2666 – The Part About Amalfitano – Roberto Bolano – Chile


2666 by Roberto  Bolano

translated by Natasha Wimmer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2008

This is a group read organized by Claire and Steph. We read Part One in May. It is wonderful to share thoughts and exchange ideas with a group of people focusing on the same book.

Again I have to praise Natasha Wimmer’s translation, often when I’m reading a book that’s been translated into English I deeply regret not knowing the original language.  I feel confident that I am getting everything  Bolano crammed into 2666 through Wimmer’s skill and knowledge.

Part Two – The Part About Amalfitano

The rushing language of Part One, which to me felt like I’d drunk way too much coffee or taken speed, has hit the skids.  Amalfitano, a Chilean literature professor at the University of Santa Teresa whom we first met showing  The Critics around the city, is sinking into depression and, it appears, slowly going mad.  We learn of his wife, Lola, who recently died of AIDS, and of his daughter, Rosa, whom he raised by himself and who shares his house.  There are scenes that reflect back on his interactions with the critics,  Pelletier and Espinoza and a creeping sense of dread. He finds a book he doesn’t remember owning and hangs it from a clothesline as a “ready-made”, in the style of Marcel Duchamp.

Amalfitano’s mind wanders.  He remembers his wife, who left  him years ago, he remembers bits of philosophy, of art and of the history and terrors of Chile.

Anyway, these ideas or feelings or ramblings had their satisfactions.  They turned the pain of others into memories of one’s own.  They turned pain, which is natural, enduring, and eternally triumphant, into personal memory, which is human, brief, and eternally elusive.  They turned a brutal story of injustice and abuse, an incoherent howl with no beginning or end, into a neatly structured story in which suicide was always held out as a possibility.  They turned flight into freedom, even if freedom meant no more then the perpetuation of flight.  They turned chaos into order, even if it was at the cost of what is commonly known as sanity.

Eventually Amalfitano begins to hear a voice.  Does the voice belong to his father or to some telepathic messenger from Chile’s past?   He befriends the violent son of the dean of the university, a relationship he does not  understand. He ends up lost in a dream.

The text is often broken into small sections, like shards of glass.  Bolano used the shards of text and repeating phrases to break up and weigh down the rapid, speeding feel of the first section of the book.  He exposes more of his own history and the history of his native country, Chile.   He brings us closer to the violence of Santa Teresa that is the soul of this novel.  The Part About Amalfitano was harder for me to read and take in then The Part About The Critics.  I am still trying to understand it.


Filed under Challenges, Lost In Translation 2009, Orbis Terrarum 2009, Read-Along, Review

19 responses to “2666 – The Part About Amalfitano – Roberto Bolano – Chile

  1. You’re right that this section does feel like it comes to a skidding stop compared to the last. I think this would have been even more dramatic if one were to approach the book like a traditional novel – it had been at least a month since between reading part one and this one for me, but I still felt a bit at a loss here.

    Interesting that you picked upon a heightened sense of menace and foreboding – I didn’t really get that, as I felt Amalfitano was so disconnected from the world around him, but I think your perceptions are apt, as clearly Bolaño is gradually building towards something gruesome (as Part Four deals entirely with all the murdered girls we’ve been hearing about, I believe).

    • Steph – I think you are right about Amalfitano being disconnected from the world around him. As I think about that I wonder if Bolano was using that disconnect as an indicator of the disconnect/disinterest he felt the “powers that be” showed towards the murders in Ciudad Juarez. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into all this!

  2. This is a lovely review, Gavin, and your reference to Bolaño’s prose as shards of glass is particularly interesting in light of all the Duchamp influences in this part of the novel (I think Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase” was once described as looking like “an explosion in a shingles factory” if I remember correctly!). I do think it’s hard for anybody to figure out all that’s going on this distance into the novel since the narratives appear to be moving in circular (or parallel) arcs rather than in a linear progression. However, I find this uncertainty quite bracing.

    • I, too, am enjoying the uncertainty of 2666. At times I think I am trying to read too much into it. I am really enjoy reading other people’s ideas about the book.

  3. I find it really interesting that half of us found part 1 easier to read – I’m the opposite to you in that I found part 2 much easier.

    I wonder if that is because I am getting more used to the writing style, or whether the change of pace has helped me.

    I’m not sure I really understand why this part is present in the book as if feel very detached from part 1. I am looking forward to being amazed by the way it is all going to be brought together in part 4 (I’ve been told that that is where it all starts to make sense).

    • It is really interesting, people’s different thoughts and feelings about the book. Part Two does feel detached but, for me, it added to a sense of madness, of crazyness.

      I’m having a hard time figuring out whether I want to jump into Part Three or give Part Two more time to sink in:)

  4. Good review, Gavin! I’m still trying to figure out whether I think the violence in Santa Teresa is the “soul of the novel”…or maybe the place where you expect to find a soul, and must go searching elsewhere? I definitely felt a tightening of the dread and wrongness during this part, like you.

    • Emily – Thanks for your comments. I think “soul” might be the wrong word. Maybe the violence is the container for all Bolano is trying to express.

      I have a lot more thinking to do about all this. I’m the kind of person who needs to sit with stuff for a while, let it stew..

  5. I love this review. Your comparison of Bolano’s prose to shards of glass was awesome.

    I wish I knew Spanish well enough to read this in its original language. I’ve been told by another blogger who does know Spanish that Bolano’s prose is very raw and direct. Which is how the English translation comes across, so I think it’s safe to say we’ve got the next best thing to Bolano’s original voice.

    • El Fay – Thanks for your kind words! There is so much going on in this novel. I am so glad to be sharing thoughts with others.

  6. I’m still trying to understand it, too, with lots of help from all of you. It’s very interesting how you picked up on the proximity towards the murders. Indeed, while I felt this part much lighter in tone than the first (in relation to the atmosphere coughed up by the dreams), there is a looming sense of foreboding that is bigger than in the first. I wonder where we’re heading next. This is all so very exciting (and chilling).

  7. Pingback: 2666 Readalong: Part II – The Part About Amalfitano « Regular Rumination

  8. Lu

    I brought up another of Duchamp’s work in my post, in reference to your description of shards of glass, called The Large Glass.

    I actually enjoyed the writing style of this section more, I thought it was slower, less hectic and ultimately more beautiful. Great post!

  9. Love your final paragraph. The language is beautiful especially, “The text is often broken into small sections, like shards of glass. Bolano used the shards of text and repeating phrases to break up and weigh down the rapid, speeding feel of the first section of the book.” And i think you make an important reference to national literature. Sometimes seeing an author as the product of his own imagination masks the reality of his earthly existence.

    Opposite of you, I enjoyed the second part more than the first. More intensity, energy (but fewer laughs too unfortunately). Love looking at all ours views, and can’t wait to see what each section brings to us.

  10. Pingback: 2666 – The Part About Fate – Roberto Bolano – Chile « Page247

  11. Pingback: The Part About Archimboldi – 2666 by Roberto Bolano – Chile « Page247

  12. Ben

    If thought of symbolically the part about amalfitano can be seen as a philosophic interpretation of what is happening in the center of the novel

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