2666

2666

3.4 93
by Roberto Bolaño
     
 

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A NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER

New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2008
Time Magazine's Best Book of 2008

Los Angeles Times Best Books of 2008
San Francisco Chronicle's 50 Best Fiction Books of 2008
Seattle Times Best Books of 2008
New York Magazine Top

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Overview

A NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD WINNER

New York Times Book Review 10 Best Books of 2008
Time Magazine's Best Book of 2008

Los Angeles Times Best Books of 2008
San Francisco Chronicle's 50 Best Fiction Books of 2008
Seattle Times Best Books of 2008
New York Magazine Top Ten Books of 2008

Three academics on the trail of a reclusive German author; a New York reporter on his first Mexican assignment; a widowed philosopher; a police detective in love with an elusive older woman--these are among the searchers drawn to the border city of Santa Teresa, where over the course of a decade hundreds of women have disappeared.

In the words of The Washington Post, "With 2666, Roberto Bolaño joins the ambitious overachievers of the twentieth-century novel, those like Proust, Musil, Joyce, Gaddis, Pynchon, Fuentes, and Vollmann, who push the novel far past its conventional size and scope to encompass an entire era, deploying encyclopedic knowledge and stylistic verve to offer a grand, if sometimes idiosyncratic, summation of their culture and the novelist's place in it. Bolaño has joined the immortals."

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A masterpiece...the most electrifying literary event of the year."Lev Grossman, Time

"Indeed, Bolaño produced not only a supreme capstone to his own vaulting ambition, but a landmark in what's possible for the novel as a form in our increasingly, and terrifyingly, postnational world." —Jonathan Lethem, The New York Times Book Review

"A work of devastating power and complexity, a final statement worthy of a master."Adam Mansbach, The Boston Globe

"Bolaño's most audacious performance . . . It is bold in a way that few works really areit kicks away the divide between playfulness and seriousness."Henry Hitchings, Financial Times (UK)

"The opening of 2666 had me in its thrall from those first few pages . . . For all the precision and poetry of its language, for all the complexity of its structure, for all the range of styles and genres it acknowledges and encompasses, for all its wicked humor, its inventiveness, and sophistication, 2666 seems like the work of a literary genius."Francine Prose, Harper's Magazine

"Bolaño’s masterwork . . . An often shockingly raunchy and violent tour de force (though the phrase seems hardly adequate to describe the novel’s narrative velocity, polyphonic range, inventiveness, and bravery) based in part on the still unsolved murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juárez, in the Sonora desert near the Texas border."—FRANCISCO GOLDMAN, The New York Review of Books

"Not just the great Spanish-language novel of [this] decade, but one of the cornerstones that define an entire literature."—J. A. MASOLIVER RÓDENAS, La Vanguardia

"One of those strange, exquisite, and astonishing experiences that literature offers us only once in a very long time . . . to see . . . a writer in full pursuit of the Total Novel, one that not only completes his life’s work but redefines it and raises it to new dizzying heights."—RODRIGO FRESÁN, El País

"Bolano's savoir-faire is incredible ... The exploded narrative reveals a virtuosity that we rarely encounter, and one cannot help being bowled over by certain bravura passages—to single one out, the series of reports describing murdered young women, which is both magnificent and unbearable. We won't even mention the 'resolution' of this infernal 2666, a world of a novel in which the power of words triumphs over savagery."—Baptiste Liger, L'EXPRESS

"Splendid . . . The jaw-dropping synthesis of a brief but incredibly fertile career."—Fabrice Gabriel, LES INROCKUPTIBLES

"The event of the spring: with 2666 Roberto Bolano has given us his most dense, complex, and powerful novel, a meditation on literature and evil that begins with a sordid newspaper item in contemporary Mexico."—Morgan Boedec, CHRONIC ART

"Including the imaginary and the mythic alongside the real in his historiography, without ever dabbling in the magical realism dear to many of his Latin-American peers, Bolano strews his chronicle with dreams and visions. As in the films of David Lynch (with whom Bolano's novel shares a certain kinship) these become a catalyst for reflection . . . In such darkness, one must keep one's eyes wide open. Bolano invites us to do just that."—Sabine Audrerie, LA CROIX

