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2666: A Novel

2666: A Novel

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by Roberto Bolaño
     
 

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THE POSTHUMOUS MASTERWORK FROM "ONE OF THE GREATEST AND MOST INFLUENTIAL MODERN WRITERS" (JAMES WOOD, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW)

Composed in the last years of Roberto Bolaño's life, 2666 was greeted across Europe and Latin America as his highest achievement, surpassing even his previous work in its strangeness, beauty, and scope. Its

Overview

THE POSTHUMOUS MASTERWORK FROM "ONE OF THE GREATEST AND MOST INFLUENTIAL MODERN WRITERS" (JAMES WOOD, THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW)

Composed in the last years of Roberto Bolaño's life, 2666 was greeted across Europe and Latin America as his highest achievement, surpassing even his previous work in its strangeness, beauty, and scope. Its throng of unforgettable characters includes academics and convicts, an American sportswriter, an elusive German novelist, and a teenage student and her widowed, mentally unstable father. Their lives intersect in the urban sprawl of SantaTeresa—a fictional Juárez—on the U.S.-Mexico border, where hundreds of young factory workers, in the novel as in life, have disappeared.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781466804821
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
07/09/2013
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
912
Sales rank:
60,511
File size:
3 MB

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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: 978-1-4668-0482-1



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.

Meet the Author

ROBERTO BOLAÑO was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1953. He grew up in Chile and Mexico City, where he was a founder of the infrarealist poetry movement. His first full-length novel, The Savage Detectives, received the Herralde Prize and the Romulo Gallegos Prize when it appeared in 1998. Bolaño died in Blanes, Spain, at the age of fifty. NATASHA WIMMER 's translation of The Savage Detectives was chosen as one of the ten best books of 2007 by The Washington Post and The New York Times.


Roberto Bolaño was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1953. He grew up in Chile and Mexico City, where he was a founder of the Infrarealist poetry movement. His first full-length novel, The Savage Detectives, received the Herralde Prize and the Rómulo Gallegos Prize when it appeared in 1998. Roberto Bolaño died in Blanes, Spain, at the age of fifty.
Natasha Wimmer is a translator who has worked on Roberto Bolaño’s 2666, for which she was awarded the PEN Translation prize in 2009, and The Savage Detectives. She lives in New York.

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2666 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 90 reviews.
Beejie More than 1 year ago
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.
SLROnline More than 1 year ago
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.
spanza80 More than 1 year ago
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.
OC_cliffdweller More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Schwarza420 More than 1 year ago
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.
Devine_Omega More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Yes, there congruences' so what
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