Wimmer has again done a masterful job. The novel is divided into five parts (Bolao originally imagined it being published as five books) and begins with the adventures and love affairs of a small group of scholars dedicated to the work of Benno von Archimboldi, a reclusive German novelist. They trace the writer to the Mexican border town of Santa Teresa (read: Juarez), but there the trail runs dry, and it isn't until the final section that readers learn about Benno and why he went to Santa Teresa. The heart of the novel comes in the three middle parts: in 'The Part About Amalfitano,' a professor from Spain moves to Santa Teresa with his beautiful daughter, Rosa, and begins to hear voices. 'The Part About Fate,' the novel's weakest section, concerns Quincy 'Fate' Williams, a black American reporter who is sent to Santa Teresa to cover a prizefight and ends up rescuing Rosa from her gun-toting ex-boyfriend. 'The Part About the Crimes,' the longest and most haunting section, operates on a number of levels: it is a tormented catalogue of women murdered and raped in Santa Teresa; a panorama of the power system that is either covering up for the real criminals with its implausible story that the crimes were all connected to a German national, or too incompetent to find them (or maybe both); and it is a collection of the stories of journalists, cops, murderers, vengeful husbands, prisoners and tourists, among others, presided over by an old woman seer. It is safe to predict that no novel this year will have as powerful an effect on the reader as this one." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
The Chilean writer Roberto Bolano died in 2003 at the relatively young age of 50, but since then a steady stream of English translations has introduced American readers to the Gabriel Garcia Marquez of our time: politically engaged, formally daring and wildly imaginative. The Savage Detectives, a huge novel published last year to wide acclaim, looked like his masterpiece, but now comes a monstrous... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) novel twice as long and daring, and one that should cement his reputation as a world-class novelist. Knowing that his liver ailment would probably kill him, Bolano pulled out all the stops for his last novel and threw out the rulebook for conventional fiction. A catch-all for many of his concerns, "2666" is at heart a fascinating meditation on violence and literature, on how writers "turned pain, which is natural, enduring, and eternally triumphant, into personal memory, which is human, brief, and eternally elusive." At its simplest level, "2666" leisurely follows a handful of characters who are drawn, like vultures to a rotting carcass, to the northern Mexican city of Santa Teresa in the 1990s. For "Santa Teresa" read Ciudad Juarez, the killing fields since 1993 for over 400 girls and women — most of them raped, mutilated, then dumped into the nearby desert — with justice for none due to official corruption, incompetence and macho indifference to women. ("The Daughters of Juarez," by Teresa Rodriguez, provides an informative overview of this tragedy.) While the murders of Santa Teresa occupy the center of the novel, the perimeters make for the most satisfying reading. In the first of the novel's five semi-independent parts, we're told how three European literary critics became obsessed with the work of a mysterious writer named Benno von Archimboldi — think B. Traven or Thomas Pynchon. They travel to Santa Teresa after hearing the elusive writer may be there researching his next novel. Part 2 concerns an Archimboldi expert currently living in Santa Teresa and watching over his daughter, who seems destined to be another victim in the femicide epidemic. In part 3, a black American reporter travels to Santa Teresa to cover a prizefight and becomes embroiled in the ongoing murders. Part 4, the longest of the novel's five parts, is a numbing chronological account of individual murders from 1993 to 1997, narrated in police-report fashion, along with digressions on various officials, policemen, lawyers and reporters involved in the cases. And finally, part 5 is a mesmerizing account of how a strange Prussian boy became the enigmatic Archimboldi, an author neglected at first but considered Nobel-worthy after he's rediscovered by the scholar-detectives of part 1. We also learn his real reason for going to Santa Teresa. Archimboldi never meets his critics, the reporters never solve the crimes, and nothing is resolved at the novel's end. (Even the title is left unexplained, though an editor's note offers a clue.) This is not because Bolano didn't finish it but because he was more interested in conveying the culture of violence and how writers respond to it than in telling a tidy story. In one of many self-reflexive comments on his work, he has a character sneer at a reader who prefers short, well-made works of literature, "afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown." "2666" is just such a work, with a historical reach extending back to the bloody rituals of the Aztecs, to the horrors of the Eastern front during World War II, to the Black Panthers of the '60s. Countless fascinating subplots blaze paths into unknown corners of 20th-century culture, and there are enough references to Greek mythology to give the whole work a timeless quality. Uniting the sprawling work are moments and metaphors where sex and violence collide. This is a delightfully bookish novel, filled with writers, critics, publishers, copy editors, reporters — all illustrating how reading and writing help make sense of the world. Archimboldi is a grim, humorless character, but we're told "he derived pleasure from writing, a pleasure similar to that of the detective on the heels of the killer"; Bolano likewise exults in his indefatigable storytelling skills and his mastery of an arsenal of styles, from factual to frivolous, from plain to purple. In this he is expertly partnered by Natasha Wimmer, whose translation is fluid and faithful. The novel is probably longer than it needs to be, but there isn't a boring page in it, and I suspect further study would justify everything here. With "2666" Bolano joins the ambitious overachievers of the 20th-century novel, those like Proust, Musil, Joyce, Gaddis, Pynchon, Fuentes and Vollmann, who push the novel far past its conventional size and scope to encompass an entire era, deploying encyclopedic knowledge and stylistic verve to offer a grand, if sometimes idiosyncratic summation of their culture and the novelist's place in it. Bolano has joined the immortals. Steven Moore, the author of several books and essays on modern literature, is writing a history of the novel. Reviewed by Steven Moore, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
THE POSTHUMOUS MASTERWORK FROM “ONE OF THE GREATEST AND MOST INFLUENTIAL MODERN WRITERS” (JAMES WOOD, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW)
Composed in the last years of Roberto Bolaños life, 2666 was greeted across Europe and Latin America as his highest achievement, surpassing even his previous work in its strangeness, beauty, and scope. Its throng of unforgettable characters includes academics and convicts, an American sportswriter, an elusive German novelist, and a teenage student and her widowed, mentally unstable father. Their lives intersect in the urban sprawl of SantaTeresa—a fictional Juárez—on the U.S.-Mexico border, where hundreds of young factory workers, in the novel as in life, have disappeared.
A NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER
New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2008
Time Magazine's Best Book of 2008
Los Angeles Times Best Books of 2008
San Francisco Chronicle's 50 Best Fiction Books of 2008
Seattle Times Best Books of 2008
New York Magazine Top Ten Books of 2008
Three academics on the trail of a reclusive German author; a New York reporter on his first Mexican assignment; a widowed philosopher; a police detective in love with an elusive older woman--these are among the searchers drawn to the border city of Santa Teresa, where over the course of a decade hundreds of women have disappeared.
In the words of The Washington Post, "With 2666, Roberto Bolaño joins the ambitious overachievers of the twentieth-century novel, those like Proust, Musil, Joyce, Gaddis, Pynchon, Fuentes, and Vollmann, who push the novel far past its conventional size and scope to encompass an entire era, deploying encyclopedic knowledge and stylistic verve to offer a grand, if sometimes idiosyncratic, summation of their culture and the novelist's place in it. Bolaño has joined the immortals."
About the Author
ROBERTO BOLAÑO was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1953. He grew up in Chile and Mexico City, where he was a founder of the infrarealist poetry movement. His first full-length novel, The Savage Detectives, received the Herralde Prize and the Romulo Gallegos Prize when it appeared in 1998. Bolaño died in Blanes, Spain, at the age of fifty.
NATASHA WIMMER's translation of The Savage Detectives was chosen as one of the ten best books of 2007 by The Washington Post and The New York Times.
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