The Savage Detectives

The Savage Detectives


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"Roberto Bolaño's masterpiece is an utterly unique achievement—a modern epic rich in character and event. . . . [He is] the most important writer to emerge from Latin America since García Márquez."—The San Francisco Chronicle

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433292682
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date: 02/28/2010
Product dimensions: 4.78(w) x 7.82(h) x 1.21(d)

About 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 Rómulo Gallegos Prize when it appeared in 1998. Roberto Bolaño died in Blanes, Spain, at the age of fifty.

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Copyright © 1998 Roberto Bolaño
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-19148-1

Chapter One




I've been cordially invited to join the visceral realists. I accepted, of course. There was no initiation ceremony. It was better that way.


I'm not really sure what visceral realism is. I'm seventeen years old, my name is Juan García Madero, and I'm in my first semester of law school. I wanted to study literature, not law, but my uncle insisted, and in the end I gave in. I'm an orphan, and someday I'll be a lawyer. That's what I told my aunt and uncle, and then I shut myself in my room and cried all night. Or anyway for a long time. Then, as if it were settled, I started class in the law school's hallowed halls, but a month later I registered for Julio César Álamo's poetry workshop in the literature department, and that was how I met the visceral realists, or viscerealists or even vicerealists, as they sometimes like to call themselves. Up until then, I had attended the workshop four times and nothing ever happened, though only in a manner of speaking, of course, since naturally something always happened: we read poems, and Álamopraised them or tore them to pieces, depending on his mood; one person would read, Álamo would critique, another person would read, Álamo would critique, somebody else would read, Álamo would critique. Sometimes Álamo would get bored and ask us (those of us who weren't reading just then) to critique too, and then we would critique and Álamo would read the paper.

It was the ideal method for ensuring that no one was friends with anyone, or else that our friendships were unhealthy and based on resentment.

And I can't say that Álamo was much of a critic either, even though he talked a lot about criticism. Really I think he just talked for the sake of talking. He knew what periphrasis was. Not very well, but he knew. But he didn't know what pentapody was (a line of five feet in classical meter, as everybody knows), and he didn't know what a nicharchean was either (a line something like the phalaecean), or what a tetrastich was (a four-line stanza). How do I know he didn't know? Because on the first day of the workshop, I made the mistake of asking. I have no idea what I was thinking. The only Mexican poet who knows things like that by heart is Octavio Paz (our great enemy), the others are clueless, or at least that was what Ulises Lima told me minutes after I joined the visceral realists and they embraced me as one of their own. Asking Álamo these questions was, as I soon learned, a sign of my tactlessness. At first I thought he was smiling in admiration. Later I realized it was actually contempt. Mexican poets (poets in general, I guess) hate to have their ignorance brought to light. But I didn't back down, and after he had ripped apart a few of my poems at the second session, I asked him whether he knew what a rispetto was. Álamo thought that I was demanding respect for my poems, and he went off on a tirade about objective criticism (for a change), a minefield that every young poet must cross, etc., but I cut him off, and after explaining that never in my short life had I demanded respect for my humble creations, I put the question to him again, this time enunciating as clearly as possible.

"Don't give me this crap," said Álamo.

"A rispetto, professor, is a kind of lyrical verse, romantic to be precise, similar to the strambotto, with six or eight hendecasyllabic lines, the first four in the form of a serventesio and the following composed in rhyming couplets. For example ..." And I was about to give him an example or two when Álamo jumped up and cut me off. What happened next is hazy (although I have a good memory): I remember Álamo laughing along with the four or five other members of the workshop. I think they may have been making fun of me.

Anyone else would have left and never gone back, but despite my unhappy memories (or my unhappy failure to remember what had happened, at least as unfortunate as remembering would have been), the next week there I was, punctual as always.

I think destiny brought me back. This was the fifth session of Álamo's workshop that I'd attended (but it might just as well have been the eighth or the ninth, since lately I've been noticing that time can expand or contract at will), and tension, the alternating current of tragedy, was palpable in the air, although no one could explain why. To begin with, we were all there, all seven apprentice poets who'd originally signed up for the workshop. This hadn't happened at any other session. And we were nervous. Even Álamo wasn't his usual calm self. For a minute I thought something might have happened at the university, that maybe there'd been a campus shooting I hadn't heard about, or a surprise strike, or that the dean had been assassinated, or they'd kidnapped one of the philosophy professors. But nothing like that was true, and there was no reason to be nervous. No objective reason, anyway. But poetry (real poetry) is like that: you can sense it, you can feel it in the air, the way they say certain highly attuned animals (snakes, worms, rats, and some birds) can detect an earthquake. What happened next was a blur, but at the risk of sounding corny, I'd say there was something miraculous about it. Two visceral realist poets walked in and Álamo reluctantly introduced them, although he only knew one of them personally; the other one he knew by reputation, or maybe he just knew his name or had heard someone mention him, but he introduced us to him anyway.

