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Bookmarks Issue: 
29-July-Aug-2007
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0

A-The Savage DetectivesIn 1975, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, the leaders of a militant gang of poets called the Visceral Realists, leave Mexico City in a borrowed Chevy Impala to find the very first Visceral Realist, the mysterious Cesárea Tinajero, who disappeared into the Sonora desert 40 years before. Suddenly the narrative shifts gears, and the following three decades of the two poets’ lives are mapped out in 54 fragmented, first-person interviews with the eclectic cast of characters they encounter after leaving Mexico in 1976. The final section of the novel returns to Belano and Lima in the desert, where the discoveries they make forever alter the course of their lives.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 592 pages. $27. ISBN: 0374191484

Cleveland Plain Dealer 5 of 5 Stars
"The cumulative effect of 55 voices is a feeling for the tectonic shifts in Latin American history, alongside a vision of how transient our relationships can be, how suddenly love and friendship can shift and how books can mean so much—even though, in the end, literature does little in the face of life itself. … Every now and then, the reader will yearn for plot over fragment, but then will come the story of the neo-Nazi spying in Israel, the boy lost in a deep cave, or the writer who falls in love with a letter carrier, and Bolaño’s narrative powers will win you over again." Charles Oberndorf

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"This novel is an utterly unique achievement—a modern epic rich in character and event, suffused in every sentence with Bolaño’s unsettling mix of precision and mystery. … It is a moving composite of the Latin American diaspora in the turbulent years about which he writes, as well as a reminder that novelists will always be our best historians." Vinnie Wilhelm

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Ostensibly about two poets and their search for another poet who has mysteriously disappeared, the novel becomes nothing less than a broad portrait of the Hispanic diaspora, spreading from Central and South America to Israel, Europe, Africa and every place in between, from the late 1960s through the 1990s. … Bolaño’s book throws down a great, clunking, formal gauntlet to his readers’ conventional expectations." Thomas McGonigle

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"The novel is wildly enjoyable (as well as, finally, full of lament), in part because Bolaño, despite all the game-playing, has a worldly, literal sensibility. His atmospheres are solidly imagined, but the tone is breezy and colloquial and amazingly unliterary—Gide’s novel about writers, The Counterfeiters, comes to mind, or better, a kind of Latinized Stendhal, whose characters just happen to be writers." James Wood

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"To be honest, I never would’ve persevered to the end of the late Bolaño’s sometimes wonderful, often maddening 577-page novel if I were not paid to do so. … Taking it all in requires stamina, but the novel bursts with marvelous stories, rude energy, and eccentric voices that ultimately reward your effort." Jennifer Reese

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Individually some of the episodes are powerfully suggestive; but there is the effect of a character making the same point too long and too often. … Some of the book’s best passages are here; but the formlessness, the cascading miscellany, the pile of jigsaw pieces with some missing, the guiding box-picture (fictional as against intellectual) purposefully withheld: these can make the book, or at least the reader, founder." Richard Eder

Critical Summary

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.

Also by the Author

By Night in Chile (2000): On his deathbed, Father Urrutia recalls his life and reflects on youth, religion, politics, and literature in this lyrical and clever novella.