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2666: A Novel

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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 womanthese 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

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.

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

The Barnes & Noble Review
Roberto Bolaño is a master of digression. Among the countless stories that he tells in 2666, his 900-page cinderblock of a novel, there is not one that feels incomplete. (Considering that Bolaño died in 2003 before he finished the final book of the five-part sequence, that's quite a feat.) In his hands, narrative tangents, followed to their logical (or illogical, as the case may be) conclusions, fill in the spaces opened up by the boundlessly layered story lines.

To call 2666 ambitious is to understate its scale. Comprising five almost autonomous books, the novel is a chronicle of the 20th century, unafraid to confront its more gruesome turns in its sweep across history. The binding link, insofar as there is one, is the Mexican border town of Santa Teresa, modeled on Ciudad Juárez, where for the better part of the 1990s there were hundreds of brutal murders, with the bodies of young women turning up in dumps and deserts at the city's margin. The fourth, and longest, of the books takes up the matter of the murders directly, taking readers sequentially through each of the killings, along with the sexual abuse, mutilation, and police incompetence that accompanied them. They vary in their specifics, but the broad template is the same. "In September, the body of Ana Muñoz Sanjuán was found behind some trash cans on Calle Javier Paredes, between Colonia Félix Gómez and Colonia Centro. The body was completely naked and showed evidence of strangulation and rape, which would later be confirmed by the medical examiner," Bolaño writes with the blank neutrality of a police report.

He treads a difficult line in his account of the murders, explicit in his brutality without letting his descriptions slip into the exploitative. In each case, he is matter-of-fact, but the sheer accumulation of grisly detail can be difficult to stomach. For the most part, the crimes remain unsolved, and in the instances that the police do track down the killer, it turns out not to be the sought-after serial murderer but another case of domestic violence in this grim, industrial borderland. These murders, for Bolaño, contain all the violence of Latin America's colonial legacy, and the willingness of its witnesses to lay aside their own horror. Bolaño is at once oblique and microscopically precise in laying his themes on the table.

With Santa Teresa as a loose backdrop, 2666 radiates outward in all directions. The first book traces four obsessive European academics as their quest to find Archimboldi, the hermetic novelist at the center of their scholarly enterprise, leads them to Mexico. The second picks up with Amalfitano, a melancholic scholar whom they meet in their travels, as he begins to lose hold of his sanity, while the third, and in a way the most isolated part, tracks Harlem-based journalist Oscar Fate as he covers a boxing match in Santa Teresa. And finally the fifth, after "The Part About the Crimes," returns to Archimboldi.

Bolaño, with 2666, seems to have taken up the banner of postmodern genre pastiche: his account of Archimboldi's journey from rural Prussia to the Eastern Front of WWII to literary fame has all the trappings of the traditional bildungsroman, while the Oscar Fate section fits squarely alongside the gruffly laconic noir of American pulp. What separates Bolaño's efforts to catalogue the 20th century in letters is the utter authenticity of his effort; it never feels as if he is playing mimic. Or as Amalfitano would have it, literature is at its best when it doesn't suppress its own anarchy, "when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench." Bolaño would seem to agree.

As in The Savage Detectives, Bolaño's much-acclaimed 2007 novel, the question of how life comes to bear on writing, and writing on life, is never far from the author's reach. Like the visceral realist poets of that novel, 2666's quartet of critics -- Pelletier, Espinoza, Norton, and Morini -- structure their entire existence around the pursuit of a phantom author. The mysterious Archimboldi, in turn, becomes immersed in the literary life almost by accident, clinging to the notebook of a Ukrainian poet that he finds by chance in the village where his unit is seeking shelter. For Archimboldi, Ansky's words are consuming, a lifeline amidst the hopelessness of war: "He no longer thought about suicide, because he was already dead. In the mornings the first thing he did was read Ansky's notebook, opening it at random." For the authors among Bolaño 's cast, the imaginative possibilities of literature lend structure to an existence that seems otherwise without it -- the very texture of life is reflected in the mode of its telling.

But more than the fixation on the literary life shared by the characters of 2666, what ties the novel together is the predominance of an unimaginable violence. The murders in Santa Teresa are Bolaño 's avenue into a century defined by the scope of the damage it wrought. What Archimboldi witnesses on the battlefield and channels into art is no better or worse than the savagery dispassionately reported by the Mexican police. In one of the novel's most unsettling scenes, he encounters a corps of Romanian deserters who have killed and crucified their own general. "He wasn't a bad sort," one of the Romanians observes of his commander, the arbitrariness of their cruelty even more stark. And then there are the smaller brutalities. The distinction between sex and violence, as envisioned by Bolaño, can be troublingly porous, and the predation inherent in the Santa Teresa crimes casts its pall over the novel's sexual politics. Even in the comparatively airy first section, the romantic entanglements of the four scholars take on a twinge of the sinister when Pelletier and Espinoza find a sexual rival in a friend of Liz Norton's (with whom both, alternately, are sleeping).