I'm not sure why they were there. It was clearly a hostile visit, hostile but somehow propagandistic and proselytizing too. At first the visceral realists kept to themselves, and Álamo tried to look diplomatic and slightly ironic while he waited to see what would happen. Then he started to relax, encouraged by the strangers' shyness, and after half an hour the workshop was back to normal. That's when the battle began. The visceral realists questioned Álamo's critical system and he responded by calling them cut-rate surrealists and fake Marxists. Five members of the workshop backed him up; in other words, everyone but me and a skinny kid who always carried around a book by Lewis Carroll and never spoke. This surprised me, to be honest, because the students supporting Álamo so fiercely were the same ones he'd been so hard on as a critic, and now they were revealing themselves to be his biggest supporters. That's when I decided to put in my two cents, and I accused Álamo of having no idea what a rispetto was; nobly, the visceral realists admitted that they didn't know either but my observation struck them as pertinent, and they said so; one of them asked how old I was, and I said I was seventeen and tried all over again to explain what a rispetto was; Álamo was red with rage; the members of the workshop said I was being pedantic (one of them called me an academicist); the visceral realists defended me; suddenly unstoppable, I asked Álamo and the workshop in general whether they at least remembered what a nicharchean or a tetrastich was. And no one could answer.

Contrary to my expectations, the argument didn't lead to an all-around ass-kicking. I have to admit I would have loved that. And although one of the members of the workshop did promise Ulises Lima that someday he would kick his ass, in the end nothing actually happened; nothing violent, I mean, although I responded to the threat (which, I repeat, was not directed at me) by letting the threatener know that he could have it out with me anywhere on campus, any day, any time.

The end of class was surprising. Álamo dared Ulises Lima to read one of his poems. Lima didn't need to be asked twice. He pulled some smudged, crumpled sheets from his jacket pocket. Oh no, I thought, the idiot is walking right into their trap. I think I shut my eyes out of sheer sympathetic embarrassment. There's a time for reciting poems and a time for fists. As far as I was concerned, this was the latter. But as I was saying, I closed my eyes, and I heard Lima clear his throat, then I heard the somewhat uncomfortable silence (if it's possible to hear such a thing, which I doubt) that settled around him, and finally I heard his voice, reading the best poem I'd ever heard. Then Arturo Belano got up and said that they were looking for poets who would like to contribute to the magazine that the visceral realists were putting out. Everybody wished they could volunteer, but after the fight they felt sheepish and no one said a thing. When the workshop ended (later than usual), I went with Lima and Belano to the bus stop. It was too late. There were no more buses, so we decided to take a pesero together to Reforma, and from there we walked to a bar on Calle Bucareli, where we sat until very late, talking about poetry.

I still don't really get it. In one sense, the name of the group is a joke. At the same time, it's completely in earnest. Many years ago there was a Mexican avant-garde group called the visceral realists, I think, but I don't know whether they were writers or painters or journalists or revolutionaries. They were active in the twenties or maybe the thirties, I'm not quite sure about that either. I'd obviously never heard of the group, but my ignorance in literary matters is to blame for that (every book in the world is out there waiting to be read by me). According to Arturo Belano, the visceral realists vanished in the Sonora desert. Then Belano and Lima mentioned somebody called Cesárea Tinajero or Tinaja, I can't remember which (I think it was when I was shouting to the waiter to bring us some beers), and they talked about the Comte de Lautréamont's Poems, something in the Poems that had to do with this Tinajero woman, and then Lima made a mysterious claim. According to him, the present-day visceral realists walked backward. What do you mean, backward? I asked.

"Backward, gazing at a point in the distance, but moving away from it, walking straight toward the unknown."

I said I thought this sounded like the perfect way to walk. The truth was I had no idea what he was talking about. If you stop and think about it, it's no way to walk at all.

