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The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
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The Savage Detectives (1998)

by Roberto Bolaño

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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4,2871071,858 (3.95)311
New Year's Eve, 1975: Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, founders of the visceral realist movement in poetry, leave Mexico City in a borrowed white Impala. Their quest: To track down the obscure, vanished poet Cesarea Tinajero. A violent showdown in the Sonora desert turns search to flight; twenty years later Belano and Lima are still on the run.… (more)
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» See also 311 mentions

English (89)  Spanish (12)  Italian (3)  German (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Dutch (1)  All languages (107)
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
Roberto Bolaño was an interesting and peripatetic guy. Born in Chile in 1953 to a working class family, he moved to Mexico as a teenager in the late 1960s, where he quickly dropped out of school to become a journalist involved with left-wing political causes. While developing his talent as a poet and writer of fiction, he returned to Chile around the time of the Pinochet coup and was imprisoned as a terrorist for a brief stretch before returning to Mexico City to start the Infrarrealismo movement as a reaction against the conventional literary traditions prevailing at the time (e.g., magical realism). Bolaño later left Mexico for Spain, where he lived a bohemian lifestyle as a writer and also as a security guard at a campground. He died prematurely at the age of 50 just as he was reaching the height of his fame as a novelist.

That background is useful to know before one launches into reading The Savage Detectives. Hailed as “the first great Latin American novel of the 21st century,” the book tells of two renegade poets—Arturo Belano, a Chilean ex-pat, and Ulises Lima, a Mexican national—who start a literary movement in Mexico City in 1975. They call themselves the “Visceral Realists,” resurrecting a short-lived group from the 1920s, and stand for whatever isn’t the current literary fashion. The ostensible plot of the story is the search that Belano (who is Bolaño’s alter ego) and Lima conduct for Cesárea Tinajero, the elusive founder of the original Visceral Realists, who long ago disappeared into the Sonoran desert. Their search takes them from the heart of Mexico City to the northern border of the country (accompanied by a prostitute and a young acolyte of the movement, all while being followed by two men intent on killing them), before they eventually scatter to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.

If that sounds like reasonably direct story-telling, rest assured that The Savage Detectives is anything but straightforward. The novel is divided into three parts, spread over a span of about two decades. The first and third sections involve the first-person narration of Juan García Madero, the young want-to-be Visceral Realist, who tells of how he got involved with Belano and Lima, how they came to leave Mexico City in a stolen car with a prostitute in tow, and their adventures in Sonora. These events are relayed as diary entries over a three-month period from late 1975 to early 1976. The middle section, comprising the bulk of the novel, adopts a completely different stylistic tone. Spread between 1976 and 1996, this part of the book chronicles a series of “interviews” with about forty people who had some sort of contact with Belano and Lima over the years following their trip to the desert. Of course, each of these narrators has a different opinion of the poets and their abortive movement and, collectively, their vignettes provide the reader with a not-quite-complete view of the rest of the story.

I found this novel to be always interesting and often thrilling, with only occasional stretches that dragged on too long (almost all of these were in the middle section of the book). Bolaño’s language is simply electric and the frenetic way he paces the story captures perfectly the passion and angst of a generation of young artists who likely never find what they are searching for. In that regard, The Savage Detectives has been likened to some of the great Beat Generation works (e,g, On the Road, Howl) that caught the spirit of a different place and time, and I think that comparison is apt. To be sure, though, this is an author with his own voice and the way he is able to mash up so many interrelated personal stories with themes involving politics, sex, philosophy, violence, and literary references into an almost-coherent story is simply amazing. This is a book that I really enjoyed reading and it ranks right beside the magnificent and harrowing 2666 as the best work this talented writer produced. ( )
  browner56 | Jun 5, 2020 |
Quinta novela del autor, contiene tres partes de la historia.
  katherinevillar | Mar 23, 2020 |
"The problem with literature, like life, said Don Crispín, is that in the end people always turn into bastards." (p. 114)
( )
  dfwftw | Dec 27, 2019 |
BOBBY B!

I read this after 2666, and surprise (!), it's full of writers, prostitutes, madness, mezcal, and ends in the hopeless deserts of Sonora.

Only a few more Bolaño books to catch up with until the next one is published this fall. ( )
  CLPowers | Dec 6, 2019 |
This is an incredible novel that took me a long time to read. Having read other reviewers on the book I see I'm not the only one who has had this experience and I think it speaks for the structural effects of the novel more than the laziness of the reader. The story is told in three parts. Part one (the first 139 pages in my edition) go by at a clip. They are told in diary form and plot mainly around the introduction of a group of poets who call themselves the visceral realists. The narrative form breaks in the second part and becomes about this same group only it is told in interviews with various people who have been in contact with them. The section is not laid out chronologically, it is 450 pages long, and it is the section that seems to be most culpable for readers setting their books down. The third part (only about 60 pages) goes back to the original structural format and goes quickly.

It has been a long time since I have felt as excited about the possibility of poetry and how literature can change the world. Indeed, the feelings evoked in the first section of the book reminded me of my youth in it's purest form. All things were possible and it was possible to do all things. The visceral realists matter and the fate of the world hangs in their balance. Among the many themes of this work is the passage of this group of poets from youth to experience (and whatever that means for each of them). The opening section of the novel starts with such exuberance that we are launched into the middle section with the same bright-eyed energy and optimism as youth into adulthood.

I think the reason the second part takes so long to read is that structurally the reader is given a lot of stopping points. Within each chapter (it isn't easy to say how each chapter is organized or why they are even chapters) different sections begin like a documentary, complete with location and date stats at the opening (eg, "Simone Darrieux, Rue des Petites Ecuries, Paris, July 1977."). Often the stories told within each section were so rich and full of meaning it took me a few days to digest them. Within each chapter you might have 4 or 5 different sections (sometimes less). The effect is a meandering relationship with the text as a reader. I put it down and came back often after reading several other novels in the interim.

This relationship mirrors the meandering visceral realists during the second section of the novel as we hear about them indirectly while they pass through innocence to experience and optimism to sometimes pessimism, sometimes distraction, sometimes violence (who would argue Luscious Skin's demise wasn't the natural endpoint for his trajectory... and yet, how similar to Belano's end).

Much is made by readers of the final puzzle: "What's outside the window?" Here's my answer: just as the reader's relationship with the text is implicated in the journey of the visceral realists (a name that accumulates authority throughout the novel), so the answer to the question is that it depends on what's inside the window. The lines of window are blurred. The contents of the novel's physically qualities as a book are (and have always been) blurred. What's outside the window? A good point: what is "outside the window?" ( )
  Adrian_Astur_Alvarez | Dec 3, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 89 (next | show all)
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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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Epigraph
"Do you want Mexico to be saved? Do you want Christ to be our king?"
"No."
-Malcolm Lowry
Dedication
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.
Quotations
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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