2666 by Roberto Bolano
translated by Natasha Wimmer
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2008
No one pays attention to these killings, but the secret of the world is hidden in them…
From The Part About Fate
Hell, an idea that runs through human history from the Greek Tartarus to Dante’s Inferno, depicted in images from the Buddhist realm of rebirth to Goya and Bosch. In 2666Roberto Bolano has given us another mythic vision, but this vision is based in reality. Santa Teresa is Bolano’s portrayal of Ciudad Juarez, a city in northern Mexico where in 1993 someone began killing women. The killing continues.
My response to this section of 2666 was intense, I would even call it physical. For me, and I’m sure for many others, The Part About The Crimes is the heart of 2666, surrounded by The Part About Critics, Amalfitano, Fate and Archimboldi like a Russian nesting doll. It is very compelling. I was drawn into it , falling as if sliding down a very steep hill. That’s what it felt like. I wanted to stop, but couldn’t. Here Bolano is relentless, the language is visceral.
Midway through February, in an alley in the center of the city, some garbage-men found another dead women. She was about thirty and dressed in a black skirt and a low-cut white blouse. She had been stabbed to death, although contusions from multiple blows were visible about her face and abdomen. In her purse was a ticket for the nine a.m. bus to Tucson, a bus she would never catch. Also found were a lipstick, powder, eyeliner, Kleenex, a half empty pack of cigarettes, and a package of condoms. There was no passport or appointment book or anything that might identify her. Nor was she carrying a lighter or matches. Page 355
I read each passage, the descriptions of the woman, as a blow to the body. A litany that becomes more and more grueling, and layered with these descriptions are the stories of people investigating the crimes or perhaps even involved in the crimes. Sometimes there is no way to tell, it is all just a mash-up. The police seem helpless, controlled by management that does not want these crimes solved. A reporter is gunned down in the street. A sheriff from Huntville, Texas, searching for the murderer of a young women from his town, disappears. There is the constant poverty surrounding the maquiladoras as more and more people travel to Santa Teresa to find work. There is a psychic healer who must speak of these murders. A congresswomen’s friend disappears and the search for her leads to parties given by a banker connected with a drug cartel and his political cronies. And on and on, more and more murders..
Bolano weaves threads together beautifully, tighter and tighter. When there is a loose end it leads nowhere, the whole thing unravels in your hands. Few people seem to care. These murdered women are invisible. As I read I became angry, then furious. The spare, cold language carries with it Bolano’s disgust over the lack of serious investigation into these murders. Never directly, never blatantly, but I could feel his anger, could feel it with every keystroke of every letter in every word. Maybe that is my anger. I can not imagine what it must be like living in Ciudad Juarez, or what it is like for the people searching for answers to these crimes.
I am amazed by this novel, by Bolano’s ability to present a world that is so twisted and so mundane with such clarity. If these killings have the secret of the world hidden in them I don’t think I want to know what that secret is.
Thank you to Steph and Claire for organizing this read along. Richard at Caravana de recuerdos has an amazing analysis of The Part About The Crimes here, here, here, here, and here. Please visit kiss a cloud and check out the links to others who are reading along with us.