Other poets showed up later on. Some were visceral realists, others weren't. It was total pandemonium. At first I worried that Belano and Lima were so busy talking to every freak who came up to our table that they'd forgotten all about me, but as day began to dawn, they asked me to join the gang. They didn't say "group" or "movement," they said "gang." I liked that. I said yes, of course. It was all very simple. Belano shook my hand and told me that I was one of them now, and then we sang a ranchera. That was all. The song was about the lost towns of the north and a woman's eyes. Before I went outside to throw up, I asked them whether the eyes were Cesárea Tinajero's. Belano and Lima looked at me and said that I was clearly a visceral realist already and that together we would change Latin American poetry. At six in the morning I took another pesero, this time by myself, which brought me to Colonia Lindavista, where I live. Today I didn't go to class. I spent the whole day in my room writing poems.


I went back to the bar on Bucareli, but the visceral realists never showed up. While I was waiting for them, I spent my time reading and writing. The regulars, a group of silent, pretty grisly-looking drunks, never once took their eyes off me.

Results of five hours of waiting: four beers, four tequilas, a plate of tortilla sopes that I didn't finish (they were half spoiled), a cover-to-cover reading of Álamo's latest book of poems (which I only brought so I could make fun of Álamo with my new friends), seven texts written in the style of Ulises Lima, or rather, in the style of the one poem I'd read, or really just heard. The first one was about the sopes, which smelled of the grave; the second was about the university: I saw it in ruins; the third was about the university (me running naked in the middle of a crowd of zombies); the fourth was about the moon over Mexico City; the fifth about a dead singer; the sixth about a secret community living in the sewers of Chapultepec; and the seventh about a lost book and friendship. Those were the results, plus a physical and spiritual sense of loneliness.

A couple of drunks tried to bother me, but young as I may be, I can take care of myself. A waitress (I found out her name is Brígida; she said she remembered me from the other night with Belano and Lima) stroked my hair. She did it absentmindedly, as she went by to wait on another table. Afterward she sat with me for a while and hinted that my hair was too long. She was nice, but I decided it was better not to respond. At three in the morning I went home. Still no visceral realists. Will I ever see them again?


No news of my friends. I haven't been to class in two days. And I don't plan to go back to Álamo's workshop either. This afternoon I was at the Encrucijada Veracruzana again (the bar on Bucareli), but no sign of the visceral realists. It's funny the way a place like that changes from afternoon to night or even morning. You'd think it was a completely different bar. This afternoon it seemed much filthier than it really is. The grisly night crowd hadn't shown up yet, and the clientele was-how should I put it-more furtive, less mysterious, and more peaceable. Three low-level office workers, probably civil servants, completely drunk; a street vendor who'd sold all his sea turtle eggs, standing next to his empty basket; two high school students; a gray-haired man sitting at a table eating enchiladas. The waitresses were different too. I didn't recognize the three who were on duty today, although one of them came right up to me and said: you must be the poet. This flustered me. Still, I was flattered, I have to admit.

"Yes, I'm a poet, but how did you know?"

"Brígida told me about you."

Brígida, the waitress!

"And what did she tell you?" I asked, not daring to use the informal with her yet.

"That you wrote some very pretty poems."

"There's no way she could know that. She's never read any of my work," I said, blushing a little, but increasingly satisfied by the turn the conversation was taking. It also occurred to me that Brígida might have read some of my poems-over my shoulder! That I didn't like so much.

The waitress (her name was Rosario) asked me to do her a favor. I should have said, "It depends," as my uncle had taught me (to the point of exhaustion), but that's not the way I am. All right, then, I said, what?

"I'd like you to write me a poem," she said.

"Consider it done. One of these days I promise you I will," I said, using with her for the first time and finally getting up the courage to order another tequila.

"It's on me," she said. "But you have to write it now."

I tried to explain you can't just write a poem that way, on the spot.

"Anyway, what's the hurry?"

Her explanation was somewhat vague; it seemed to involve a promise made to the Virgen de Guadalupe, something to do with the health of someone, a very dear and longed-for family member who had disappeared and come back again. But what did a poem have to do with all that? It occurred to me that I'd had too much to drink and hadn't eaten in hours, and I wondered whether the alcohol and hunger must be starting to disconnect me from reality. But then I decided it didn't matter. If I'm remembering right (though I wouldn't stake my life on it), it so happens that one of the visceral realists' basic poetry-writing tenets is a momentary disconnection from a certain kind of reality. Anyway, the bar had emptied out, so the other two waitresses drifted over to my table and then I was surrounded, in what seemed (and actually was) an innocent position but which to some uninformed spectator-a policeman, for example-might not have looked that way: a student sitting with three women standing around him, one of them brushing his left arm and shoulder with her right hip, the other two with their thighs pressed against the edge of the table (an edge that would surely leave a mark on those thighs), carrying on an innocent literary conversation, but a conversation that might look like something else entirely if you saw it from the doorway. Like a pimp in conference with his charges. Like a sex-crazed student refusing to be seduced.

