The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer.

Picador, New York, 2008

Originally published in Spain by Editorial Anagrama as Los dectectives salvajes in 1998.

From my TBR shelf.

Wow.  Reminds me a bit of the old days.  A four-day weekend, a beach house, lots of wine and plenty of weed.  Loud music, creative energy, you get the idea….

The Savage Detectives runs to over 600 pages and is divided into three sections.

The first, Mexicans Lost In Mexico, is told through the diary entries of  Juan García Madero.  Juan is a 17-years-old  law school student who dreams of becoming a poet and is suddenly invited to join the Visceral Realists.  Who are the Visceral Realists?  A group of poets and want-to-be poets striking out against the mainstream and spending a lot of of their time stoned, drunk and changing lovers like musical chairs.  The two poets who head this movement are Arturo Belaño, a Chilean of questionable character and his best friend Ulises Lima, the quiet one.  Are these two poets or small-time thieving dope dealers?

The middle section of the novel, The Savage Detectives, is made up of brief interviews with more than fifty characters.   Belaño and Lima are on a search for the vanished poet, Cesárea Tinajero, the “mother of Visceral Realism” and travel to many places tracing her history.  Or are we actually tracing their history?  The timeline runs from 1976-1996, the characters run the gamut from poets to police detectives.  I found myself constantly moving back and forth within the text tracking who knew whom, who slept with or fought with whom.

In the last section, The Sonora Desert, we return to García Madero’s diary.  Juan,  Arturo, Ulises and their friend Lupe, a prostitute from Mexico City, are zeroing in on the mysterious Cesárea.  They are being chased by Lupe’s pimp, Alberto.  It is a wild road trip through Sonora that ends in Santa Teresa, the city based on Ciudad Juárez, that plays such a vital part in the 2666.

The Savage Detectives is a Chinese puzzle box of a novel.  Like one of those old desks with a multitude of drawers, cubby holes and hidden spaces,  I would open it and find something new, sometimes enticing, often frightening.  Autobiographical,  containing people, events and bits of history from 1970’s Mexico, The Savage Detectives is a rant and a love letter, filled with rebellion and with regret, I think, for lost loves and lost friendships.  Frustrating at times, as I found the writing in 2666, I am astounded at Bolaño’s creative energies, the multiple voices, places, the literary and political arguments.   It is a very moving, funny and terrifying look at youth, love and violence.

I am not a literary critic or Latin American literary scholar.  There is really no way that I can summarize or analysis this novel.  All I can tell you is my personal experience with Bolaño’s words and that they have an effect on me, both intellectually and emotionally.  His words and the way he puts them together, as translated by Natasha Wimmer, and the short stories and interviews I have read, have me wanting to read as much of Roberto Bolaño’s work as I can find.

Thanks to Rise and Richard for organizing this group read.   Maybe we can do it again.  I tried to read Hopscotch once, would be willing to try it again.


Filed under Group Read, InTranslation, LiteraryFiction, Roberto Bolano

12 responses to “The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

  1. Thanks so much for reading this with us, Gavin–just like the good old days, eh?!? I love your description of The Savage Detectives as both “a rant and a love letter.” So true! On that note, it was particularly moving for me to note the self-examination Bolaño put himself through in his own spin on a semi-autobiographical past: the character Laura Jáuregui, for example, who accuses Belano of founding the visceral realists just to get her attention and also accuses the poet of self-deception in general, is said to be based on Bolaño’s real-life ex-girlfriend Lisa Johnson, whose break-up supposedly caused a lovesick Bolaño to flee to Europe in the first place. So much ache and beauty here for me and astounding storytelling throughout. Anyway, hope you do give Cortázar’s Hopscotch another try some day as it’s a novel with a similarly gigantic payoff if you can work through some of its inherent structural “difficulties.” Cheers!

    • Thank you (and Rise) for inspiring all of us to read The Savage Detectives. I really do need to read more about his youth and time with infarrealisimo in Mexico. Do you know of a biography in English?

      • The pleasure was ours, Gavin, esp. since people keep churning out posts. Lots of interesting discussions everywhere! I don’t know of any Bolaño bios in English, I’m afraid, but I’ll keep you in mind if I hear of any. I imagine it’s only a matter of time.

  2. I’ve enjoyed following this group read. It’s a strange thing to say, but this is a book I loved, even though I didn’t finish it. I read all of parts one and two, but stopped reading halfway through part three. I didn’t give up, just stopped.

    I’ve kept my copy though and will go back to the beginning again some day.

  3. A Chinese puzzle box of a novel. Like one of those old desks with a multitude of drawers, cubby holes and hidden spaces, I would open it and find something new, sometimes enticing, often frightening.

    That’s a beautiful way of putting it. The myriad of emotions it brings from page to page was amazing.

  4. Are these two poets or small-time thieving dope dealers?

    This is a question I kept coming back to, as the interview subjects keep coming back to it, and I definitely ended up convinced, at certain points at least, that they were “really” drug dealers, and perhaps only drug dealers, not poets…scam artists. You could probably read the whole book quite differently under this assumption.

  5. I love the Chinese puzzle box analogy – not to mention the dope-dealer question!

  6. Sounds SO interesting. I’ve got 2666 on my shelf but have been rather scared of starting it (plus I feel I need to put aside a big chunk of time to do it justice.) But I’m definitely going to give it a try, and then this one!

  7. I couldn’t have gotten through 2666 without my co-readers. After reading The Savage Detectives I almost want to go back and read it again but I think I will try Last Evenings on Earth instead!

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