The fifth of Bolaño's books to appear in English, and the first in a translation by Natasha Wimmer (who is best known for her work on Mario Vargas Llosa), The Savage Detectives was published in Spanish in 1998, under the title Los detectives salvajes. An outsize, autobiographical travelogue—in the course of which Bolaño and his friend Mario Santiago appear as the "visceral realist" poets, pot dealers, drifters, and literary detectives Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, respectively—it was Bolaño's most ambitious work to date. That it works quite well as a mystery is the least of this novel's many surprises.Read More
The Savage Detectives follows Belano and Lima across four continents and twenty-some years; it's framed by the journals of seventeen-year-old Juan García Madero. ("I've been cordially invited to join the visceral realists," García Madero explains, by way of introduction. And the very next day: "I'm not really sure what visceral realism is.") But the bulk of The Savage Detectives is montage: an oral history narrated by male hustlers, female bodybuilders, mad architects, shell-shocked war correspondents, and Octavio Paz's personal secretary. There are fifty-two voices in all—jokers in the pack, Belano and Lima are not given speaking roles, appearing only in the recollections of others—and the stories they tell shade into one another, encompass historical forces and personages, and allude to specifics of the author's own biography. (Among other things, visceral realism is an echo of infrarealism, a movement Bolaño helped launch in Mexico City around 1975, fusing elements of surrealism, shoplifting, and street theater in hopes of urging young Latin Americans to blur whatever lines remained between life and literature.) Even in translation, the effect is cumulative and fuguelike.
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