I decided to get out while I still could, and doing my best to stand up, I paid, sent my regards to Brígida, and left. When I stepped outside the sun was blinding.


Excerpted from THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES by ROBERTO BOLAÑO Copyright © 1998 by Roberto Bolaño. Excerpted by permission.
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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The Savage Detectives 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 45 reviews.
sandiek More than 1 year ago
Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives is the story of a group of young poets in Mexico in the early 1970's. The book is written in three parts. The first part is the story of the Visceral Poet group, young poets and writers living in Mexico City, all Hispanics from various countries. The founders of the group are Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano, who named the group after an earlier set of visceral poets in the 1920's. That group centered around a female poet, Cesarea Tinajero, who disappeared mysteriously. In the first part, we meet the various characters through the eyes of a 17 year old, who thinks he might be a poet. This young man, Juan Garcia Madero, spends his days reading and writing and discussing literature with the group members. He also discovers his sexuality, and much of the section deals with his sexual awakenings and various partners. The second part is written forty years later, and is written as a series of short interviews with various people who have encountered either Lima or Belano over those years. Through these vignettes, we discover what has happened to these poets over the succeeding decades. The story winds through several countries and continents. Each person knows a bit of their stories, and the reader is able to slowly piece together their lives. The third part is a flashback to the road trip that Belano, Lima, Madero and a prostitute take to try to find Cesarea and what caused her to disappear. The events of that trip fuel the rest of the book, although the reader only realises this in retrospect. The Savage Detectives is a book that will be considered important for years, and will probably become a classic. Many readers might pick it up thinking it is a mystery, and they might be disappointed. But those readers that stick around for the ride will be entranced as they enter Bolano's world. This is definately a book that will bear rereads, and is recommended for readers who appreciate cutting edge literature and exposure to the literature of other countries.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I decided to buy this book because I read great reviews about it in several magazines. It's very long (almost 600 pages!), and a really tough read. It took me almost 3 months to get through it. The story follows two poets over 20 years, and it's told by individuals they've crossed paths with over the years. The problem is they've crossed paths with so many different people, its hard to keep up!! I'll probably try reading this book again in a few years. I recommend the Savage Detectives to anyone who has the time to spend reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A detective story... floating in a world of words, a breathless account of the search for a lost poet or was it a lost poem. It exposes the naive adolescent and lost mind set of a man on a mission to prove his existence. Its a rapturous list of name, and references in the style of Borges, but with a breathlessness that the old master, did not contribute. Is the story real, is it fake, is it realistic? It raises so many questions of self and the need for direction and focus. But it also raises questions of meaning and purpose. Who am I today? Am I a Poet or am I the poets muse?
Guest More than 1 year ago
i don't know if it was my mindset or having too many distactions or what...i just accept the fact that this is a great book, but one which i never really was drawn into.
librarianbryan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Spiralling wonderfulness of my youth's astral light cascading like a galactic waterfall over midnight blue sky. I am diffuse.
lriley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An amazing read. There's been a lot of buzz about this recently translated book in the last couple months. Articles appearing in literary journals and mainstream magazines--a front page review in the New York Times Sunday book review section. Bolano--who died in 2003 at the relatively young age of 50--of a liver disease that had plagued him for years--living and writing those last years feverishly almost as if on borrowed time. Up until now we've only had a series of shorter works. Having read By night in Chile and Distant Star--both very good I could already attest to his talent and vision. The Savage Detectives though more than surpasses both of those books. The Savage Detectives may will be seen in the future as a masterpiece of Latin American fiction on a par with Vargas Llosa's Conversation in the Cathedral--keeping in mind also that another of Bolano's works 2666 is expected in the near future. Set in Mexico City beginning in the early 70's the story is told in three parts--the first narrated by a young poet Juan Garcia Madero who is connected with a group calling themselves Visceral Realists (modeled on an earlier group of poets from the 1920's) of which Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano are its two would be leaders. The group is almost hellbent on breaking with tradition in whatever form tradition manifests itself. They conduct purges on themselves, steal books, live off friends and family, have sex freely and frequently and sound off on the state of society and literature in general. At the end of the first part Belano, Lima and Madero rescue a prostitute