Aloha's Reviews > The Savage Detectives

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Aug 23, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: a-ebooks, a-own, genre-literature-spanish, genre-fiction-general, z-bolano-roberto, a-audios, b-road-novel, b-pov, 1-favorites
Read from July 03 to 31, 2012

“...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.”
~The Savage Detectives

I was trying to figure what is meant by the above statement. So I walked backwards gazing at a point. I felt no compass, I don’t know where I’m going, but I have my eyes on the goal, that point in the distance. It’s an odd feeling, seeing the goal, moving with the eyes focused on the goal, and lacking a frame of reference as I know it.

With over forty rambling interviews sandwiched between personal narrations of the seventeen years old frustrated poet/law student Juan García Madero, Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives lacks the traditional plot guidance of a regular novel, reflecting the Comte de Lautréamont’s non-linear narrative poems. The narratives and interviews follow the trail of two Visceral Realism’s disciples, the poets Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano, as they follow the trail of the legendary Cesárea Tinajero, the mother of Visceral Realism. Cesárea disappeared about forty years ago when the popularity of poetry and its importance to literature, culture and politics began to wane. The 1970’s young visceral realists represent the lost generation venerating a lost art. These lost poets travelled Ulysses’ aimless journey to the promised home of a remembered glory. Like ships in the sea, they only briefly touch varying shores, leaving shards of memories in their wake, never losing sight of their shared goal, searching for their lost identity.

Cesárea Tinajero was the primary founder of Visceral Realism around the 1920-30‘s and published the movement’s magazine, Caborca. The movement disintegrated when the “visceral realists vanished in the Sonora desert.” The novel starts in 1975 through the narratives of the young García Madero as he attended a poetry workshop, met Ulises and Belano, and became a Visceral Realist. Ulises is a variant of Ulysses, the journeying king of Ithaca, Arturo’s name referencing the mythical King Arthur seeking the Holy Grail and is Bolaño’s alter ego. The first half of García Madero’s narratives ended in December 31 and followed by over forty interviews spanning 1976 to 1996. The novel concluded in 1976 with the second half of García Madero’s narratives as the trio reappear with the prostitute Lupe in the Sonora desert.

Visceral Realism was inspired by the poems of Comte de Lautréamont, in particular his Les Chants de Maldoror. The narratives in the book are powerfully brutal and evocative. The scenes are so intense in their impressions, so hyperreal and dissonant, that they become surreal.

This hyperreality of surrealism and non-linear narratives defined their journey to find the lost mother of Visceral Realism. The narratives are of direct memories and impressions of intense experiences. García Madero, the virgin, had his first sexual experience with a barmaid. Maria, a girlfriend, wanted to feel the pain and pleasure of lovemaking. And her father feels his madness. They all feel the lack of grounding, as if things are too much there and yet not there.

The there but not there Cesárea left little behind but her poem, Sión, three drawings of simple lines.


One of the interpretation of the three lines was “Zion, Mount Zion in Jerusalem.” The straight line is the horizon, the curve are the valleys, the jagged lines are the trees, and the square is the walls of the Old City. In biblical references, Mount Zion is a place of joy and atonement offerings, a place of spiritual reconciliation. However, Sión could also refer to Mt. Sinai, the promised land of the Israelites. Cesárea left a navigational map to her. Finding that the spirit of Visceral Realism is dying, the prophet went on an exodus to the Sonora Desert.

Another clue was in the book’s title. The Spanish title for The Savage Detectives is Los Detectives Salvajes, with Salvajes meaning “wild.” In the King James Version, the Israelites traveled to the “wilderness” during the exodus to the Promise Land. The Spanish meaning for “desert” is “solitary”. The time frame that Cesárea went on her solitary exodus is about forty years, similar to the Israelites. During her exodus, Cesárea survived a multitude of hardships, like “a boat on a calm sea, a boat on a choppy sea, and a boat in a storm.”

Her devoted followers wanted to find the “Complete Works of Cesárea Tinajero” “for Mexico, for Latin America, for the Third World...” to keep the life blood and joy of direct experience that is the poetry of Visceral Realism alive. In the end was an ultimate sacrifice. “...boys, is it worth it? is it worth it? is it really worth it?...” Simonel.
17 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Savage Detectives.
Sign In »

