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The Savage Detectivesby Roberto Bolano
Easily the year's most acclaimed literary sensation, Roberto Bolaño is enjoying a remarkably unprecedented ascendancy in fame. The Chilean novelist and poet, whose exaltation has long been celebrated throughout the Spanish-speaking world, is posthumously sweeping the English-speaking countries (he died in 2003). Semana, a Colombian weekly magazine, recently published a list of the 100 best Spanish-language novels of the past 25 years, which, not surprisingly, included three works by Bolaño (number 3: The Savage Detectives; 4: 2666; and 14: Distant Star).
It was also recently announced that Natasha Wimmer (who translated The Savage Detectives) was awarded a $20,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to support the translation of his masterwork 2666. According to the NEA, "Six weeks before he died, his fellow Latin American novelists hailed him as the most important figure of his generation at an international conference he attended in Seville." His work is widely considered to be hailing a significant change of direction for Latin American literature as a whole.
The Savage Detectives, which Bolaño called a "love letter" to his generation, is an accomplished and thorough effort. No amount of praise or critical elucidation could possibly do this epic story (at nearly 600 pages) justice, as it's both astonishingly original and magnificently composed. The highly autobiographical novel tells the tale of a group of "visceral realist" poets (a fictionalization of the "infrarealism" movement Bolaño helped spawn in the 1970s), their days drifting throughout Mexico and western Europe, and their search for the elusive poet Cesárera Tinajero. The main characters, if the book can be said to actually have any, are the founders of the so-called "visceral realist" movement, Arturo Belano (a loose stand-in for Bolaño's own life) and Ulises Lima (Bolaño's poet-friend Mario Santiago). Told mostly in the style of an oral biography spawning 21 years, The Savage Detectives is a must-read for ardent fans of literature and poetry, as the novel chronicles the wanderlust of men and women for whom poetry is something well beyond the cafes and yellowing pages of forgotten verse.
Though he often garners comparisons to Borges, Pynchon, and Cortázar (a claim that, while not entirely erroneous, does little to exemplify his singular style), Bolaño's genius is, in part, his ability to synthesize the elements of literature which his forebears had set as standard, usurp them as his own, and then transcend them in an erudite manner heretofore unseen. Roberto Bolaño's newfound fame is, indeed, well deserved, and The Savage Detectives is one of the finest novels to come along in quite some time.
"[A] bizarre and mesmerizing novel....Just now published in English, the book is a fist-to-gut introduction to a deceptively powerful writer who died at age 50 in 2003. It's a lustful story — lust for sex, lust for self, lust for the written word....Their antics will repulse you. Your moral compass will be pissed upon. But in a world where a guy who cuts up his penis with a blade is considered a 'real man,' Bolaño's visceral realists shine." Buddy Kite, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)
Synopses & Reviews
New Year's Eve, 1975: Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, founders of the visceral realist movement in poetry, leave Mexico City in a borrowed white Impala. Their quest: to track down the obscure, vanished poet Cesaea Tinajero. A violent showdown in the Sonora desert turns search to flight; twenty years later Belano and Lima are still on the run.
The explosive first long work by "the most exciting writer to come from south of the Rio Grande in a long time" (Ilan Stavans, Los Angeles Times), The Savage Detectives follows Belano and Lima through the eyes of the people whose paths they cross in Central America, Europe, Israel, and West Africa. This chorus includes the muses of visceral realism, the beautiful Font sisters; their father, an architect interned in a Mexico City asylum; a sensitive young follower of Octavio Paz; a foul-mouthed American graduate student; a French girl with a taste for the Marquis de Sade; the great-granddaughter of Leon Trotsky; a Chilean stowaway with a mystical gift for numbers; the anorexic heiress to a Mexican underwear empire; an Argentinian photojournalist in Angola; and assorted hangers-on, detractors, critics, lovers, employers, vagabonds, real-life literary figures, and random acquaintances.
A polymathic descendant of Borges and Pynchon, Roberto Bolano traces the hidden connection between literature and violence in a world where national boundaries are fluid and death lurks in the shadow of the avant-garde. The Savage Detectives is a dazzling original, the first great Latin American novel of the twenty-first century.
"The journey for all, including the reader, may prove arduous, but as a picaresque road novel, coupled with successful character creation, intriguing experimentation, and a unique premise, it provides a rewarding reading experience." Library Journal
"For readers interested in a straight narrative, this book will disappoint, but those who enjoy voice and character will find much to satisfy them." Booklist
"[A] deeply satisfying, yet overwhelming reading experience....Is it worth our time? Is it a good novel or a great novel? Time alone will supply the adjective 'great,' but what I can say now is: The Savage Detectives is a very good novel." Los Angeles Times
"[An] utterly unique achievement — a modern epic rich in character and event, suffused in every sentence with Bolano's unsettling mix of precision and mystery." San Francisco Chronicle
"The Savage Detectives is a masterpiece, but unlike other postwar masterworks, it doesn't proclaim its importance right away....More a series of encounters than a novel, the entire work resonates like a prose poem, returning us to the haunting image of young people marching toward history's abyss, only their song remaining." Cleveland Plain Dealer
"[C]omplex, numbingly chaotic and sinuously memorable....Some of the book's best passages are here; but the formlessness, the cascading miscellany...can make the book, or at least the reader, founder. Many gleaming lights are displayed, but foundering nonetheless." Richard Eder, The New York Times
"[B]lazingly original...[a] masterpiece....One of the most entertaining books about writers and their discontents since Boswell's Life of Johnson. A brilliant novel, fully deserving of its high international reputation." Kirkus Reviews
In this dazzling novel, the book that established his international reputation, Roberto Bolaño tells the story of two modern-day Quixotes — the last survivors of an underground literary movement, perhaps of literature itself — on a tragicomic quest through a darkening, entropic universe: our own. The Savage Detectives is an exuberant, raunchy, wildly inventive, and ambitious novel from one of the greatest Latin American authors of our age.
In this dazzling novel, the book that established his international reputation, Roberto Bolaño tells the story of two modern-day Quixotes--the last survivors of an underground literary movement, perhaps of literature itself--on a tragicomic quest through a darkening, entropic universe: our own. The Savage Detectives is an exuberant, raunchy, wildly inventive, and ambitious novel from one of the greatest Latin American authors of our age.
About the Author
Roberto Bolaño was born in 1953 in Santiago, Chile, and later lived in Mexico, Paris, and Spain: he wrote nine novels, two story collections, and five books of poetry, before dying in July 2003 at the age of 50. Seven more of his books are forthcoming from New Directions.
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