from a Mexico City gangster which sets in motion events that will follow Belano and Lima around the globe (South America, Europe, Africa) for the next twenty years. The second part which takes up well over half the book is composed of 26 chapters and told somewhat in a timeline by a variety (50-60?) of narrators (both friendly and unfriendly) who over the course of those intervening years run into Belano and/or Lima in this place or that--seeing them in various situations as unemployed or as itinerant workers--undocumented aliens living hand to mouth--starving or sick at times--dealing drugs--pursuing life according to their not always quite understandable ideas--pursuing literature as always--almost hopelessly--"it was as if they were there but at the same time they weren't there." Lima goes to Israel--is befriended by an Austrian thug--returning to Vienna with him he becomes involved in several muggings and later on stabs a rival of the same Austrian in a fight and is deported. He disappears for a couple years in Nicaragua during the revolution eventually returning to Mexico and eventually running into the Mexican nobelist Octavio Paz who is well aware of a one time plot Lima (Paz knowing his face but not his name) had taken part in to kidnap him. They discuss this in part and shake hands afterwards--going their own respective ways. Belano for his part works all over Europe particularly in Spain--continuing his literary endeavors and challenging one of his critics to a duel with sabres which they fight out on a deserted nudist beach until they both collapse from exhaustion. He is often sick--can only eat certain things and often thinks of suicide. He eventually finds his way to Africa as a free lance reporter in the middle of a civil war in Liberia--and that is where we last see him choosing between following a guerrilla group into an impossible situation or going back to safety he chooses the impossible. The third and shortest part takes us back to where the first part left off--or back to Garcia Madero's narration. Lima, Belano, Garcia Madero and the prostitue Lupe on the run from their pursuers (the Mexico City gangster and a policeman friend) in the deserts of Northern Mexico. At the same time they are also searching for the whereabouts of a Mexican poetess from the first group of 1920's visceral realists--Cesarea Tinajero--who disappeared back into that region so
miriamparker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I devoured the beginning of this novel. Just couldn't get enough of it, loved the voice, the earnest but mocking tone of young writing and young love. And then part II started and I completely lost interest. I'll give it 4 stars for an amazing first 100 pages. But I had to subtract one for the skimming that I did to get to the end....
TakeItOrLeaveIt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Savage Detectives had its leaps and bounds, inevitably being that it spans from the mid 70's to the late 90's. The late 90's were the most depressing and unexciting, it could be because he was 40 by then or simply because the world was such a different place. Regardless, Belano's ability to take on the perception of a million different people is an incredible feat and an accomplishment, and to take on all those persona's and still have some plot, the plot simply being the life of Belano through the eyes of others overseeing the tumultuous changes of his literary group, then stretching a would-be poet and the people he would know during his itinerant adventures through barcelona, mexico, chile, africa, paris, and beyond. The book is one long poem, well that¿s what Roberto Belano as the wandering poet would like every reader to conclude and fully believe. It¿s probably true, but there is no definite truth¿s n The Savage Detectives, a point the most successful Latin American author¿s reach for. The point of not having a point. This is, ultimately, where my admiration for Latin American literature stems from.
labontea on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Barely finished it... After all the hype, I was disappointed. Maybe if I were reading it for a LatAm lit class I might get more out of it.
DRFP on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ultimately a novel that promises much but delivers little. The book is a literary labyrinth with no exit, that leads no where. There is much talk of impending doom but nothing matching this is witnessed in the novel. Much of the novel is devoted to the Visceral Realists but only a single example of anything concrete from the fictional movement is presented here. The search for Cesárea Tinarejo is a massive anti-climax.If those are issues the novel sets up and fails to deliver on then there are other fundamental problems with The Savage Detectives. Most glaring of all is the fact that the principle characters are kept at arms length. Belano and Lima are never established as characters we really know. Their vague, shadowy existence works fine in the first part of the novel but by the end of the story they're still extremely vague. It makes for very detached reading. This problem is compounded by the massive second section of the novel, the bulk of the book, which contains a vast array of characters who feature for so brief a time there is little reason to care for their stories and to get emotionally involved. This is not such a problem at the start of the second section, as characters from the first part feature heavily as interviewees; but as the novel progresses these characters disappear and we're left reading accounts from individuals we know and care nothing about.This is perhaps a symptom of the novel's biggest problem - that it is simply too long. The second section is some 450 pages long and, in my opinion, ought to be half that length. That would alleviate a lot of the problems I've mentioned above. One shot characters could be cut or their interviews drastically reduced and it would tighten up the novel significantly. It's only as the novel goes on and on that you expect, or at least hope for, a worthwhile climax. When that doesn't come you're likely to be left feeling rather miffed. I think 2666 is a fantastic novel but this story disappoints. What the novel lacks is a solid centre - the kind that, however abstract, Santa Teresa provided 2666. Bolaño's prose is still lovely, there's no questioning his ability to write, but after this and Amulet I'm beginning to question his ability as a novelist. Was 2666 a fluke? I'll have to read more of his works to find out, but I think I'll be reading them with slightly reduced expectations from now on.
