Thursday, May 03, 2007

Book Review: The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño

Marcelo Ballvé reviews Roberto Bolaño's "Savage Detectives".

There are certain books that mark generations. That is the case, in the English-speaking world, with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, which left an indelible imprint on the generation that came of age before World War II. It is also the case with David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which more than any work seems to capture the self-obsessed, hyper-kinetic madness of the ‘90s.

Such milestone books don’t come along that often, and it is always a risky proposition to try to single them out. It’s possible that in another decade, Infinite Jest will seem less relevant, and another novel will rise to take its place as the book that marked Generation X or Y, whichever ends up being the paradigmatic millennium-straddling class.

The English-speaking world, though, is only a slice of the literary universe. I have lived my entire life in a state of linguistic schizophrenia, dividing my brain between English and Spanish. That means I am a confused person, but there are also compensations to be had for living with such duel-mindedness.

One of the most rewarding experiences in my reading life has been to observe the meteoric posthumous ascent of Chile-born novelist Roberto Bolaño, who died at age 50 in 2003. Even before he died, his 1998 novel Los Detectives Salvajes (just published by FSG in English as The Savage Detectives) was being hailed as a literary landmark, of the kind that only comes along once in a generation. At this point, it seems safe to say it will exercise a dominant influence on Spanish-language readers for many years to come. Curiously, for a generation-marking novel, it is not so much about the times in which it was written as it is about the disillusionments of the late 20th century, namely the foundering utopias of the ‘70s, decades of ugly violence in Latin America. Read More

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