Summary and book reviews of The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano

The Savage Detectives

A Novel

By Roberto Bolano

The Savage Detectives
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2007,
    592 pages.
    Paperback: Mar 2008,
    592 pages.

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Book Summary

New Year’s Eve, 1975: Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, founders of the visceral realist movement in poetry, leave Mexico City in a borrowed white Impala. Their quest: to track down the obscure, vanished poet Cesárea Tinajero. A violent showdown in the Sonora desert turns search to flight; twenty years later Belano and Lima are still on the run.

The explosive first long work by “the most exciting writer to come from south of the Rio Grande in a long time” (Ilan Stavans, Los Angeles Times), The Savage Detectives follows Belano and Lima through the eyes of the people whose paths they cross in Central America, Europe, Israel, and West Africa. This chorus includes the muses of visceral realism, the beautiful Font sisters; their father, an architect interned in a Mexico City asylum; a sensitive young follower of Octavio Paz; a foul-mouthed American graduate student; a French girl with a taste for the Marquis de Sade; the great-granddaughter of Leon Trotsky; a Chilean stowaway with a mystical gift for numbers; the anorexic heiress to a Mexican underwear empire; an Argentinian photojournalist in Angola; and assorted hangers-on, detractors, critics, lovers, employers, vagabonds, real-life literary figures, and random acquaintances.

A polymathic descendant of Borges and Pynchon, Roberto Bolaño traces the hidden connection between literature and violence in a world where national boundaries are fluid and death lurks in the shadow of the avant-garde. The Savage Detectives is a dazzling original, the first great Latin American novel of the twenty-first century.

NOVEMBER 2

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

NOVEMBER 3

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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

The Savage Detectives is less about narrative and more about literature itself. If you enjoy the first 120 pages, read on and you'll likely find your voice added to those in praise of what is considered Bolaño's masterwork. However, if you're still finding it hard going around page 100, you might want to call it a day!   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The New York Times - James Wood

[A] marvelous, sad, finally sustaining novel.

The New Yorker - Daniel Zalewski

Bolaño fills his canvas with messy Lawrencian emotions but places them within a coolly cerebral frame. It’s a style worthy of its own name: visceral modernism.

Library Journal

The journey for all, including the reader, may prove arduous, but as a picaresque road novel, coupled with successful character creation, intriguing experimentation, and a unique premise, it provides a rewarding reading experience.

Booklist - Rebecca Singer

For readers interested in a straight narrative, this book will disappoint, but those who enjoy voice and character will find much to satisfy them.

Kirkus Reviews

One of the most entertaining books about writers and their discontents since Boswell's Life of Johnson. A brilliant novel, fully deserving of its high international reputation.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bolaño fashions an engrossing lost world of youth and utopian ambition, as particular and vivid as it is sad and uncontainable.

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Beyond the Book

Roberto Bolaño was born in Chile on April 28, 1953. For much of his life he lived a nomadic existence, living in Chile, Mexico, El Salvador, France and Spain. During the 1970s, he formed an avant-garde group called infrarealism with other writers and poets in Mexico where he lived after leaving Chile when it fell under military dictatorship. He returned to Chile in 1972 but left again the next year when General Augusto Pinochet came to power.

In the early eighties, he finally settled in ...

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