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The Third Reich: A Novel Hardcover – November 22, 2011

4.0 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2011: Udo Berger is the German national champion of The Third Reich, a tactical WWII-themed board game seemingly designed to reveal the worst in self-absorbed obsessives like Udo. Even while on vacation at the lush Spanish resort of Costa Brava, Udo is unable to tear himself away from a game he's begun with a beach worker. He ignores his girlfriend as she goes off to enjoy the company of Charly and Hanna, another German couple that can be counted among the many people Udo cannot stand. When Charly goes missing, Udo shows little interest, choosing instead to plot the conquering movements of his army tokens as they march across a hexagonally divided map of Europe.

It may not be the best introduction for new readers of the late Chilean author Roberto Bolano, but fans of his biggest works, such as his international breakout The Savage Detectives or the posthumous five-volume epic 2666, will see familiar elements and themes in The Third Reich. Bolano draws a fine line between memory and reality, but blurs them in the final pages, as the novel slowly drifts from realism to a nightmarish fever dream--leaving readers with an ending that is ambiguous yet haunting. --Kevin Nguyen

Review

“Novelists tend to be remembered for their most remarkable characters, and in Udo Berger, Bolaño has created someone complex, sometimes frustrating and absolutely unforgettable . . . Compassionate, disturbing and deeply felt, [The Third Reich is] as much of a gift as anything the late author has given us.” ―Michael Schaub, NPR

“Bolaño was a writer with tricks up his sleeve, and he distributed his wiles across many genres: novellas, poetry, short stories, essays and the epic 1,100-page 2666. So what's The Third Reich like? Capering, weird, rascally and short. Imagine a cross between Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, the CLUE board game and a wargames fanzine. It's a scathing novel with a lot of exuberance to it, not unlike the man who wrote it . . . The Third Reich is giddily funny, but it is also prickly and bizarre enough to count among Bolaño's first-rate efforts.” ―The Economist

“[Bolaño] makes you feel changed for having read him; he adjusts your angle of view on the world.” ―Ben Richards, The Guardian

“When I read Bolaño I think: Everything is possible again.” ―Nicole Krauss

“Not since Gabriel García Márquez . . . has a Latin American redrawn the map of world literature so emphatically as Roberto Bolaño does . . . It's no exaggeration to call him a genius.” ―Ilan Stavans, The Washington Post Book World

“[Bolaño's] work . . . is as vital, thrilling and life-enhancing as anything in modern fiction.” ―Christopher Goodwin, The Sunday Times (London)

“Novelists have been smashing high and low together for a century, but Bolaño does it with the force of a supercollider.” ―Daniel Zalewski, The New Yorker

“[Bolaño] has the natural storyteller's gift--but more important, he has the power to lend an extraordinary glamour to the activities of making love and making poetry.” ―Edmund White

“A successor to Borges, García Márquez, and Julio Cortázar.” ―Siddhartha Deb, Harper's Magazine

“The most influential and admired novelist of his generation.” ―Susan Sontag

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (November 22, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374275629
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374275624
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #811,746 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The best thing about this book is that it was written by Roberto Bolaño. The worst is that he had Roberto Bolaño to compete with. Although discovered after the author's death, and apparently quite complete, this is a relatively early work. Beautifully produced, and with a fluid translation by Natasha Wimmer, the publishers have done it proud. Aficionados will find many hints of what Bolaño would later do in THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES and 2666: an almost obsessive concentration on detail, a touch of surrealism, and hints of offstage violence. But the ingredients, instead of reinforcing, here tend to cancel each other out. It is a book in which you keep expecting something to happen, but very little actually does.

