Thursday, April 26, 2007

Scott Esposito reviews Roberto Bolaño's "The Savage Detectives".

In January, New Directions published a translation of the short, lyric and stunning Amulet. Now Farrar, Straus & Giroux has published The Savage Detectives, the first of Bolaño's big books. Upon its original publication in 1998, this sprawling, 600-page ode to Latin America's lost generation of post-boom writers won the Romulo Gallegos Prize and launched Bolaño into the Spanish-language stratosphere.

The novel consists of two main parts. Squat in the middle is a bulky series of monologues. Bookending the monologues are two 100-page segments from the journal of a 17-year-old poet living in 1970s Mexico City. What ties it all together are Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano, two poets trying to promote "visceral realist" writing. The book traces their flight from Mexico City to wander the world, desperately clinging to the only things that matter to them: poetry and true, perhaps forlorn, love. [...]

The Savage Detectives embraces pain as something essential and unavoidable, and renewal as pain's logical companion. Ulises and Arturo forge a sense of who they are that props them up and helps them embrace the lives they have chosen. Moreover, though their generation may be lost, there will be others: At one point a character tells a science-fiction story about a rich heiress and a naive tramp who fall deeply into an ideal love. Their perfect bond is cut short by cancer, and the heiress constructs a garden of Eden where a clone of the tramp and herself will be brought up to fall in love. What if the experiment fails? a scientist asks. Another responds: It doesn't matter. The experiment will be endlessly repeated. "Sublime, in a way, but creepy too," opines the teller. "Like all crazy loves, don't you think?"

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