Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The Savage Detectives

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The Savage Detectives

A Novel

by Roberto Bolano

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2007, 592 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2008, 592 pages

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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 the small town of Blanes, near Gerona in Northern Spain, where he died on July 15, 2003 of liver disease while awaiting a transplant. He is survived by his Spanish wife and his son and daughter.

Bolaño received some of the Hispanic world's highest literary awards, including the 1999 Romulo Gallegos Prize (Venezuelan) for his novel Los detectives salvajes, which was published in English as The Savage Detectives in 2007.

Six weeks before he died, his fellow Latin American novelists hailed him as the most important figure of his generation at an international conference he attended in Seville. In 2004 he was honored by the First Conference of Latin American Authors as "the most important literary discovery of our time."

He completed 12 novels during his life, published various poetry collections and left behind an almost completed 1,000 page novel, 2666, about the unsolved murders of 300 women in Mexico over the past 10 years. 2666 (1100 pages at publication) was published posthumously in 2004. It has now been translated into English by Natasha Wimmer, who also translated The Savage Detectives, and will be published in the USA in November as either a 912-page hardcover or a 3 volume boxed set in paperback.

Bolaño is notorious in Spanish-speaking countries for having proclaimed that magical realism "stinks". He once described Gabriel García Márquez as "a man terribly pleased to have hobnobbed with so many Presidents and Archbishops" and Isabel Allende as a "scribbler" whose "attempts at literature range from kitsch to the pathetic." Allende, speaking in 2003, dismissed Bolaño as an "extremely unpleasant" man, adding, "Death does not make you a nicer person."

*The infrarealism movement set itself again the magical realism movement. According to Natasha Wimmer, infrarealists were expected to "abandon the coffeehouse and take the part of .... the lonely, the unnoticed and despised."
 

Interesting link: An extensive review of The Savage Detective and an exploration of Bolaño's life in The New Yorker.

This article was originally published in May 2007, and has been updated for the March 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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