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The Savage Detectives: A Novel Hardcover – April 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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From Bookmarks Magazine
Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño, who died in 2003, won the prestigious Rómulo Gallegos Prize for The Savage Detectives (1998), a book he called "a love letter to my generation." By turns humorous and sad, this literary mystery also affirms the value of literature and serves as a modern history of the Latin American literary scene. Critics praised Bolaño's vivid, experimental novel, applauding Natasha Wimmer's skillful translation from the chatty, slang-filled Spanish. Though Richard Eder found fault with the "cacophonous Greek chorus" (Los Angeles Times) and others found the work too fragmentary, most critics regarded the technique as inventive and entertaining. Readers will be happy to hear that four of Bolaño's shorter works are currently available in English, and additional translations are planned.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Okay, that's, in a nutshell, what the novel is "about."
But the experience of reading "The Savage Detectives" is one that cannot be described in words other than those Bolano himself used to create this passionate and poetic adventure of heart, mind, and soul. This is a book that follows two characters--through the eyes of a dozen or so other characters--who take literature seriously, as a matter of life and death, not as a mere pastime, not as simple entertainment. If you don't share something of the same conviction, you're likely not to get the point of this novel; actually, you're likely to conclude that there isn't any point to it at all.
This is a novel that cannot be contained, nor can it contain itself. If it's difficult to say precisely what it's about, that's in good part because it's about everything--about life and death, about love and art, about beauty and squalor, corruption and violence, humanity and inhumanity. "The Savage Detectives" has the tone and authority of a summing up of all that Bolano had seen and thought in his abbreviated life--a message he was desperate to get down, if not in the most symmetrical of forms, than in a far more honest, if messy, explosion of urgency.
This novel throbs with life and intensity--it manages to be both unbearably sad and irresistibly inspiring. Bolano writes as if he's running only a step or two in front of the burning fuse, which, as it turns out, he was. In the end, though, we all share the same fate. And it seems a good part of Bolano's intent to get us to realize, viscerally, as his fictional "visceral realist" poets do, that time is short and the world is big. Let's live while we can.
It's tempting to call "The Savage Detectives" the best book I've read all year, but such an assertion would no doubt be suspect because of the fact that it's the most recent book I've read. It is, however, at the very least, among the best books I've read in this or any year.
Take the negative reviews of "The Savage Detectives" under advisement. So many of them complain precisely about those things that make this novel so unique and so powerful. Like his even more ambitious "2666," "The Savage Detectives" simply isn't everyone's favorite slice of pie. There are people, after all, who hate coconut custard. Go figure.