Savage Detectives Hardcover – Apr 3 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This novel—the major work from Chilean-born novelist Bolaño (1953–2003) here beautifully translated by Wimmer—will allow English speaking readers to discover a truly great writer. In early 1970s Mexico City, young poets Arturo Belano (Bolaño's alter ego and a regular in his fiction) and Ulises Lima start a small, erratically militant literary movement, the Visceral Realists, named for another, semimythical group started in the 1920s by the nearly forgotten poet Cesárea Tinajero. The book opens with 17 year-old Juan García Madero's precocious, deadpan notebook entries, dated 1975, chronicling his initiation into the movement. The long middle section—written, like George Plimpton's Edie, as a set of anxiously vivid testimonies from friends, lovers, bystanders and a great many enemies—tracks Belano and Lima as they travel the globe from 1975 to the mid-1990s. There are copious, and acidly hilarious, references to the Latin American literary scene, and one needn't be an insider to get the jokes: they're all in Bolaño's masterful shifts in tone, captured with precision by Wimmer. The book's moving final section flashes back to 1976, as Belano, Lima and García Madero search for Cesárea Tinajero, with a young hooker named Lupe in tow. Bolaño fashions an engrossing lost world of youth and utopian ambition, as particular and vivid as it is sad and uncontainable. (Apr.)
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This is the posthumously published English translation of the prizewinning novel that made celebrated Chilean Roberto Bolano famous. This highly stylized novel is ostensibly about two poets, leaders of the Mexican visceral realist literary movement, and their search for an obscure icon of the movement and its repercussions. The book spans a decade and follows the poets from Mexico City to the Sonoran Desert, Guatemala, Barcelona, Paris, Israel, Congo, Liberia, and the U.S. The narrative becomes secondary to the voices of the people who meet these poets as this long novel told through the personal stories--some humorous, some inscrutable, some tragic--of the eclectic assortment of characters they encounter on the way becomes less about the search and more about literature and language. For readers interested in a straight narrative, this book will disappoint, but those who enjoy voice and character will find much to satisfy them. As one of the characters notes, "Well. In Latin America these things happen and there's no point giving yourself a headache trying to come up with a logical answer when there is none." Rebecca Singer
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
So many characters, vignettes of individuals, almost diary-like; and switching from character to character, from time to time, and place to place. I simply lost track of who was who and how characters related to each other.
If I had it all to do again I'd make sure I was well rested, and had lots of time to sit and digest big passages at a time; and I'd be sure to have pen and paper handy to write down the characters as I go.
To say that I didn't find the characters interesting would be false. I enjoyed the experience of the Latin literary culture and underground. The shadowy culture that usually aligns itself with the poor artist.
I see others giving 5 stars, and I'm sure it's worthy; but this was my experience. This is one book for me that in other time and place might be worth a second shot.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I loved the book and am now hunting down other Bolano novels. The Savage Detectives is not easy - two sections of conventional narrative set in Mexico about our poet heroes are split by nearly a 400 page section of oral history, almost like witness statements, from those who encountered them over the subsequent 20 years. The knowledge gained in this intervening section colours and adds a sense of melancholy when the initial narrative resumes. An obvious reference point is the film Y Tu Mama Tambien because of its Mexican setting, its young protagonists on a road trip, and the ephemeral nature of youth's passions (and lots of sex). While the novel's structure is challenging, it holds together because the voices are compelling. The characters ramble, digress, talk your ear off and engage in bawdy, violent and colourful adventures. There is a sense of urgency about their testimony, as though their experiences had to be recorded. While our picture of our main protagonists is never complete, often contradictory, there is a real power here. Bolano wrestles with representing the fullness of a life, while at the same time acknowledging the impossibility of ever doing so. We may be the centre of our own individual universes but in the end we are just dust in the wind.
This is a book to read at a good steady pace - too fast will mean you will not savour the words and small clues left along the way, too slow and you will lose track of the multiple threads. One of the best books I've read in the last five years.
THE STORY: Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano are the young leaders of literary movement they call the Visceral Realists, think BaaderMeinhoff Literary Brigade. The movement is part-gag -- a sendup of Andre Breton's surrealist movement and its "purges" -- but also an attack on the old guard of Latin American literature, people like Octavio Paz (who they jokingly/seriously threaten to kidnap) and Garcia Marquez. They show up with their teenage cohorts at literary events and heckle the sacred cows as the old men of letters attempt to recite their poetry! They threaten their critics with duels (as any self respecting man of letters must do)! Some of the Visceral Realists don't even appear to read! The motley group of Mexico City street kids -- Ulises, Arturo, Lupe, Garcia Madero, Maria and Angelica Font, Luscious Skin, San Estifanio -- are bonded by their belief in poetry, the poets life, their alienation, and their youth.
The story follows this gang from their beginnings in 1970s Mexico City through their wanderings throughout the world (Spain, France, West and Central Africa, Latin America, San Diego)and into the 1990s. The realization that the life of a poet is both the happiest and the saddest thing. And it finds Arturo, Ulises, Garcia Madero, and Lupe lost in the Sonora Desert running from an angry pimp and searching for a lost poet, the first Visceral Realist, a woman who disappeared into the desert some forty years before.
Oh yeah, there's alot of sex and drugs, some violence, poignancy and irreverancy. And there's a lot of poetry.
I can't recommend it enough, especially for those who believe that books can offer more than entertainment, for those who dream the naive and true dream that books and the people who write them are revolutionary.
Maybe you'll love it-- lots of people do, clearly. And it's worth a try if you're really into Latin American literature.
For me, the large number of narrators turned me off. After the first part, each one speaks for a few pages only, for hundreds of pages. Once in a while a certain voice would grab me, and I felt compelled to read, but then two or three pages later, Bolaño shifts to another voice. This kind of structure has always been a turn-off for me, and if it is for you too, you may have trouble appreciating this novel.
I also realize that I don't really care about the poetry and literary scene in Mexico in the 1970's. There are tons of "in" references to Mexican poets, critics, and places in Mexico City that will be completely cryptic to most lay readers.
Some of the sex scenes are over the top. Like the woman with the outrageously smelly vagina that would smell up the apartment. I guess that was intended to be funny, but I'm not really sure.
Well, I'm sorry to be in the minority here. I regret missing this train. I will try 2666 soon.
Bolaño tells the story of a fictional poetry movement, the 'visceral realists', an anti-Octavio Paz group based in Mexico City (apparently modeled on Bolaño's own experiences with a similar movement called the 'infrarealists' ).
What's so great about this book , for me, is not so much the story but rather how the story is revealed: through so many unique voices (over 50?); one of whom being Juan Garcia Madero, a 17 year old student of poetry and one of the original anti-Paz "gang". His diary, which elevates the tale to a mythic quest, frames the novel in the 1970's.
The middle section of the book reads almost like a documentary; a sort of literary verité. It masterfully patches together the experiences of the quixotic figures, Arturo Belano (Bolaño?) and Ulises Lima, leaders of so-called 'visceral realists', from the reminiscences of tangential characters in their lives.
This is a novel you can read over and over and still pick up something new each time. I am looking forward to the upcoming Bolaño translation (thankfully by Wimmer as well) called "2666".