"An immense moment for literature . . . With prodigious skill and his inimitable art of digression, Bolano leads us to the gates of his own hell. May he burn in peace."—TECHNIKART

"Bolano constructs a chaos that has an order all its own . . . The state of the world today transmuted into literature." —Isabelle Ruf, LE TEMPS

"To confront the reader with the horror of the contemporary world was Bolano's guiding ambition. He succeeded, to say the least. Upset, shocked, sometimes even sickened, at times one is tempted to shut the book because it's unbearable to read. Don't shut it. Far from being a blood-and-guts thriller meant to entertain, 2666 is a 'visceral realist' portrait of the human condition in the twenty-first century."—Anna Topaloff, MARIANNE

"On every page the reader marvels, hypnotized, at the capacity of this baroque writer to encompass all literary genres in a single fascinating, enigmatic story. No doubt many readers will find 2666 inexhaustible to interpretation. It is a fully realized work by a pure genius at the height of his powers." —LIRE

"His masterpiece . . . Bolano borrows from vaudeville and the campus novel, from noir and pulp, from science fiction, from the Bildungsroman, from war novels; the tone of his writing oscillates between humor and total darkness, between the simplicity of a fairytale and the false neutrality of a police report."—Minh Tran Huy, LE MAGAZINE LITTERAIRE (Paris)

"The book explores evil with irony, without any theory or resolution, relying on storytelling alone as its saving grace... Each story is an adventure: a fresco at once horrifying, delicate, grotesque, redundant, and absurd, revealed by the flashlight of a child who stands at the threshold of a cave he will never leave."—Philippe Lancon, LIBERATION

"If THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES recounted the end of a century of avant-gardes and ideological battles, 2666, more radically, evokes the end of humanity as we know it. Apocalyptic in this sense, wavering between decomposition and totality, endlessly in love with people and books, Bolano's last novel ranges over the world and history like the knight Percival, who in Bolano's words 'wears his fool's motley underneath his armor.'"—Fabienne Dumontet, LE MONDE DES LIVRES (Paris)

"A work of genius: a work of immense lucidity and narrative cunning, written with a unique mixture of creative power and intimate existential desperation, the work of a master whose voice has all the authority and seeming effortlessness that we associate with the great classics of the ages ... It is impossible to read this book without feeling the earth shift beneath one's feet. It is impossible to venture deep into writing so unforgiving without feeling inwardly moved—by a shudder of fear, maybe even horror, but also by its need to pay attention, by its desire for clarity, by its hunger for the real."—Andres Ibanaz, BLANCO Y NEGRO

"Without a doubt the greatest of Bolano's productions . . . The five parts of this masterwork can be read separately, as five isolated novels; none loses any of its brilliance, but what's lost is the grandeur that they achieve in combination, the grandeur of a project truly rare in fiction nowadays, one that can be enjoyed only in its totality."—Ana Maria Moix, EL PAIS

"Make no mistake, 2666 is a work of huge importance . . . a complex literary experience, in which the author seeks to set down his nightmares while he feels time running out. Bolano inspires passion, even when his material, his era, and his volume seem overwhelming. This could only be published in a single volume, and it can only be read as one."—EL MUNDO

"An absolute masterpiece ... Bolano writes almost without adjectives, but in his prose this leads to double meanings. The narration is pure metonymy: it omits feelings in favor of facts. A phone call or a sex act can express real tragedy, the sweep of the vast human condition."—Andres Lomena, LA OPINION DE MALAGA

"A masterpiece...the most electrifying literary event of the year."--Lev Grossman, Time

"Indeed, Bolaño produced not only a supreme capstone to his own vaulting ambition, but a landmark in what's possible for the novel as a form in our increasingly, and terrifyingly, postnational world." --Jonathan Lethem, The New York Times Book Review

"A work of devastating power and complexity, a final statement worthy of a master."--Adam Mansbach, The Boston Globe

"Bolaño's most audacious performance . . . It is bold in a way that few works really are--it kicks away the divide between playfulness and seriousness."--Henry Hitchings, Financial Times (UK)

"The opening of 2666 had me in its thrall from those first few pages . . . For all the precision and poetry of its language, for all the complexity of its structure, for all the range of styles and genres it acknowledges and encompasses, for all its wicked humor, its inventiveness, and sophistication, 2666 seems like the work of a literary genius."--Francine Prose, Harper's Magazine

