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A-2666.jpegHundreds of murders in the Sonoran Desert. Benno von Archimboldi, a reclusive German novelist who hears voices. Obsessed academics who want to know more about Archimboldi. An African-American journalist covering a Mexican boxing match before becoming involved with those murders. Such is the grand mosaic of 2666. Writers figure prominently here, as in all of Bolaño’s works, and the novel’s five sections often discuss philosophy, art, and life. The novel hinges, however, on the murders so thoroughly described in the fourth section, "The Part about the Crimes." That story, "the sad American mirror of wealth and poverty and constant, useless metamorphosis," offers gripping, intense, and sometimes documentary detail about the several hundred women who were raped and strangled in the Sonoran Desert (based on a series of real-life murders since 1993 in Ciudad Juarez).
Farrar, Straus & Giroux. 912 pages. $30. ISBN: 0374100144

NY Times Book Review 5 of 5 Stars
"A novel like 2666 is its own preserving machine, delivering itself into our hearts, sentence by questing, unassuming sentence; it also becomes a preserving machine for the lives its words fall upon like a forgiving rain, fictional characters and the secret selves hidden behind and enshrined within them: hapless academic critics and a hapless Mexican boxer, the unavenged bodies deposited in shallow graves. By writing across the grain of his doubts about what literature can do, how much it can discover or dare pronounce the names of our world’s disasters, Bolaño has proven it can do anything, and for an instant, at least, given a name to the unnamable." Jonathan Lethem

Los Angeles Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[A] single giant work, strange and marvelous and impossibly funny, bursting with melancholy and horror. … In 2666’s fourth and longest section—‘The Part About the Crimes,’ it’s called—Bolaño describes the discovery of each cadaver found in Santa Teresa in cold, forensic detail. It is painful to read, and difficult to put down." Ben Ehrenreich

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"2666 earns its place in posterity by burying a hint at the book’s overall secret, to the extent that it has one, in the midst of one critic’s story. Among the more piquant images, in a book that is crammed to the gills with them, is that of a geometry text hanging on a clothesline, in a Duchamp homage." Janet Maslin

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"A labyrinth of stories as murky as they are brilliant, the novel weaves together plots surrounding the serial disappearances and murders of hundreds of women in central northern Mexico over the past 15 years, and the mysterious life of a fictionalized and reclusive literary figure, Benno von Archimboldi. … 2666 is a true-crime page turner, as well as the work of one of this generation’s finest authors at the height of his powers." Richard Melo

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"[M]addening, inconclusive and very, very long; hideous in parts and beautiful in others; exerting a terrible power over the reader long after it’s done. … The novel is also a World War II epic, and a literary love triangle, and a chronicle of insanity, and the story of a washed-up African American journalist. Mostly, though, it is a novel about, and the product of, obsession." Alexander Cuadros

St. Petersburg Times 3 of 5 Stars
"In many ways, the novel is what a masterwork should be: epic, sprawling, massively ambitious. But it’s also messy, uneven and, for long stretches, trying, especially the book’s extended set piece—a collection of journalistic reports documenting the brutal desert crimes." Vikas Turakhia

San Diego Union-Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Interesting characters are involved in obsessive projects, but he refuses to stay focused, dashing the reader’s desire for resolution by substituting new characters to play at life until they also give way to others—and their lives are corrosive depictions of aesthetic and intellectual pretense. Yet Bolaño’s attitude is just as much a case of intellectual pretense, concealed behind the anti-intellectual mask of cool." Juan Novoa-Bruce

Critical Summary

To say that 2666 is a novel is like calling a Beethoven symphony a collection of songs. If we must, though, this novel in five parts is without doubt Roberto Bolaño’s masterwork, epic in scope, labyrinthine, frustrating, disjointed, maybe a bit pretentious, always somewhat aloof—and brilliant. The novel’s parts are interrelated only to the extent that the author wants them to be, and his intention isn’t always clear (witness the title, which has little, if any, connection to the text itself). Reading 2666 is a daunting task, though once accepted, the result might be something akin to what readers felt in 1922 when, faced for the first time with the disquieting modern vision of James Joyce, they picked up Ulysses and were changed by the experience. Perhaps we’ll know in 657 years.