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The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

The Savage Detectives (1998)

by Roberto Bolaño

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,992971,871 (3.95)307
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» See also 307 mentions

English (80)  Spanish (11)  Italian (3)  German (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (97)
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
No lo puedo soportar màs. Me gustô lo de la madre de la poesîa mexicana, pero aparte de eso, no encuentro nada a mi gusto en este libro.

I cannot take any more. I liked the part about the mother of Mexican poetry, but apart from that, I found nothing in this book that I liked. ( )
  ShiraDest | Mar 6, 2019 |
It is a book that shook me, not in a specific direction but a random jolt, one that throws you simultaneously in several directions and you understand that there is no point in trying to develop an orientation because you will not be there in a minute.

The book follows a group of young, rebellious poets from a marginal stream of Mexican poetry. I suppose anyone who is interested in South American poetry will find it very interesting. I, who had never involved, made sure to ignore the hundreds of references detailing the work of these poets. Because this book deals with youth, adolescence, questions of identity, rebellion, life on the margins of society, giving meaning to actions, thoughts, people. All done in a creative and stimulating manner. It is soaked with curiosity, creativity, and sex; paints the world so that everything around looks alive and exciting. I don't want to write anything about the plot, mainly because it's always a nice thing to discover it by your self. I'll only say that it is built bit by bit from endless stories that come of dozens of characters, some appear throughout the book and some blinking for one story and then disappear. And all of them are all interesting and told in a way that makes you forget the main story for a moment and wish to draw more and more and more. ( )
  Lithamerrsmith | Jan 9, 2019 |

Since there are so many fantastic reviews of The Savage Detectives, I thought I would offer a slightly different approach as per below.

In Part 1, the first-person narrator, 17 year-old Juan Garcia Madero, tells us right off he is reading the erotic fiction of Pierre Louys (incidentally, one of Louys's novels was made into a Luis Buñuel film – That Obscure Object of Desire). Also, the way Juan speaks of the visceral realists, a group of wild avant-garde poets where young Juan is a member, reminded me of another group -- the League, a secret society in Hermann Hesse's The Journey to the East.

I enjoy how Juan will list the authors -- various poets, novelists, short-story writers, essayists -- he comes across as his meanders through Mexico City. For example: when he goes into room of one of the visceral realists, Luscious Skin (what a name!), he spots a stack of books, one by Auguste Monterroso. Turns out, this author wrote one of my favorite short-stories -- Mr. Taylor -- about an American anthropologist who goes to a Central American country to live with a tribe. He sends the tribe's shrunken heads back to the US and makes a fortune. The demand for shrunken heads skyrockets but the tribe runs out. Well, the government finds out and, along with the anthropologist, comes up with some great plans to cash in on shrunken heads. How? Let me just say that if you are a poor person living in that country, you had better watch out! Anyway, associations like this make for rich reading, at least for me.

Poetic Novelist RB

Young Juan's life in Mexico City is filled to the brim with young women and sexual encounters, conversations about poets and poetry and magazines, lots of coffee and marijuana, but through it all Juan is a kindred spirit to that narrator of Journey to the East, when Hesse's seeker says, "For our goal was not only the East, or rather the East was not only a country or something geographical, but it was the home and youth of the soul, it was everywhere and nowhere, it was the union of all times."

Juan has a strong sense his true home is his poetic voice and, in a way, the visceral realists is his 'league'. I must say reading about the two worlds of Juan's life: the nitty-gritty of everyday Mexico City and the light-filled realm of poetry is most refreshing.

Then, at one point, when Juan goes into a café. We read, "After dark I went back and found Jacinto Requena dying of boredom. None of the visceral realists except for him, he said, were showing their faces at the café. Everybody was afraid of running into Arturo Belano, though their fears were unwarranted since the Chelean hadn't been there in days. According to Requena, Arturo Belano had begun to kick more poets out of the group."

You have to love a 17 year old who is having sex left and right but still has his eye (and poetic soul) on his ray of light, his league of fellow questers, the visceral realists. And you have to admire an author who can splay himself into a number of characters within a novel.

The Poet and Novelist as a Young Man

And, thank goodness there are some sensitive 17 year-old souls who experience life as an artistic odyssey. The printing of this novel could have been set in gold. And perhaps a few pages coated with hallucinogens so the reader could lick the pages from time to time. -- this is one of the techniques used by a short-story writer in Moacyr Sclair's The Short-Story Writers.

When we come to Part 2, there are multiple adult men and women first-person narrators who relate their experience with the visceral realists and Latin American poetry. The more I turned the pages, the more I was drawn into a mythic dimension of time. Such an uplifting, energizing experience to enter a world where the spirit and power of poetry is the polestar.