"Bolaño’s masterwork . . . An often shockingly raunchy and violent tour de force (though the phrase seems hardly adequate to describe the novel’s narrative velocity, polyphonic range, inventiveness, and bravery) based in part on the still unsolved murders of hundreds of women in Ciudad Juárez, in the Sonora desert near the Texas border."--FRANCISCO GOLDMAN, The New York Review of Books

"Not just the great Spanish-language novel of [this] decade, but one of the cornerstones that define an entire literature."--J. A. MASOLIVER RÓDENAS, La Vanguardia

"One of those strange, exquisite, and astonishing experiences that literature offers us only once in a very long time . . . to see . . . a writer in full pursuit of the Total Novel, one that not only completes his life’s work but redefines it and raises it to new dizzying heights."--RODRIGO FRESÁN, El País

"Bolano's savoir-faire is incredible ... The exploded narrative reveals a virtuosity that we rarely encounter, and one cannot help being bowled over by certain bravura passages--to single one out, the series of reports describing murdered young women, which is both magnificent and unbearable. We won't even mention the 'resolution' of this infernal 2666, a world of a novel in which the power of words triumphs over savagery."--Baptiste Liger, L'EXPRESS

"Splendid . . . The jaw-dropping synthesis of a brief but incredibly fertile career."--Fabrice Gabriel, LES INROCKUPTIBLES

"The event of the spring: with 2666 Roberto Bolano has given us his most dense, complex, and powerful novel, a meditation on literature and evil that begins with a sordid newspaper item in contemporary Mexico."--Morgan Boedec, CHRONIC ART

"Including the imaginary and the mythic alongside the real in his historiography, without ever dabbling in the magical realism dear to many of his Latin-American peers, Bolano strews his chronicle with dreams and visions. As in the films of David Lynch (with whom Bolano's novel shares a certain kinship) these become a catalyst for reflection . . . In such darkness, one must keep one's eyes wide open. Bolano invites us to do just that."--Sabine Audrerie, LA CROIX

"An immense moment for literature . . . With prodigious skill and his inimitable art of digression, Bolano leads us to the gates of his own hell. May he burn in peace."--TECHNIKART

"Bolano constructs a chaos that has an order all its own . . . The state of the world today transmuted into literature." --Isabelle Ruf, LE TEMPS

"To confront the reader with the horror of the contemporary world was Bolano's guiding ambition. He succeeded, to say the least. Upset, shocked, sometimes even sickened, at times one is tempted to shut the book because it's unbearable to read. Don't shut it. Far from being a blood-and-guts thriller meant to entertain, 2666 is a 'visceral realist' portrait of the human condition in the twenty-first century."--Anna Topaloff, MARIANNE

"On every page the reader marvels, hypnotized, at the capacity of this baroque writer to encompass all literary genres in a single fascinating, enigmatic story. No doubt many readers will find 2666 inexhaustible to interpretation. It is a fully realized work by a pure genius at the height of his powers." --LIRE

"His masterpiece . . . Bolano borrows from vaudeville and the campus novel, from noir and pulp, from science fiction, from the Bildungsroman, from war novels; the tone of his writing oscillates between humor and total darkness, between the simplicity of a fairytale and the false neutrality of a police report."--Minh Tran Huy, LE MAGAZINE LITTERAIRE (Paris)

"The book explores evil with irony, without any theory or resolution, relying on storytelling alone as its saving grace... Each story is an adventure: a fresco at once horrifying, delicate, grotesque, redundant, and absurd, revealed by the flashlight of a child who stands at the threshold of a cave he will never leave."--Philippe Lancon, LIBERATION

"If THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES recounted the end of a century of avant-gardes and ideological battles, 2666, more radically, evokes the end of humanity as we know it. Apocalyptic in this sense, wavering between decomposition and totality, endlessly in love with people and books, Bolano's last novel ranges over the world and history like the knight Percival, who in Bolano's words 'wears his fool's motley underneath his armor.'"--Fabienne Dumontet, LE MONDE DES LIVRES (Paris)

