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The Savage Detectives: A Novel Hardcover – April 3, 2007

3.6 out of 5 stars 174 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (April 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374191484
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374191481
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (174 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #438,431 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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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.
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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.
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