The topography of violence may be what connects the disparate pieces of Bolaño's rangy novel, but that does not mean -- lest this seem too bleak to be readable -- that there is no beauty in its midst. His prose, even as it flits across genres, never loses its undercurrent of humanity; his characters are never hollow vessels for his thematic aims. As Liz Norton muses, "For her, reading was linked to pleasure, not to knowledge or enigmas or constructions or verbal labyrinths..." In 2666, however, we get both: there is brilliance in its mystery, and in all the surprising ways that its manifold layers become whole. --Amelia Atlas

Amelia Atlas's reviews have appeared in the New York Sun, 02138, and the Harvard Book Review. She is currently based in Berlin.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374100148
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 11/11/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 912
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 2.00 (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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Read an Excerpt


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



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.


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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Table of Contents


A Note from the Author's Heirs,
Note to the First Edition,

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 92 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 92 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Reminded Me Why I Read

    First off, Bolaño's "2666" is the best book I've read in ten years. I've got a Bachelor's in English and my favorite hobby is reading - so I've read a lot. I love to read everything. And although I read constantly, this book reawakened me to what meaningful reading can feel like.

    It isn't necessarily the lightest of literary works. At times, the book felt like a marathon. It's not something you zoom through. Bolaño breaks up the long, complex story with countless stories-within-stories that could stand alone but aid in the richness of the overall. In the end, I was not only supremely pleased with the book itself but proud of myself, in a way, for getting through it. The rewards are ample. I have not spent so much time post-read considering plot, symbolism, meaning, characters, scenarios, situations and style in several years. You could write twenty books on the themes of "2666."

    All of the "books" (Parts) within the book correlate more than they connect. Each book has it's own flow and appeal. "The Part About the Crimes" can get very tedious. But there are reasons for it's drawn out dictation and blunt style. The characters in each Part are rich. The environments are haunting. There really isn't a traditional plot. The book is about human nature in the face of an often unforgiving world. With Bolaño, the world isn't always just unforgiving. It can be merciless without reason. But it still just keeps on spinning.

    I recommened this book to anyone I know who enjoys reading. Even those who didn't love it as much as I did, or have issues with it, state that they're glad they read it.

    As for the awards, the critical praise and the title of "the first classic of the 21st Century" - they all apply suitably. Personally, I'd been looking for something to snap me out of a literary/writing funk. There are great authors out there, and there is some great writing going on. But I wanted something with a challenge that wouldn't confound me, maybe something a little more mainstream and definitely something worth the time and effort. "2666" not only gave me that, but inspired me further. It makes you think without making you feel like an idiot. It opens you up to the emotions that a good writer can create by putting words together and allowing your mind and heart get sucked in. It reminds you how to read and why you read. And for all its flaws (and it does have them. Too long in spots. Too tedious at times. Too convoluted at other times. And yet, at other times, parts end abruptly. If you want to nitpick, you can find more), the flaws help you feel at ease. That a really, really great story doesn't have to be perfect. Maybe that's why I found it near-perfect for me.

    To those who buy it, I say: Really read it, not just the words. Try to appreciate it for more than just something with a beginning and end. Stick with it, even through the tough spots. Then make someone else read it and spend several hours arguing, debating, and re-living it.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 15, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A worthwhile challenge from the end of days...

    2666 is huge, apocalyptic, brilliant, and evocative of the entire spectrum of human emotions. It's a symphonic masterpiece in text and structured like a Kurasawa movie. Five narrative threads where characters from across the globe come to the scene of a horrific and continuing series of crimes against young women make up the story. Though the actors in the story journey to or live in Santa Theresa, Bolano's fictional doppelganger for Cuidad Juarez, for personal reasons unrelated to the murderous crimes that have left a pall on the city for fifteen years, all find themselves caught up in the drama and the tragedy of the deaths and disappearances. From the Faulknerian confidence of his sentences, to the detailed explorations reminiscent of Joyce, to the epic scope of Goethe or Mann, Bolano has written a novel for the ages. For those who think big, meaty books aren't their cup of tea, stay away from this one. For those who are sick of being spoon fed the pablum that makes up most popular fiction, this is a book to challenge your skills as a reader and worm its way into the spot where your compassion lies. Written in the final years of his life, when he knew he was dying, Bolano has put heart, soul, mind, and body into this one. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for those seeking epic greatness in literary fiction.

    8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 8, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Beautiful, but beware

    Belano's themes are international and his language is intoxicating. He varies the experience from impossibly long and elegant phrases to coldly clipped bullets of information. I have found no other mystery as hauntingly suggestive of the human condition as this. But, read at your own peril; by the end of the fourth part you will be rattled, I promise. This book is as brutal as it is beautiful.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2009

    Dazzling imagination....