"A work of genius: a work of immense lucidity and narrative cunning, written with a unique mixture of creative power and intimate existential desperation, the work of a master whose voice has all the authority and seeming effortlessness that we associate with the great classics of the ages ... It is impossible to read this book without feeling the earth shift beneath one's feet. It is impossible to venture deep into writing so unforgiving without feeling inwardly moved--by a shudder of fear, maybe even horror, but also by its need to pay attention, by its desire for clarity, by its hunger for the real."--Andres Ibanaz, BLANCO Y NEGRO

"Without a doubt the greatest of Bolano's productions . . . The five parts of this masterwork can be read separately, as five isolated novels; none loses any of its brilliance, but what's lost is the grandeur that they achieve in combination, the grandeur of a project truly rare in fiction nowadays, one that can be enjoyed only in its totality."--Ana Maria Moix, EL PAIS

"Make no mistake, 2666 is a work of huge importance . . . a complex literary experience, in which the author seeks to set down his nightmares while he feels time running out. Bolano inspires passion, even when his material, his era, and his volume seem overwhelming. This could only be published in a single volume, and it can only be read as one."--EL MUNDO

"An absolute masterpiece ... Bolano writes almost without adjectives, but in his prose this leads to double meanings. The narration is pure metonymy: it omits feelings in favor of facts. A phone call or a sex act can express real tragedy, the sweep of the vast human condition."--Andres Lomena, LA OPINION DE MALAGA

Janet Maslin
…think of David Lynch, Marcel Duchamp (both explicitly invoked here) and the Bob Dylan of "Highway 61 Revisited," all at the peak of their lucid yet hallucinatory powers. Bolano's references were sufficiently global to encompass all that, and to interweave both stuffy academia and tawdry gumshoe fiction into this book's monumentally inclusive mix.
—The New York Times
Jonathan Lethem
2666 is as consummate a performance as any 900-page novel dare hope to be: Bolano won the race to the finish line in writing what he plainly intended, in his self-interrogating way, as a master statement. Indeed, he produced not only a supreme capstone to his own vaulting ambition, but a landmark in what's possible for the novel as a form in our increasingly, and terrifyingly, post-national world…By writing across the grain of his doubts about what literature can do, how much it can discover or dare pronounce the names of our world's disasters, Bolano has proven it can do anything, and for an instant, at least, given a name to the unnamable.
—The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly

Last year's The Savage Detectives by the late Chilean-Mexican novelist Bolaño (1953-2003) garnered extraordinary sales and critical plaudits for a complex novel in translation, and quickly became the object of a literary cult. This brilliant behemoth is grander in scope, ambition and sheer page count, and translator Wimmer has again done a masterful job.

The novel is divided into five parts (Bolaño originally imagined it being published as five books) and begins with the adventures and love affairs of a small group of scholars dedicated to the work of Benno von Archimboldi, a reclusive German novelist. They trace the writer to the Mexican border town of Santa Teresa (read: Juarez), but there the trail runs dry, and it isn't until the final section that readers learn about Benno and why he went to Santa Teresa. The heart of the novel comes in the three middle parts: in "The Part About Amalfitano," a professor from Spain moves to Santa Teresa with his beautiful daughter, Rosa, and begins to hear voices. "The Part About Fate," the novel's weakest section, concerns Quincy "Fate" Williams, a black American reporter who is sent to Santa Teresa to cover a prizefight and ends up rescuing Rosa from her gun-toting ex-boyfriend. "The Part About the Crimes," the longest and most haunting section, operates on a number of levels: it is a tormented catalogue of women murdered and raped in Santa Teresa; a panorama of the power system that is either covering up for the real criminals with its implausible story that the crimes were all connected to a German national, or too incompetent to find them (or maybe both); and it is a collection of the stories of journalists, cops,murderers, vengeful husbands, prisoners and tourists, among others, presided over by an old woman seer.

