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

by Roberto Bolaño

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English (62)  Spanish (9)  Italian (3)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (77)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
This book is unlike any book I have ever read. I feel that the imagination and talent it would take to write a book like this--telling the history of real and fictional authors through the perspectives of dozens of other people.

But I didn't like it much. I was in love with the first character, and the 150 pages of his diary was thrilling, I read it in 2 days. It took me a month to read the rest of it (thank god for airline flights!).

I respect the novelty of the book, and genius of Bolano to write it. I even like the plot--but couldn't say that I like this book. It was very hard for me to want to read.

I wouldn't look at my rating and decide not to read it--maybe you'll like it more than me...hope so. ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
This book is unlike any book I have ever read. I feel that the imagination and talent it would take to write a book like this--telling the history of real and fictional authors through the perspectives of dozens of other people.

But I didn't like it much. I was in love with the first character, and the 150 pages of his diary was thrilling, I read it in 2 days. It took me a month to read the rest of it (thank god for airline flights!).

I respect the novelty of the book, and genius of Bolano to write it. I even like the plot--but couldn't say that I like this book. It was very hard for me to want to read.

I wouldn't look at my rating and decide not to read it--maybe you'll like it more than me...hope so. ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
I hate the description for this novel. Anything longer than a single paragraph is destined for bloviation, an Excel graph of key phrases selling itself to as many bidders as possible. A long list of characters fishing for the lay reader's empathy? Borges and Pynchon for those who don't need that sort of nonsense? Please. If it gets more people reading Bolaño, sure, but these days that's the end all excuse for literature in a capitalist society. The least we can do is point it out and follow it back to its sordid origins, especially for a book such as this, one that follows the trail of wannabe written word devotees and doesn't tune out a single one.

“To a great extent,” he confessed, “everything that I’ve written is a love letter or a farewell letter to my own generation.”

-“Between Parentheses”


There. That's all I would need on the cover flap or Goodreads description. I knew barely anything about Bolaño when I started this, even less than when I read 2666 four or five years ago, because at least then I was a blank slate. Nowadays my desires for reading are bipolar and irritatingly complex, and what I was seeing in this description that I so despise was not the Bolaño I felt behind that cover and in that Part Four but On the Road, some self-aggrandizing shit with bonus literature meanderings and gore porn for depth.I'm not trying to justify myself. I'm just trying to tell a story.This book has three parts, and the first didn't help. Or rather, it did, but it makes me grateful that I finish everything I start, because the Murakami comparisons were becoming increasingly accurate in all the wrong ways and a solipsistic boy receptacle of poetry terminology and bad sex is not my idea of quality literature until, of course, the book grew up. Twenty years the description says, forgetting what happens to those college age dreams of reading and writing in twenty years, omitting any mention of a generation coming to terms with the fact that the love for an ideal doesn't pay. Copy editing does. Cashiering does. Teaching does, as does law, and business, and following the commercial fervor of the masses. Not art.Literature isn't innocent.

No one can live on a revolution, no matter how bloodless or inspirational. Let us speak of famous men, then let us mention their inherited income and every other birthright advantage that sailed their names down to us, the luck of a moment and society's requisites for a livelihood. Notice the lack of women, and any number of unnamed dead. The description mentions violence, but that is not the same as your hairs rising at the mention of Pinochet, Chile in 1973, or Santa Teresa, Ciudad Juárez for those of you who haven't yet read 2666.

Life left us all where we were meant to be or where it was convenient to leave us and then forgot us, which is as it should be.

Murakami comes back for his Kafka on the Shore questioning of violence, operating in tandem with Vollmann for his ubiquitous empathy without a trace of sentiment. That list of characters in the description tells you nothing of how Bolaño writes them, mythologizing himself as only human in order to give voice with respectful dignity to everyone else. I'll give partial credit to the description for mentioning Pynchon, but the coupling with Borges is unforgivable. I go to Borges when I want skeleton nerves in an ivory tomb belying the very marrow of my existence. Wannabe written word devotee that I am, on the cusp of transition with all the requisite baggage, that marrow is Bolaño.

Some unemployed person could reproach me for being incapable of happiness, even though I had everything. I could reproach a murderer for committing murders, and a murderer could reproach a suicide for his desperate or enigmatic last act. The truth is that one day it was all over and I took a look around me.

All languages seemed detestable to me just then.
( )
2 vote Korrick | May 29, 2014 |
There were some places (the first and last sections of the book and a few of the voices in the middle section) where the writing had such a light, funny, wonderful feel. It could be truly delightful. I really found most of the book to be a tough slog, though--too long and detailed. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
Several friends have told me that Bolaño's sprawling odyssey could be described as a more literary On the Road, but after reading it I gravitate towards the opinion that it could be vulgarly summarized as a literary and maybe even Rimbaudian, though distinctly Mexican, Lord of the Rings. Trying to compare this to works that are altogether different sounds stupid, and it is, but we often do when we read a novel so greatly original and stunning. Unlike Kerouac, Bolaño's novel is painstakingly structured, moving from the first person perspective of García Madero's encounters mainly with two visceral realist poets, to a staggering multiplicity of voices also linked by the same thread of Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima. Each voice is marvelously distinct and alive, always conversational, and thus comparing the author to Tolkien is ludicrous, because here there is nothing fantastical. Each narrative is weighted with a humanity that is ruled by nuanced emotion and small events that reveal a poetic vastness. Auxilio Lacouture's narrative of hiding from riot police for days in a small bathroom stall immediately springs to mind. The, very literally, careful composition alongside the poetic strength of this novel is staggering, especially considering its length. Certainly one of the most important novels of the last twenty five years. ( )
1 vote poetontheone | Jan 12, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roberto Bolañoprimary authorall 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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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:35 -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.

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