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The Savage Detectives: A Novel [Hardcover]

Roberto Bolaño , Natasha Wimmer
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

April 3 2007
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 Cesárea 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 Bolaño 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.

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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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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I've been cordially invited to join the visceral realists. Read the first page
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Colorful Version of Don Quixote Feb. 23 2010
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
For one who took awhile to get use to the wierd peregrinations of Bolano's other novel, "2666", I was quite prepared for a similar wild, sprawling journey in "Savage Detectives". For Bolano, life is not meant to be seen through the prescriptive lens of a well-structured story. There is a lot of action in both novels to remind the reader of the epic travels of Don Quixote, with greater emphasis on the violent end of things. For starters, there is the mythical quest to connect with the past. A youthful Baleno(Boleno's inner person) and his fellow writer, Ulises Lima, have formed a breakaway society dedicated to searching for a more creative expression of life through poetry. They call themselves the new visceral movement of Latin America, dedicated to experiencing life in raw and uncompromised terms. From the outset, they hit the road with a youthful passion to reconnect with a similar revolutionary movement that formed many years before somwhere in the Latino world. For the next several decades they wander the face of the earth looking for this other movement's lost poetess, Teresa Cesarea, who has become their sole inspiration for finding the true poetic voice of the common man. Adventure after adventure fall into the reader's lap as these two literary troubadours meet up with the rabble who have no one to tell their official story of what it means to live in squalor and poverty. Along the way they encounter many of the supposedly literary notables of the Spanish world who have lost their vision for what was their original calling: heralding what is truly life in its clearest form. Many have become lackeys of the state, using their misbegotten talents to slander creative outsiders and renegades like Baleno and the his fellow-visceral types. Read more ›
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  151 reviews
148 of 157 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lives of the Poets Aug. 24 2007
By Brad Richard - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
First, a note to those readers who found the book slow: well, it is and it isn't. The first part moves along at a fairly fast clip and ends in the midst of a car chase. The very long second part, called "The Savage Detectives," presents forty-odd narrators, some recurring, some not, who take us through about thirty years of life, love, madness, poetry, children lost in caves, Latin American poets lost in Africa, and people generally (even savagely!) lost in their own lives. About fifty pages into this section, I too was getting annoyed, wondering where all this could possibly be going and what the point could possibly be. Then, the slow accretion of narratives and themes began to reveal the grand melancholy at the multi-layered heart of this brilliant book, and I was enthralled. The novel's third and final section is brief and brutal. I'll avoid spoilers here, but the ending conveys an inevitable and exhausted disillusionment only comparable, to my mind, to that of Sentimental Education, although Bolano is perhaps not quite so cynical as Flaubert. Or is he? His poets seem to be either anti-heros in spite of themselves, or sincere and manipulative poseurs; and yet, for as much as we may know about them, some mysteries about these characters simply cannot be solved. Formally, the book challenges our expectations of a novel (and although Bolano is compared most often to Borges, whose work and image he praised in interviews, formally he reminds me more of Julio Cortazar, although without quite the same ludic bravado as in, say, Hopscotch); thematically, it challenges ideals we may hold for art, especially if we are artists. And if my review makes The Savage Detectives sound like a long and somber read, trust me--it is exuberant and heartbreaking in its pursuit of both comedy and tragedy.
65 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical Mexican Mystery Tour Sept. 18 2007
By Yuri Trash - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Well into The Savage Detectives, one character says to the other: "The visual arts are ultimately incomprehensible. Or they're so comprehensible that nobody, first and foremost myself, will accept the most obvious reading of them." Substitute "written" for the "visual" arts and you get a taste for what you are in for in this book: a combination of wisdom, puzzle and in-joke.

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.
43 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From Comedy to Tragedy in the Mexican Avant-Garde April 27 2007
By D. Domingos - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Bolano is a a master storyteller. Best book i've read in 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.
31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So Visceral, So Real Sept. 5 2007
By Michael Jones - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
First of all, Natasha Wimmer does a great job with this translation. Considering the author's poetic style, I'm sure it must have been difficult.

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".
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not for everybody Dec 24 2008
By chris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Bolaño is undoubtedly a very important writer, and the reasons for this are expressed in the book's introduction by the translator of The Savage Detectives, Natasha Wimmer. The Savage Detectives is also one of the most critically acclaimed novels to come around in a long time.

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.
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