Charles Oberndorf reviews The Savage Detectives and Amulet.
In 1998, Roberto Bolaño's novel, "The Savage Detectives," galva nized a Hispanic literary world mired in magical realism. In the nine years that followed, the novel's reputation only grew, and its author, who died in 2003, nearly has been deified. Natasha Wimmer's very fine translation finally brings the work to readers of English.
First of all, "The Savage Detectives" is a masterpiece, but unlike other postwar masterworks, it doesn't proclaim its importance right away. "The Tin Drum," "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Midnight's Children" all open with strong narrative voices and linguistically rich sentences.
"The Savage Detectives" opens in the voice of 17-year-old Juan Garcia Madero, and all the narrators that follow speak in plain language. Gunter Grass, Gabriel Garcia Márquez and Salman Rushdie board their characters on history's train and send their protagonists directly out into pivotal moments of their country's history. Anton Chekhov is the Russian ghost who hovers over Bolaño's shoulder, as his characters walk ordinary city streets, history being the abyss just below the surface.
Bob Thompson reviews The Savage Detectives.
So here's what you're up against if you're an American publishing house like Farrar, Straus and Giroux trying to persuade readers to shell out $27 for the first English translation of Roberto Bolaño's nearly 600-page novel, "The Savage Detectives," just out this week.
You've got to introduce them to an author of indeterminate nationality of whom, it is safe to say, 99 percent of Americans have never heard. The Chilean-born Bolaño spent most of his adult life in Mexico and Spain; he liked to call the Spanish language his homeland.
You've got to sell the book in a crowded market notoriously resistant to literature in translation. You've got to sell it without benefit of author interviews in newspapers or blogs, on television or NPR, because your author isn't around to do them: Bolaño died of liver disease, at 50, in 2003.
Most important, you've got to explain why the heck readers should want to spend large chunks of their scarce leisure time in the company of Bolaño's scruffy, combative protagonists: two obscure poets who, in the novel's key plot juncture, leave Mexico City for the Sonoran Desert -- pursued, as it happens, by an enraged pimp -- on a quest to track down an even more obscure poet from a previous generation. Bolaño never portrays the marginal lives and literary passions of the pair directly. They are glimpsed, instead, through the retrospective testimony of more than 50 narrators who have, however briefly, encountered them.
Thomas McGonigle reviews The Savage Detectives.
Roberto Bolaño's "The Savage Detectives" is a deeply satisfying, yet overwhelming reading experience. Ostensibly about two poets and their search for another poet who has mysteriously disappeared, the novel becomes nothing less than a broad portrait of the Hispanic diaspora, spreading from Central and South America to Israel, Europe, Africa and every place in between, from the late 1960s through the 1990s.
Bolaño, a Chilean novelist and poet who died in 2003, is not entirely unknown in the United States. Three previous works of fiction have been published in English to wide acclaim — a book of stories, "Last Evenings on Earth," and two novels, "By Night in Chile" and "Distant Star," that are short, obsessive monologues set during the bleak days of the Pinochet regime in Chile. But, before going on, let's be honest. You may have noticed a little detail in the book information above that stopped you: 578 pages. You and I — time-bound creatures that we are — may share the same question: Is this novel worth our commitment?
To answer, consider the score of voices that make up "The Savage Detectives." We hear from poets, prostitutes, revolutionaries and lovers, and aging editor-poet Amadeo Salvatierra, who recalls for us a long visit by two friends, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, years ago. It becomes clear that they are the detectives of the title, and that "savage" refers to their ragged youth. On that visit, they are accompanied by a few other artist friends — they call themselves the "visceral realists" — all looking for poet Cesárea Tinajero, the group's inspiration.
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