It is safe to predict that no novel this year will have as powerful an effect on the reader as this one. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

This sprawling, digressive, Jamesian "loose, baggy monster" reads like five independent but interrelated novels, connected by a common link to an actual series of mostly unresolved murders of female factory workers in the area of Ciudad Juárez (here called Santa Teresa), a topic also addressed in Margorie Agosín's Secrets in the Sand. The first part follows four literary critics who wind up in Mexico in pursuit of the obscure (and imaginary) German writer Benno von Archimboldi, a scenario that recalls Bolaño's The Savage Detectives. The second and third parts, respectively, focus on Professor Almafitano and African American reporter Quincy Williams (also called Oscar Fate), whose attempts to expose the murders are thwarted. The fourth, and by far the longest, section consists mostly of detached accounts of the hundreds of murders; culled from newspaper and police reports, they offer a relentless onslaught of the gruesome details and become increasingly tedious. The last section returns to Archimboldi. Boasting Bolaño's trademark devices-ambiguity, open endings, characters that assume different names, and an enigmatic title, along with splashes of humor-this posthumously published work is consistently masterful until the last half of the final part, which shows some haste. The book is rightly praised as Bolaño's masterpiece, but owing to its unorthodox length it will likely find greater favor among critics than among general readers. In fact, before he died, the author asked that it be published in five parts over just as many years; it's a pity his relatives refused to honor his request. [Also available in a three-volume slip-casedpaperback edition.]
—Lawrence Olszewski

Kirkus Reviews

Life and art, death and transfiguration reverberate with protean intensity in the late (1953–2003) Chilean author's final work: a mystery and quest novel of unparalleled richness.

Published posthumously in a single volume, despite its author's instruction that it appear as five distinct novels, it's a symphonic envisioning of moral and societal collapse, which begins with a mordantly amusing account ("The Part About the Critics") of the efforts of four literary scholars to discover the obscured personal history and unknown present whereabouts of German novelist Benno von Archimboldi, an itinerant recluse rumored to be a likely Nobel laureate. Their searches lead them to northern Mexico, in a desert area notorious for the unsolved murders of hundreds of Mexican women presumably seeking freedom by crossing the U.S. border. In the novel's second book, a Spanish academic (Amalfitano) now living in Mexico fears a similar fate threatens his beautiful daughter Rosa. It's followed by the story of a black American journalist whom Rosa encounters, in a subplot only imperfectly related to the main narrative. Then, in "The Part About the Crimes," the stories of the murdered women and various people in their lives (which echo much of the content of Bola-o's other late mega-novel The Savage Detectives) lead to a police investigation that gradually focuses on the fugitive Archimboldi. Finally, "The Part About Archimboldi" introduces the figure of Hans Reiter, an artistically inclined young German growing up in Hitler's shadow, living what amounts to an allegorical representation of German culture in extremis, and experiencing transformations that will send him halfway around the world; bringhim literary success, consuming love and intolerable loss; and culminate in a destiny best understood by Reiter's weary, similarly bereaved and burdened sister Lotte: "He's stopped existing." Bola-o's gripping, increasingly astonishing fiction echoes the world-encompassing masterpieces of Stendhal, Mann, Grass, Pynchon and Garc'a Márquez, in a consummate display of literary virtuosity powered by an emotional thrust that can rip your heart out.

Unquestionably the finest novel of the present century—and we may be saying the same thing 92 years from now.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312429218
Publisher:
Picador
Publication date:
09/01/2009
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
912
Sales rank:
126,050
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.70(d)

Meet the Author

ROBERTO BOLAÑO was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1953, and grew up in Chile and Mexico City. His first full-length novel, The Savage Detectives, received the Herralde Prize and the Romulo Gallegos Prize when it appeared in 1998. He died in Blanes, Spain, at the age of fifty.

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2666


By Roberto Bolaño, Natasha Wimmer

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2004 the heirs of Roberto Bolaño
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-53155-3



CHAPTER 1

THE PART ABOUT THE CRITICS


The first time that Jean-Claude Pelletier read Benno von Archimboldi was Christmas 1980, in Paris, when he was nineteen years old and studying German literature. The book in question was D'Arsonval. The young Pelletier didn't realize at the time that the novel was part of a trilogy (made up of the English-themed The Garden and the Polish-themed The Leather Mask, together with the clearly French-themed D'Arsonval), but this ignorance or lapse or bibliographical lacuna, attributable only to his extreme youth, did nothing to diminish the wonder and admiration that the novel stirred in him.