xevver on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a hard book for me to review. There is no real point to this book. The plot, what little there is, doesn't become apparent until the last one-hundred pages. It was the kind of book that I dreaded opening the cover. Yet when I did, I couldn't put it down. The author's writing style had me turning page after page. It's what I loved about the book and what I'll remember.
Narboink on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an interesting, if somewhat daunting, precursor to Bolaño¿s magisterial epic, ¿2666.¿ Having read ¿2666¿ first, I wasn¿t as enamored with ¿The Savage Detectives¿ as I might otherwise have been; the conventions of the detective genre had already been exposed as fraudulent, the brutal style had already been perfected, the thematic nightmare of inevitable destruction had already been explored¿ I had already been to Santa Teresa. That said, the two books should rightly be read together and the effect of reading each one is haunting in its own right. ¿The Savage Detectives¿ is sometimes painfully slow, it¿s true; however, it seems to be written in a way that is deliberately so. This is not a book that is meant to be read and then written off. It stays with you. This is the kind of book that grows over time and is best understood with repeated readings. (By the way, Natasha Wimmer is a brilliant translator. I probably wouldn¿t have read this book if anyone else had translated it into English.)
shadowofthewind on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm on a Bolano kick after reading his 2666, but I thought The Savage Detectives would be more cohesive story. 2666 Having three major stories that went off in different directions. It was foolish to think The Savage Detectives would be any better. It's two stories, the story of a young poet and the story of Arturo Belano and Ulisses Lima. (I'm realizing that Belano and Bolano are the same to no surprise). The Savage Detectives starts off with the story of a young poet in law school. A sort of obnoxious Know-it-all who feels his poetry teachers are inadequate because they don't understand obscure technical poetry structure. Then he meets Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, two literary and poetic mythical creatures. They turn his world upside down. He is suddenly thrust from a calm orderly world of school, family life, and his plans for his future to involvment with the underground movement of visceral realists. He gets involved with pimps, drug dealers, mob bosses and more and is lost in this new world. The story cuts off right in the middle a dramatic scene in order to tell the reader about Belano and Lima. Their mythical status seems emphasized by their names Arturo (King Arthur) and Ulisses (Odysseus). Their stories are told by journal entries and vignettes by those who knew them or were affected by them. Mentors, lovers friends, enemies and more all tell their stories. In some cases, they are like villains always challenging a protaganist, in others they are the heroes, showing up in the nick of time. It becomes a rambling read at this point. It's like the author wanted to put a bunch of different stories and ideas into a book and made this rambling storyline to accomplish all of them. The stories work though, it's like these guys represent Young Turks that never grow up, never back down and believe even when their is nothing to believe in. In some cases, a smug knowing that annoys most of the characters in the book. We go back to the original story after these vignettes. 20 years of their storyline are told, from before the story starts to almost 20 years after the story ends. There are some beautiful passages in these stories. After reading two of his books, I have found that it's best to read his books and absorb them. Read to fast and you'll miss the poetry, but read to slow and get lost the connections.
Joycepa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A picaresque novel with not one but two such journeying protagonists, on a search¿a quest¿for an elusive Mexican female poet who they¿Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, young poets¿consider one of the progenitors of their particular ¿poetic movement¿, the visceral realists. The structure takes the form of a large number of narrative interviews, all recounted in the first person by dozens of voices, some of whom recur throughout the first 2/3 of the book. The book begins and ends with the diary entries of García Madero, a young poet who describes, in entries that date from November 2, 1975 to February 15, 1976, first how he met Belano and Lima (who are the author and his best friend, Mario Santiago) and then his adventures with them in Mexico City and beyond. In between are other people, who describe from their points of view their relationship with either one or both of the two poets. The narratives do not always follow a linear time line, sometimes relapsing to 1976 from points more forward in time.The first part of the book is an detailed description of the