The story is simple. Udo Berger, a German in his mid-twenties, is taking a late summer vacation with his girlfriend in a beach hotel on the Costa Brava where he used to come with his family as a child. Together with another German couple, they engage in the usual occupations: swimming, sunbathing, eating, drinking (a lot), and making love. But shadows hang over this idyll. They become involved with a group of slightly sinister local men, called The Wolf, The Lamb, and El Quemado (the burnt one), a hideously-burned South American immigrant who hires out pedal boats on the beach. Their contentment is marred by small acts of offstage violence, and by an unexpected death that touches them more directly.
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Udo Berger, a twenty-something German too young to have tripped over the cracks of life, suffers the arrogance that comes from knowing he is one of the best. Udo works as a clerk while he hones his skill as a war game-board player, hoping to earn a living writing columns about his unassailable intellectual strategies. He takes his girlfriend to vacation in a declining hotel on the Costa Brava, the polluted Spanish coast north of Barcelona. Udo spends his vacation immersed in analyzing the strategy of his favorite game, "The Third Reich," the battles of German, Russian and Allied armies, consuming his time and emotions as he searches for those perfect German maneuvers that would have won the war.

Udo and his gaming buddies are part of the Bavarian working class in the late 1980's who viewed the war from the prospective of the elite Wehrmacht officer corps, conveniently ignoring the Nazi-directed genocide ("I'm not a Nazi," he says). Udo and his friends were the grandchildren-generation of the Bavarians that led the Nazi putsch some fifty years before. The story revolves around an extended game between Udo, as the German supreme commander, and a poor, struggling paddleboat operator, El Quemado, badly burned and disfigured from some unknown event in the past, a man somewhat shunned for the ugliness of his scars. Udo executes his strategy while writing a paper to present at a Paris convention. The game stretches over several days as Udo slowly realizes the inevitability of history.

Bolano shrouds the resort in gloomy September weather as the vacation season winds down. There is a constant undercurrent of lurking violence, the beating of a girlfriend, a possible rape, an unresolved death and imagined threats, a lightweight, modern version of Emil Zola's naturalism.
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Format: Hardcover
This was my third Bolaño novel, (the first two being "2666" and "The Savage Detectives"). Familiarity with where he would eventually end up as a novelist makes reading "The Third Reich" an eerily fun experience. It also illuminates the central themes of his later works. "The Third Reich" is the name of a strategic board game that mirrors the battle chronology of World War II, and Bolaño has made the champion player a young German on vacation in Spain. It's worth noting that Bolaño had a special interest in the ineffable qualities of evil that seem to pass through time and space in a steady, yet unknowable, way. The real-world migration of Nazi war criminals to South America seems connected in an almost spiritual way to Bolaño's fictional portrays of German war veterans and Nazi mystique.

"The Third Reich" is a surprisingly good novel, even though it often feels like it was written a century ago. I know that doesn't make sense, but I kept thinking about Thomas Mann while I was reading this. Some plot points and characters don't appear to make sense, but they somehow fit. It's a gloomy, old-world novel that keeps reminding you that it is actually rather contemporary.
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Format: Hardcover
So this is an early work. Okay. There seems to be a general sense among these works that this doesn't measure up to other Bolano. Okay. I neither agree nor disagree. This is different than his other novels-- It isn't the short burst of fire that is most of his shorter novels-- By Night in Chile, Amulet, Distant Star, etc. It also certainly isn't like the two masterpieces, with their endless digressions and unimaginable structures. It is more akin I suppose to The Skating Rink-- not only does it share a setting (the Costa Brava of Spain), but it also uses a chronologically progressive structure. This structure is important in distinguishing it from BNiC or Amulet, both of which are remembrances from one moment, and therefore hold the potential to go anywhere at any time.

Spoiler alert-- the title's sneaky implications, the narrator's gradual disintegration. There is so much hinted at about the whole history of Europe here. So much hinted and unsaid. Bolano retells Germany's WWII narrative in what at first seems to be a minor subplot, but becomes everything, and how could it not? WWII is replayed between a German self-described "anti-Nazi" and an essentially anonymous burn victim (presumably he was imprisoned (and burned) after the Chilean coup and the rise of Pinochet-- though this is only vaguely hinted at). And this Risk-like board game version of WWII becomes an obsession, an actual consequences. And the narrator, the anti-Nazi. He is anti-social, obsessive, utterly self-consumed-- and it is thus that his destruction is inevitable. His self-obsession absolutely opposes any notion of self-knowing.
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