From that day on (or from the early morning hours when he concluded his maiden reading) he became an enthusiastic Archimboldian and set out on a quest to find more works by the author. This was no easy task. Getting hold of books by Benno von Archimboldi in the 1980s, even in Paris, was an effort not lacking in all kinds of difficulties. Almost no reference to Archimboldi could be found in the university's German department. Pelletier's professors had never heard of him. One said he thought he recognized the name. Ten minutes later, to Pelletier's outrage (and horror), he realized that the person his professor had in mind was the Italian painter, regarding whom he soon revealed himself to be equally ignorant.

Pelletier wrote to the Hamburg publishing house that had published D'Arsonval and received no response. He also scoured the few German bookstores he could find in Paris. The name Archimboldi appeared in a dictionary of German literature and in a Belgian magazine devoted—whether as a joke or seriously, he never knew—to the literature of Prussia. In 1981, he made a trip to Bavaria with three friends from the German department, and there, in a little bookstore in Munich, on Voralmstrasse, he found two other books: the slim volume titled Mitzi's Treasure, less than one hundred pages long, and the aforementioned English novel, The Garden.

Reading these two novels only reinforced the opinion he'd already formed of Archimboldi. In 1983, at the age of twenty-two, he undertook the task of translating D'Arsonval. No one asked him to do it. At the time, there was no French publishing house interested in publishing the German author with the funny name. Essentially Pelletier set out to translate the book because he liked it, and because he enjoyed the work, although it also occurred to him that he could submit the translation, prefaced with a study of the Archimboldian oeuvre, as his thesis, and—why not?—as the foundation of his future dissertation.

He completed the final draft of the translation in 1984, and a Paris publishing house, after some inconclusive and contradictory readings, accepted it and published Archimboldi. Though the novel seemed destined from the start not to sell more than a thousand copies, the first printing of three thousand was exhausted after a couple of contradictory, positive, even effusive reviews, opening the door for second, third, and fourth printings.

By then Pelletier had read fifteen books by the German writer, translated two others, and was regarded almost universally as the preeminent authority on Benno von Archimboldi across the length and breadth of France.


* * *

Then Pelletier could think back on the day when he first read Archimboldi, and he saw himself, young and poor, living in a chambre de bonne, sharing the sink where he washed his face and brushed his teeth with fifteen other people who lived in the same dark garret, shitting in a horrible and notably unhygienic bathroom that was more like a latrine or cesspit, also shared with the fifteen residents of the garret, some of whom had already returned to the provinces, their respective university degrees in hand, or had moved to slightly more comfortable places in Paris itself, or were still there—just a few of them—vegetating or slowly dying of revulsion.

He saw himself, as we've said, ascetic and hunched over his German dictionaries in the weak light of a single bulb, thin and dogged, as if he were pure will made flesh, bone, and muscle without an ounce of fat, fanatical and bent on success. A rather ordinary picture of a student in the capital, but it worked on him like a drug, a drug that brought him to tears, a drug that (as one sentimental Dutch poet of the nineteenth century had it) opened the floodgates of emotion, as well as the floodgates of something that at first blush resembled self-pity but wasn't (what was it, then? rage? very likely), and made him turn over and over in his mind, not in words but in painful images, the period of his youthful apprenticeship, and after a perhaps pointless long night he was forced to two conclusions: first, that his life as he had lived it so far was over; second, that a brilliant career was opening up before him, and that to maintain its glow he had to persist in his determination, in sole testament to that garret. This seemed easy enough.


* * *

Jean-Claude Pelletier was born in 1961 and by 1986 he was already a professor of German in Paris. Piero Morini was born in 1956, in a town near Naples, and although he read Benno von Archimboldi for the first time in 1976, or four years before Pelletier, it wasn't until 1988 that he translated his first novel by the German author, Bifurcaria Bifurcata, which came and went almost unnoticed in Italian bookstores.

Archimboldi's situation in Italy, it must be said, was very different from his situation in France. For one thing, Morini wasn't his first translator. As it happened, the first novel by Archimboldi to fall into Morini's hands was a translation of The Leather Mask done by someone called Colossimo for Einaudi in 1969. In Italy, The Leather Mask was followed by Rivers of Europe in 1971, Inheritance in 1973, and Railroad Perfection in 1975; earlier, in 1964, a publishing house in Rome had put out a collection of mostly war stories, titled The Berlin Underworld. So it could be said that Archimboldi wasn't a complete unknown in Italy, although one could hardly claim that he was successful, or somewhat successful, or even barely successful. In point of fact, he was an utter failure, an author whose books languished on the dustiest shelves in the stores or were remaindered or forgotten in publishers' warehouses before being pulped.