bohemian life of the young poets of the 70s. Mostly, they¿re broke and on the take. Many living when they can off lovers. Some truly odd characters show up, as I suppose is the case with most artistic communities¿there¿s always a somewhat lunatic fringe (sometimes more than somewhat) and Mexico City¿s literary scene was no exception.The second part of the book follows Lima and Belano on their journeys through Paris, Barcelona, Israel and Africa, where their general poverty leads them into the underbelly of Europe and lands Belano in genocidal Africa. Again, it¿s all done through interviews with people who knew them, however briefly, and very well done.The last part of the book is the closing chapter narrated by García Madero. It¿s not long in comparison to what has come before, but it finally ties together the entire book and more or less explains what has happened between the beginning and end. And that¿s important, because this is a real puzzler of a book¿it is at once interesting and outright boring, fascinating and yet off-putting, and seemingly without any rationality until the end.Bolano was Chilean and was at least partially involved in the early struggles against the Pinochet coup. Like most Latin American writers of any type, he was deeply influenced by the politics of Latin America, if only to rebel against the whole idea. Yet, the politics of the literati is never so clearly laid out as in this book, as, throughout the Mexico City narratives, the number of different ¿movements¿ are brought out in perfect seriousness (in the narrative¿I¿m not so sure Bolano wasn¿t somewhat tongue-in-cheek in reality). The names grow ever more hilarious: visceral realists, Mexican actualist avante garde, postism, stridentists peasant poets¿all scorn the shabby mundane world of Mexican politics almost as much as they scorn one another.I really struggled with this book, but in the end I¿m glad I finished it, because oddly enough, it¿s left quite an impression on me. Bolano was heralded as the greatest talent to come out of Latin America since García Marquez, primarily because he broke with forms such as magical realism; he was an ¿infrarealist.¿ I can not comment about that claim, but The Savage Detectives is certainly a departure from any book written in the modern era by a Latin American author with whom I¿m familiar, and I¿ve read quite a few.I¿m not sure to whom I¿d recommend this book¿it¿s not to everyone¿s tastes by a long shot. But if you¿re in the mood for something truly different and don¿t mind spending possibly months wading through it, then The Savage Detectives is worth a try.
michaelbartley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
a excellent book, a study of the desire to create to go beyond the know, it is hard at times to follow lack on a real plot many characters
CBJames on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This week, after 497 pages, I finally gave up on Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives. Enough is enough. My policy here is not to review books I haven't actually completed, but after 497 pages, I feel entitled to my opinion.At first I loved it. In the opening section of the novel a young man, Juan García Madero, arrives in Mexico City to attend university. He soon falls in with a group of Bohemian poets who call themselves Visceral Realists. Madero becomes fascinated with Arturo Bolano and Ulises Lima, the founders of Visceral Realism, and drops out of school to follow them. Arturo Bolano and Ulises Lima reminded me of Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine, probably because I just recently read Edmund White's biography of Rimbaud. Though Bolano and Lima are not lovers the two have a fiery relationship and are just as socially unacceptable as Rimbaud and Verlaine were. It makes for entertaining reading. If I had met them at 17, I might have become a Visceral Realist myself.There are no examples of Visceral Realist poetry in the first section of the book. This began to bother me. The Visceral Realists argue about poetry all the time. They attack Octavio Paz at nearly every turn, but they never write any poetry themselves. The reader begins to suspect that this might be the point. Amateur Reader, who keeps the wonderful blog Wuthering Expectations, suggested this in his comment to last week's Sunday Salon:Is The Savage Detectives not about the sinister assumptions of Modernist poetry? Is not Bolaño undermining Modernism, leaving a void of meaning?I can see Am. Reader's point. This is probably a good way to read The Savage Detectives. But I think Samuel R. Delany did this better in his epic Dhalgren. I also think Gertrude Stein did it pretty darn well in a single line: "A rose is a rose is a rose." The first part of The Savage Detectives ends with young Madero, Bolano and Lima escaping from a gun fight into the night. Honestly, that's the end of the fun stuff. The second section, the one I didn't finish, is a series of interviews with various people connected with the Visceral Realists. While the first part of the book took place in 1975, the second section covers 20 years, 1976 to 1996. We get brief glimpses of Bolano and Lima as the witnesses tell their stories. Some only advance rumors. The two spent time in Barcelona, Paris, Israel, while the rest of the Visceral Realists tried to get bits of work published here and there. Some of the witnesses are interesting, but after nearly 300 pages enough already. The book just wasn't going anywhere. That's okay. Entropy works as a theme for me. I loved The Crying of Lot 49 and Dhalgren which don't go anywhere either, but they were fun to read. There is an example of Visceral Realist poetry in the second section. It turns out to be made up of pictures. A box on a straight line, followed by a box on a wavy line, followed by a box on a jagged zig-zag. The