2666 by Roberto Bolano
translated by Natasha Wimmer
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2008
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.