Morini, of course, was undaunted by the scant interest that Archimboldi's work aroused in the Italian public, and after he translated Bifurcaria Bifurcata he wrote two studies of Archimboldi for journals in Milan and Palermo, one on the role of fate in Railroad Perfection, and the other on the various guises of conscience and guilt in Lethaea, on the surface an erotic novel, and in Bitzius, a novel less than one hundred pages long, similar in some ways to Mitzi's Treasure, the book that Pelletier had found in an old Munich bookstore, and that told the story of the life of Albert Bitzius, pastor of Lützelflüh, in the canton of Bern, an author of sermons as well as a writer under the pseudonym Jeremiah Gotthelf. Both pieces were published, and Morini's eloquence or powers of seduction in presenting the figure of Archimboldi overcame all obstacles, and in 1991 a second translation by Piero Morini, this time of Saint Thomas, was published in Italy. By then, Morini was teaching German literature at the University of Turin, the doctors had diagnosed him with multiple sclerosis, and he had suffered the strange and spectacular accident that left him permanently wheelchair-bound.


* * *

Manuel Espinoza came to Archimboldi by a different route. Younger than Morini and Pelletier, Espinoza studied Spanish literature, not German literature, at least for the first two years of his university career, among other sad reasons because he dreamed of being a writer. The only German authors he was (barely) familiar with were three greats: Hölderlin, because at sixteen he thought he was fated to be a poet and he devoured every book of poetry he could find; Goethe, because in his final year of secondary school a teacher with a humorous streak recommended that he read The Sorrows of Young Werther, in whose hero he would find a kindred spirit; and Schiller, because he had read one of his plays. Later he would discover the work of a modern author, Jünger, with whom he became acquainted more by osmosis than anything else, since the Madrid writers he admired (and deep down hated bitterly) talked nonstop about Jünger. So it could be said that Espinoza was acquainted with just one German author, and that author was Jünger. At first he thought Jünger's work was magnificent, and since many of the writer's books were translated into Spanish, Espinoza had no trouble finding them and reading them all. He would have preferred it to be less easy. Meanwhile, many of his acquaintances weren't just Jünger devotees; some of them were the author's translators, too, which was something Espinoza cared little about, since the glory he coveted was that of the writer, not the translator.

As the months and years went by, silently and cruelly as is often the case, Espinoza suffered some misfortunes that made him change his thinking. It didn't take him long, for example, to discover that the group of Jüngerians wasn't as Jüngerian as he had thought, being instead, like all literary groups, in thrall to the changing seasons. In the fall, it's true, they were Jüngerians, but in winter they suddenly turned into Barojians and in spring into Orteganites, and in summer they would even leave the bar where they met to go out into the street and intone pastoral verse in honor of Camilo José Cela, something that the young Espinoza, who was fundamentally patriotic, would have been prepared to accept unconditionally if such displays had been embarked on in a fun-loving, carnival-esque spirit, but who could in no way take it all seriously, as did the bogus Jüngerians.

Worse was discovering what the members of the group thought about his own attempts at fiction. Their opinion was so negative that there were times—some nights, for example, when he couldn't sleep—that he began to wonder in all seriousness whether they were making a veiled attempt to get him to go away, stop bothering them, never show his face again.

And even worse was when Jünger showed up in person in Madrid and the group of Jüngerians organized a trip to El Escorial for him (a strange whim of the maestro, visiting El Escorial), and when Espinoza tried to join the excursion, in any capacity whatsoever, he was denied the honor, as if the Jüngerians deemed him unworthy of making up part of the German's garde du corps, or as if they feared that he, Espinoza, might embarrass them with some naïve, abstruse remark, although the official explanation given (perhaps dictated by some charitable impulse) was that he didn't speak German and everyone else who was going on the picnic with Jünger did.


* * *

That was the end of Espinoza's dealings with the Jüngerians. And it was the beginning of his loneliness and a steady stream (or deluge) of resolutions, often contradictory or impossible to keep. These weren't comfortable nights, much less pleasant ones, but Espinoza discovered two things that helped him mightily in the early days: he would never be a fiction writer, and, in his own way, he was brave.