characters explain it for us. A ship on a calm ocean, followed by a ship on a wavy ocean, followed by a ship on a stormy ocean. That's it? That's what you've got? Turns out Visceral Realists are about as clever as moody 9th graders. I was a moody 9th grader. I've got old journals full of stuff just as "good" as that. To be fair, there is some discussion about the poem that explains there is more to it than just a ship on some waves, but not much more. The third part of The Savage Detectives does go back to Bolano and Lima and how the plot that led to the shootout in the opening section finally comes to an end. But I don't care anymore. If they live, if they die, if they fly to the moon, it makes no difference to me.But I am going to keep the book. I have this feeling that it may be like A Confederacy of Dunces and Dahlgren. But both of those are books I disliked the first time around. I had to try them three times before they clicked, and I enjoyed them. So I'm going to put The Savage De
Georg.Miggel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What can you say about this book which seems ¿ for me at least ¿ to be more than just a book. It is written in the same pseudo-easy language as the novels by Franz Kafka or Haruki Murakami, it shows or quotes ¿ like John¿s Wife by Robert Coover ¿ in the same kaleidoscopic way hundreds of people, but in more than one way it really is unique. Between two diaries at the bginning and at the end there is the main part (called ¿The Savage Detectives¿) consists of a multitude of stories told by a variety of characters, some of them part of the main-story, some of them only observers, passengers, friend or friends of friends. The main characters (Lima and Belano) are the only ones who don¿t contribute to this collection of stories, memories or interviews. It all seems to me like a jigsaw puzzle, but a very particular one: No piece contains only the part of the whole story, but just a little bit more (so the pieces are too big), and even if they fitted to all the other pieces you know you don¿t get the whole picture (so there are some pieces missing). In the end the sum of all pieces shows at the same time too much and not enough of the picture. That¿s challenging, but it¿s fascinating too. When I was finished, I knew I would not have been able to read more, but I also knew I would not have had the strength to give up either. So who are ¿The Savage Detectives¿ in the end? I am sure this is the only book (i Know) with a title referring to the reader him/herself (instead of something in the book).
jcmontgomery on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have not finished the book. I've tried, but haven't succeeded thus far. I am planning on going back to finish it when I am better prepared. This story requires an active reader, not a passive one - and at this particular moment in my hobby, I want to not have to think so hard in order to enjoy a book.The rating I am giving is how I feel up until the point of abandonment.
mrsrallymonkey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Half fascinating and half entirely disengaging. On the one hand, I appreciated the innovative composition and the strong and scattered character voices. On the other hand, Bolano's single-minded focus on poetry quickly became boring and a little self-indulgent, and at the beginning of the second section (after the end of Garcia Madero's diary) the mess of discontinuing character narratives made me really want to start flipping through pages. Things came together--mostly--in the end, and I find myself--again, partially--strongly affected by the stories. However, I do wish a) it had been shorter, and b) Bolano had been a little more discriminating about what he'd chosen to include as part of the narrative. I think I might have been able to take more from it if there hadn't been so much of it to take.
RossWilliam on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I work in a bookstore so naturally when "2666" came out it sparked my interest. I did my due diligence on Bolano since it was the first I had heard of him. When I came across "Savage Detectives" I thought it would be a better place to start, less of a commitment, 900 pages was a bit to many for me at the time."Savage Detectives" turned out to be epic, enthralling, and impossible to put down. Books one and three are a single narrative thread told almost in the form of a diary or memoir. Book two is the longest of the three and breaks from the single narrative into a whole host of narratives that shift time and place at will. It takes some getting used to but once you are in the flow you won't turn back. The detail is beautiful and each of the characters have such a unique voice yet they all come together to form one fantastic story. This book is not to be missed. It had me running to buy all of his other books.
framberg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Though dense, this is a novel worth reading. The first and final sections, in the voice of a 17-year-old aspiring poet, range from funny to poignant and sucessfully make the reader privy to information hidden from the narrator. The middle section, with multiple narrators sharing memories of two poets, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, and telling their own intimate histories in the process, can be disorienting. I had a hard time keeping track of the relationships between some of these characters, particularly the ones with no antecendent in the first section, but ultimately the stories themselves take over and reveal slivers of humanity that are simultaneously mundane and profound. Once I stopped trying to squeeze meaning out of this novel I was able to simply enjoy the narrative as it unfolded and appreciate the many mysteries contained within.
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