    I found 2666 to be a dazzling and endlessly fascinating tour of Bolano's imagination. Don't expect to read the book and have all the loose ends neatly tied up or have the story(s) unfold linearly. Major characters intermingle with minor ones who are never encountered again. Some are used as foyles to move the narrative and reappear at unexpected moments, others provide local colour to fill in the palette, and many of the rest are just the frothy exuberance of a completely engaging writer. These characters had the same effect on me as Mozart's endless thematic material in his best works where he throws away themes that most any other composer would have been glad to serve as the central motif. A more intrusive editor might have trimmed a hundred pages, but I loved every last bit.

    Yes, there are parts that are hard to read just as in real life we sometimes want to look away. Those graphic images remain vivid long after you put the book down. But then so do the depth of the characters, the twists and turns, and the eccentricities of the humanity presented.

    To dive into this book is to enter an all-encompassing thought-world. By the time you're through, you will understand the initial instruction to read the book at least twice, similar to Thomas Mann's introduction to The Magic Mountain. Do yourself a favor and read it. I loved it!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2009

    Victims of violence and coverups

    This is a long book with many characters. The writing style can often slow the reading - long paragraphs. The descriptions of the murder victims are detailed but necessary to sort of numb the reader into grasping the immensity of the violence. Other graphic sexual descriptions detract from the story line.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2011

    Impressive, Difficult, Long

    This is not the type of book that I typically would read. It is dense and challenging to follow. Bolano is incredible for the output and creativity and detail and breadth of reference to obscure topics, and particularly captures a central american mindset in a fictional town of Santa Theresa, Mexico. Never making his main points directly, always from many directions and just touching. The first chapters, and a mysterious author Archimboldi, hooked me in. It travels great distances of psyche and character to resolve this mystery, sort of. Difficult chapters on the murders, hard to take. I stuck with it, was educated, stimulated. But it was work, not recreation. It's the kind of book that would be interesting to discuss, but I am not sure I would recommend it to a friend to have someone to discuss it with.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 5, 2009

    Brilliant but dissapointing

    I am sad to say that I was slightly disappointed with this novel. I (also) selected this book after reading a review of it in Time magazine, and feel as though I was deceived. The characters are dreary, the plot is scattered, and I felt that the premise of the novel surrounding itself around the murders of various women (imitating the Juarez murders) was inaccurate. As the Note in the back states, the novel could be divided into five parts, each read separately, which explains why the combination of all five left me confused and apathetic to the whole novel. What ever happened to the first three critics that were in part one? Or the philosophical widower? It would have been nice if Bolaño tied all the characters and the individual plots together in the last part. But he doesn't, and the reader is left feeling bemused.

    However, I will say that the author is undeniably brilliant. His writing is superb and unique; the breadth of his intellect is observed throughout the novel. If you are looking for a challenging, even philosophical read, than I would recommend this book. If you don't care for it after the first part, you can stop reading it because he never returns to those characters and their stories. I'd say give it a try.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 12, 2009


    I had never read any of the author's works previously. After a highly laudatory review in the NY Times Book Review I decided to give this work a try.
    I found it very disappointing. I found the characters unappealing, the plot ponderous and the writing style unbearable.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 1, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Potent and Ambitious

    Roberto Bolano's novel is an stimulating indulgement within the realm of timeless literature. The author, knowing that this would be his last novel before his untimely departure, managed to construct and illustrate and colossal work of fiction that will surpass his death. The characters are intriquete and similar in their vulnerabilities. The plot unfolds around the mysterious deaths of hundreds of women over the last years in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. From the beginning pages readers will be thrusted into an air of mystery which will unfold casually during the length of 900 pgs., however, be warned that if the book is not read with all five sense being alert simultaneously, by the end of lengthy piece of literature you might be left with the strong distaste when deciphering that the true theme of the author's work has utterly gone over your head.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 4, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    900 page Hispanic attack

    I read book one twice through, with highlighting, thinking that I might miss something that would be important further on. Total waste of time as it was merely a long winded and frankly pointless introduction to books 2 and 3. The characters were somewhat insipid and it's theme seemed to be a treatise on the superficiality of intellectuals and of academia in general if anything.
    Book 2 was a condemnation of Hispanic society and of it's complete and utter inability to form effective institutions on any level due to endemic corruption, and the weakness and lack of moral fiber in Hispanic men in general. "Why are we so screwed up?" he seemed to be asking in every vignette, punctuated by descriptions of one grisly rape/murder after another, clearly puzzled and frustrated by the lack of outrage or anger or guilt and the unwillingness or inability of ANYBODY in a position of authority to do ANYTHING about it.
    I haven't read book 3 yet, but of course I will. I'd like to point out that the translation is excellent, the best I've ever read for a Spanish language novel. It really captures the authors wit intact and has a modern colloquial feel. These books are actually quite funny.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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