And not only a poetic reaching up, as if the night sky contained a thousand poems for every star, but deep, deep down into the earth. Here are a few of my favorite lines, where Venezuelan poet Amadeo Salvatierra relates a conversation with his father and a friend riding through the country outside Mexico City:

“He said that there was probably some pyramid lying buried under our land . . . deep underground there must be lots of pyramids. My father didn’t say anything. From the darkness of the backseat, I asked him why he thought that. He didn’t answer. Then we started to talk of other things but I kept wondering why he’d say that about the pyramids.”

Of course, there were pyramids at Teotihuacan, the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican city 30 miles outside present-day Mexico City. I wouldn’t want to press the point too hard, but pyramids bring to mind inner depths of the psyche. The Jungian analyst Robert Moore talks a great deal of the archetypal pyramid each of us carries in our collective unconscious – the four sides are king/queen, warrior, lover and, magician, the magician being that part most directly connected to imagination, creativity, the inner quest and spiritual transformation.

In traditional societies, those profoundly in touch with magician energy would be chosen to be shamans; in our modern, ‘civilized’ world, the role of shaman is inhabited by, among others, artists and poets. It is this magician power the narrators are in touch with as they move through their days and nights, their conversations and writing and reading of poems. Here is a reflection from one of the narrators, an Argentinian poet, as he is walking in Mexico City with a Mexican poet and a Chilean poet:

“The three of us were quiet, as if we’d been struck dumb, but our bodies moved to a beat, as if something was propelling us through that strange land and making us dance, a silent, syncopated kind of walking, if I can call it that, and then I had a vision, not the first that day, as it happened, or the last: the park we were walking through opened up into a kind of lake and the lake opened up into a kind of waterfall and the waterfall became a river that flowed through a kind of cemetery, and all of it, lake, waterfall, river, cemetery, was deep green and silent.”

Young Juan makes his return in Part 3. After all the poetic voices and multiple journeys across many lands in Part 2, we have a deeper appreciation of Juan as a member of the visceral realists. And, my word, what a novel. The Savage Detectives, those wild, ferocious, half-crazed men and woman driven to mythic, intoxicating summits by the carnival of words and the Latino rhythms of their poetry. 650 pages of breathtaking magic. ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
The Guardian describes this as a “a shaggy dog story.” Merriam-Webster defines that as “of, relating to, or being a long-drawn-out circumstantial story concerning an inconsequential happening that impresses the teller as humorous or interesting but the hearer as boring and pointless” That’s spot on. Bolaño did this for his own enjoyment, not mine.

Publishers [sic] Weekly said that “It is safe to predict that no novel this year will have as powerful an effect on the reader as this one.” and in that they are right. I can’t think another novel this year will be as powerful as this one when it comes to the desire to simply make it stop. Mind you, I’m not sure I trust what I read from any publishing company that can’t even accomplish the basic punctuation needed for its own name.

It starts out OK with this student guy joining a group of poets at university. Their philosophies rub off on him, and he tunes in and drops out as you’d expect. Then the book takes the inevitable Bolañesque shift to a series of narrations by all sorts of different characters all over the world. You’re left to piece together the relevance of all of this and, if you dare, make some sort of narrative out of it.

For the brave, the narrative that emerges is a patchwork that represents the lives of two of the founding members of this group of poets. This is then followed by a hardly-related and entirely useless final section where the original student guy is looking for another poet who is supposed to be the origin of the style of poetry this group was formed in honour of.

As my aim in these reviews is not to spoil your reading experience, I’ll tell you now that they don’t find her.

Can Bolaño write? Yes. Can he write anything worthwhile for the reader? Yes. But can he stop himself from writing hundreds of pages more than he needs to just for the sake of writing and thereby subsuming anything worthwhile in a turgid mass of drivel? Nope. He most definitely can’t. ( )
  arukiyomi | May 19, 2018 |
I love the expanse of this work and how it all finally ties together. Don't think I appreciated it as much as I should have, but that's also my fault for reading it over the course of months. ( )
  michaeljoyce | Dec 4, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (38 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roberto Bolañoprimary authorall editionscalculated
Natasha, WimmerIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wimmer, NatashaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Do you want Mexico to be saved? Do you want Christ to be our king?"
-Malcolm Lowry
For Carolina López and Lautaro Bolaño, who have the good fortune to look alike.
First words
I've been cordially invited to join the visceral realists.
You can woo a girl with a poem, but you can't hold on to her with a poem. Not even with a poetry movement.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0312427484, Paperback)