He also discovered that he was bitter and full of resentment, that he oozed resentment, and that he might easily kill someone, anyone, if it would provide a respite from the loneliness and rain and cold of Madrid, but this was a discovery that he preferred to conceal. Instead he concentrated on his realization that he would never be a writer and on making everything he possibly could out of his newly unearthed bravery.

He continued at the university, studying Spanish literature, but at the same time he enrolled in the German department. He slept four or five hours a night and the rest of the time he spent at his desk. Before he finished his degree in German literature he wrote a twenty-page essay on the relationship between Werther and music, which was published in a Madrid literary magazine and a Göttingen university journal. By the time he was twenty-five he had completed both degrees. In 1990, he received his doctorate in German literature with a dissertation on Benno von Archimboldi. A Barcelona publishing house brought it out one year later. By then, Espinoza was a regular at German literature conferences and roundtables. His command of German was, if not excellent, more than passable. He also spoke English and French. Like Morini and Pelletier, he had a good job and a substantial income, and he was respected (to the extent possible) by his students as well as his colleagues. He never translated Archimboldi or any other German author.


* * *

Besides Archimboldi, there was one thing Morini, Pelletier, and Espinoza had in common. All three had iron wills. Actually, they had one other thing in common, but we'll get to that later.

Liz Norton, on the other hand, wasn't what one would ordinarily call a woman of great drive, which is to say that she didn't draw up long- or medium-term plans and throw herself wholeheartedly into their execution. She had none of the attributes of the ambitious. When she suffered, her pain was clearly visible, and when she was happy, the happiness she felt was contagious. She was incapable of setting herself a goal and striving steadily toward it. At least, no goal was appealing or desirable enough for her to pursue it unreservedly. Used in a personal sense, the phrase "achieve an end" seemed to her a small-minded snare. She preferred the word life, and, on rare occasions, happiness. If volition is bound to social imperatives, as William James believed, and it's therefore easier to go to war than it is to quit smoking, one could say that Liz Norton was a woman who found it easier to quit smoking than to go to war.

This was something she'd been told once when she was a student, and she loved it, although it didn't make her read William James, then or ever. For her, reading was directly linked to pleasure, not to knowledge or enigmas or constructions or verbal labyrinths, as Morini, Espinoza, and Pelletier believed it to be.

Her discovery of Archimboldi was the least traumatic of all, and the least poetic. During the three months that she lived in Berlin in 1988, when she was twenty, a German friend loaned her a novel by an author she had never heard of. The name puzzled her. How was it possible, she asked her friend, that there could be a German writer with an Italian surname, but with a von preceding it, indicating some kind of nobility? Her German friend had no answer. It was probably a pseudonym, he said. And to make things even stranger, he added, masculine proper names ending in vowels were uncommon in Germany. Plenty of feminine proper names ended that way. But certainly not masculine proper names. The novel was The Blind Woman, and she liked it, but not so much that it made her go running out to buy everything else that Benno von Archimboldi had ever written.


* * *

Five months later, back in England again, Liz Norton received a gift in the mail from her German friend. As one might guess, it was another novel by Archimboldi. She read it, liked it, went to her college library to look for more books by the German with the Italian name, and found two: one was the book she had already read in Berlin, and the other was Bitzius. Reading the latter really did make her go running out. It was raining in the quadrangle, and the quadrangular sky looked like the grimace of a robot or a god made in our own likeness. The oblique drops of rain slid down the blades of grass in the park, but it would have made no difference if they had slid up. Then the oblique (drops) turned round (drops), swallowed up by the earth underpinning the grass, and the grass and the earth seemed to talk, no, not talk, argue, their incomprehensible words like crystallized spiderwebs or the briefest crystallized vomitings, a barely audible rustling, as if instead of drinking tea that afternoon, Norton had drunk a steaming cup of peyote.

But the truth is that she had only had tea to drink and she felt overwhelmed, as if a voice were repeating a terrible prayer in her ear, the words of which blurred as she walked away from the college, and the rain wetted her gray skirt and bony knees and pretty ankles and little else, because before Liz Norton went running through the park, she hadn't forgotten to pick up her umbrella.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, Natasha Wimmer. Copyright © 2004 the heirs of Roberto Bolaño. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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