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The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

The Savage Detectives (1998)

by Roberto Bolaño

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English (59)  Spanish (9)  Italian (3)  German (1)  Dutch (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (74)
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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 |
So I have been reading a lot of good books recently, and I gave all of them a three-four star rating. This had me thinking : maybe I had gotten used to reading good books, maybe I should be more lenient and go give some of them a five star rating. This book, however, reaffirmed the existence of the notorious 'five star' experience.

Roberto Bolaño was a peculiar character. For the most part of his life, he was a vagabond, he got involved in revolutions in his home country Chili (he opposed against Allende and the omnipresence of the poet Octavio Paz) and is said to have had a heroin addiction that lasted over several years. Nonetheless, he still found the time to write. A lot. [b:2666|63032|2666|Roberto Bolaño|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328038189s/63032.jpg|3294830], which was published after he died and was never actually finished, is the book that most people remember, mostly because of it's incredibly high amount of pages.

The core of this book tells an Oddysee-like story about the poets Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima (what's in a name, right?). They have revived a group called the Visceral Realists, a group once founded by a mysterious poetess called Cesarea Tinajero. To say that this story is responsible for the core of the experience would nevertheless be a mistake. The book consists of a lot of smaller stories, told by a myriad of narrators. I have my own theories about what the book as a whole is supposed to mean, but then again, those are just ideas.

In the end, it is hard to say why this book spoke to me the way it did. Belano and Lima (and so many others) spend their time doing the most bewildering things, going from one country to the other, pursuing a quest that seems so incredibly hopeless and melancholic you'll either want to give them both a hug or punch them in the face and tell them to snap out of it. It's true Bolaño could have made the book so much shorter, there are pages and pages of references, but I forgive the man, for he has delivered a truly magnificent piece of writing. If not a classic already, it soon will be. ( )
  WorldInColour | Oct 12, 2013 |



1. weird physical and emotional effects caused by reading the works of roberto bolaño. symptoms may include: confusion; anger; awe; dry eyes; headache; idolatry; exhaustion; the strong desire for alcohol, drugs or both; feelings of filthiness and the need to shower to remove the grit; wonder; sadness; curiosity; the unexplained urge to pimp our a 1970s impala. symptoms may ease with time or they may worsen.

2.a thing that has survived from the past.


i just don't even know. you know?

bolaño is (was) clearly some freak of nature genius. he creates in me visceral (haha!) reactions when i read his stuff. i get jittery, on edge. it's not unpleasant, but it's tiring. i have only ever felt this way a few times, when reading: [b:The Brothers Karamazov|4934|The Brothers Karamazov|Fyodor Dostoyevsky|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327882764s/4934.jpg|3393910], [b:Infinite Jest|6759|Infinite Jest|David Foster Wallace|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1165604485s/6759.jpg|3271542] and [b:2666|63032|2666|Roberto Bolaño|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1328038189s/63032.jpg|3294830].

these writers get under your skin. and they're smarter than you are. you might be reading along awed, sure, but you have these little niggling 'yeah buts' going through your mind. THEY KNOW THIS! and they point it out in their books. and then your left thinking 'GET OUTTA MY HEAD BOLAÑO!'. except you kinda like it. but they are totally messing with you. it's okay. let them.

( )
1 vote DawsonOakes | Sep 20, 2013 |
I think Bolaño is a writer that you either immediately connect with and love every word of, or you just don't. Unfortunately I fall in the latter camp. I read [b:2666|63032|2666|Roberto Bolaño|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41Y6G0pZsXL._SL75_.jpg|3294830] and kinda liked it, but didn't LOVE it like everybody else did, and didn't see what all the hype was about...

Still, I am a persistent little bugger. I thought if I read this tome, then I would suddenly get it! I'd be enlightened and all will be okay in the world and contemporary literature will be saved! Alas, I must report that while certain parts of this were very good, overall I felt lukewarm about it.

I couldn't lose myself in this world, and I found myself wondering what the point was... why do these people's lives matter to the point where I have to read vignette after vignette about them? Was it just to poke fun at the romanticized concept of "the writer"? If so, I agree: that can be fun sometimes, but it doesn't go much beyond that. Once a chuckle is had, that's it, right? OK so there's also the idea of immortality in literature, yes, but that's also... limiting... as an idea, it just doesn't move me I guess. It's a very myopic, writerly concern. And I'm a writer! But I like literature to go beyond talking about itself. It can be argued that literature is just a metaphor in this case for life in general. I will accept that argument in theory, but I was not convinced with the execution of it in this case.

Maybe the answer is that I care about the characters? But no, I really didn't! When reading some of the vignettes, I'd start to like one of the speakers, but I never got attached to the two main characters, who never narrate directly... it's always through other's perspectives. And this is frustrating because these 'others' come and go, and some disappear right when you get attached to them as characters. The main characters of Belano and Lima remain aloof and distant.

It's odd because in many ways this was very similar to [b:Hopscotch|53413|Hopscotch|Julio Cortázar|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41QpIkxa6ML._SL75_.jpg|1794732], and yet I loved that book. Perhaps because in addition to a band of questionable writers common to both books, Cortázar also offered a million thought-provoking ideas and constantly wonderful writing (on a sentence-by-sentence level) and made you feel inside the very marrow of the book's spine instead of pushing you away.

I find Bolaño's prose, frankly, unspectacular. And I'm not saying that it has to be. Sometimes unspectacular prose is just what is needed to tell the story. But here... I don't know. Something is missing. Something is missing here as was in 2666... some kind of final "umph" that is so hard to put into words, that would make me unreservedly love it. It just wasn't there. Like there is an emptiness beyond the prose instead of a warm spirit.

One last note: this is one of the few books where the introduction (by Natasha Wimmer) was very insightful. I read it after I read the book. It draws parallels between the book and Bolaño's own life. And since this novel is a kind of veiled autobiography, it was quite enlightening. It was nice to have the cultural context explained clearly, as that is something that I did not take away from the book alone. Especially when Wimmer talks about how all Latin American literatures were politically fueled. I didn't get that through the book at all. Instead, I thought the characters were petty and didn't seem overly political. Their ideals were ideals of literature and personal agendas, not of politics, and they rarely talked about politics directly, only about Octavio Paz as the devil (but similar to the way the poets I went to school with talked about Billy Collins as crap). I just figured it was a combination of jealousy/pettiness/small-mindedness/aesthetic divisiveness etc. The book itself gives no clue beyond this, to any kind of political base, and this itself seems curious to me.

In other words, the introduction helped me appreciate the book as a "cultural artifact"; but I still cannot appreciate it as an "enjoyable read". ( )
1 vote JimmyChanga | Sep 11, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roberto Bolañoprimary authorall 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.
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:35 -0400)

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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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