Amazon Significant Seven, May 2007: The late Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño has been called the García Marquez of his generation, but his novel The Savage Detectives is a lot closer to Y Tu Mamá También than it is to One Hundred Years of Solitude. Hilarious and sexy, meandering and melancholy, full of inside jokes about Latin American literati that you don't have to understand to enjoy, The Savage Detectives is a companionable and complicated road trip through Mexico City, Barcelona, Israel, Liberia, and finally the desert of northern Mexico. It's the first of Bolaño's two giant masterpieces to be translated into English (the second, 2666, is due out next year), and you can see how he's influenced an era. --Tom Nissley

Questions for Translator Natasha Wimmer

Natasha Wimmer translated books by Mario Vargas Llosa and Bolaño's good friend Rodrigo Fresán, among others, before tackling Bolaño's two long novels, The Savage Detectives and the upcoming 2666, which have had an immeasurable impact on modern Latin American fiction (and perhaps now on Anglo American writing as well). We asked her a few questions about the process of bringing such a vast and vital book into English.

Amazon.com: How did you come to literary translation, and to translating a work of such prestige? Is the community of Spanish-to-English literary translators small, given Americans' famous lack of interest in translated work?

Wimmer: Luck, really. I lived in Spain when I was little, which is where I learned Spanish, and then I studied Spanish literature in college, but it was a job in publishing--at FSG, the publisher of The Savage Detectives--that made me realize that literary translation was something I could try. I’ve been translating now for eight years. My first project was a novel by the Cuban writer Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, Dirty Havana Trilogy, and since then I’ve worked on books by Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel Zaid, Rodrigo Fresán, and Laura Restrepo. When I read The Savage Detectives, I thought it was one of the best novels I had read in any language in years, but I was sure there was no chance I would get to translate it. Bolaño already had a great translator--Chris Andrews. But Andrews couldn't do it, and I was the extremely fortunate runner-up.

The community of full-time translators is definitely small--it's hard to make a living. But there are many great occasional translators--professors, editors, writers.

Amazon.com: We're told that Bolaño towers over his generation of writers (and I can believe it). What did he do that was new? What has his influence been?

Wimmer: Bolaño was (is) the first to make a true break from the legacy of the Boom. Many other writers of his generation, and younger writers, too, have tried and are still trying to make a literature of their own, one that doesn’t languish in the long shadow of García Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and the other novelists who exploded on the world scene in the 1960s. Bolaño made the leap seem effortless. The writers of the Boom put Latin America on the map. Bolaño creates a Latin America of the mind, a post-nationalist Latin America filtered through a rootless, restless, uncompromising literary sensibility.

Amazon.com: Could you describe Bolaño's style and his sentences? (I love his parentheses.) How did you handle the dozens of voices in The Savage Detectives?

Wimmer: Bolaño is both a maximalist and a classicist. He loves to play with excess, with the notion of reckless abandon, but beneath that there is a very careful sense of balance. He was a poet for many years before he became a novelist, and he is an endlessly inventive stylist. But--more rarely for a poet--he also has an unerring sense of character and a palpable fondness for his characters. The Savage Detectives could never have worked otherwise. There are very few writers who could write a novel from the perspective of fifty-odd characters and make each character's story seem urgent and intimate.

From the translator's perspective, some voices were definitely more difficult than others, but I rarely felt that I had to strain to make them distinct from each other. Mostly, it just involved following Bolaño's cues. The hardest thing, oddly enough, was getting the rhythm of his sentences right. There is something syncopated and unpredictable about them that would have been all too easy to smooth over as a translator, and I made a concerted effort not to do that.

Amazon.com: All of his books are full of references to, and appearances by, Latin American writers both fictional and real and I'm sure as a clueless American reader I'm missing hundreds of inside jokes. What's it like to read his work when you actually know the people he's referring to?

Wimmer: It adds a little something, but not as much as you might think. And many of his references are obscure even to Spanish-language readers. There is something cultish and purposefully arcane about the literary world that Bolaño's protagonist, García Madero, yearns to join, and like García Madero, the reader is entranced by authors' names and book titles without knowing exactly where they come from.

Amazon.com: You are working on translating his other giant masterpiece, 2666, the even larger novel that he completed just before his death. How is it going? What can we expect from 2666?

Wimmer: It's an extremely long novel (1100 pages in the Spanish edition ), so it's a test of stamina, but it's going very well. Like The Savage Detectives, it revolves around a lost writer (Cesárea Tinajero in TSD and Benno von Archimboldi in 2666), and the crucial episodes take place in the north of Mexico, but it is a darker book. The lurking sense of dread that many of the characters feel in TSD becomes something more palpable and sharply defined in 2666, and is linked to the killings of women in the Mexican city of Santa Teresa (modeled on Ciudad Juárez) and the legacy of the wars of the 20th century, particularly World War II.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:36 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Chronicles the strange journey of two Latin American poets, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, as seen through the eyes of the people whose paths they cross in Central America, Europe, Israel, and West Africa"--NoveList.

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