Reading Progress

07/13/2012 page 215
33.0% "Varying point of views. Hmmm...interested to see why."
07/19/2012 page 300
46.0% "Still debating whether I like this or not, or what it really is about. It is good to read a book that you can't figure out from the first chapter."
07/22/2012 page 418
65.0% "Gawd, I still can't get into it, but pushing forward. It's a good thing my GR friends are into reading this and having a forum dedicated to this so that I can push forward. I don't care about the characters or the idea too much right now. Taking a breather by rereading Godel, Escher, Bach." 1 comment
07/29/2012 page 481
74.0% "Duh! I finally got that this is in the format of interviewing people to track down certain people. Thus, the title "The Savage Detectives", and the many point of views, as if being interviewed by a detective. My mind was on GEB, so I didn't give this book my full attention."
07/31/2012 page 648
100.0% "Well...I finished. It still didn't thrill me. It's one of those books that you know the writer studied literature and is a skilled writer, but I'm not thrilled with the book. I was hoping for a phenomenal ending that will explain the point of this whole thing. When I'm done with my review of GEB, I'll have to look at this book closely for a strong point to this book."
08/12/2012 page 1
0.0% "Okay. Giving this one another try. I was reading this and GEB. Anything would pale when paired with the mental processing power GEB requires. I'd like to have an intelligent discussion with The Savage Detectives Group. I hate going into something not really knowing about it. I like to only sound stupid on purpose."
08/12/2012 page 109
17.0% "I see what was bothering me the first time around. The content of the book is terrific, but the wording fails to bring a link to the characters and the situations. I don't know whether it's because of the original text or the translation."
08/14/2012 page 250
39.0% "Loving it now. I'm glad I gave this a second chance. The first time, I paired it with GEB, and GEB won with the attention. This time, I decided to listen to an audio of a thriller that I'm supposed to do a review for, and I hated the thriller! It then made me appreciate all these great gems I've been reading. I was so spoiled with terrific and thoughtful work, that I forgot the tons of mediocre work out there." 10 comments
08/16/2012 page 414
64.0% "I like how the two characters of Belano and Lima are slowly being built up by each narrative, as if a brush stroke is being painted by each individual." 2 comments
08/21/2012 page 648
100.0% "Terrific! This book is worth revisiting to get the details. Glad I realized that."

Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

Mark Still nothing catching your interest? I keep bouncing back n forth between this and Game of Thrones. It's peculiar how they don't-yet-do parallel :D

Aloha I think the reason it isn't grabbing me is about the same reason as The Recognitions didn't grab me. I recognize that it's good and different writing, but it doesn't grab me. Maybe it has something to do with too many cooks in the broth. Or maybe the characters are all pretty much self-obsessed and without qualities that make you really like them.

I'm alternating this with my reread of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, which is also peculiar in how they do and don't parallel. LOL.

Mark They are soooo self-obsessed!!! :D It reminds you of the The Recognitions? Were there a buncha self-obsessed narrators in that one too? I should hate the characters in Detectives because I usually don't care those kinds of people in real life. But something about it drives me forward. I think it's that the way it's presented it so true to life. Maybe. I'm still unsure why I like it, lol.

Were you rereading Godel backwards? I thought I saw that in one of your updates, in prep for the review.

I'm beginning to think everything is connected in some way. And it's freakin me out!!

message 4: by Aloha (last edited Jul 24, 2012 07:54PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Aloha The voice in The Recognitions is in the third person, but each of the characters are self-obsessed. I didn't like any of them. Of course, Gaddis was making a commentary about people who move in the New York society, the artiste, writers, etc. Being an artist, I somehow don't like self-absorbed artists, or any self-absorbed person. I will finished Savage as I finished Recognitions because it is a fine piece of literature, even if it doesn't grab me.

Yup, I'm rereading Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid backwards and upside down. LOL. I'm starting from the last chapter with the turtle, Achilles, etc. set, then working my way to the front. I might end up skipping around, too, if I'm in the mood to just whip out the review. There is no freaking way I can ever write an appropriate review for that book. I might as well just say it's really good but read it with some aspirin.

GEB will tell you that everything's connected and loopy loop!

Kris Wonderful review - I love your opening: "“...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.”
~The Savage Detectives

I was trying to figure what is meant by the above statement. So I walked backwards gazing at a point. I felt no compass, I don’t know where I’m going, but I have my eye on the goal, that point in the distance. It’s an odd feeling, seeing the goal, moving with the eye focused on the goal, and lacking a frame of reference as I know it. "

I also love the way you weave Les Chants de Maldoror into the review - wonderful parallels. I'm looking forward to reading them. And you've provided a thought-provoking reading of the significance of the novel's title, too. I missed all those parallels....

Aloha Thanks, Kris! Now, if only I can figure out how to post that darn image. I don't know how Goodreads changed, but my images haven't been showing up. I used to post them like crazy, so I know what to do. :o(

Kris :( How long has that been a problem for you? I don't post many, but when I do I just cut and paste the format out of the link on the upper right hand corner of the comment box and play around with the dimensions of the picture. That works for me if I have a URL link for the image. Is that what you have?

Aloha I know the link by heart and just type it in, since I used to post lots of pictures here. It's not necessary to play around with the dimensions. But this time I did that to see if it worked, and it didn't. Let me copy and paste, although it's the exact same thing. Thanks, Kris. It's been a problem since my Godel, Escher review.

Aloha Oh, weird. If I copy the coding from Goodreads, it works. If I type it in, even if it's exactly the same thing, it doesn't work.

message 10: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris Yes, I see it now. That's very odd, but I'm glad you are back to posting images again!

Aloha Thanks! Me, too.

message 12: by Mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mark This looks great, Thoa! I'll be back to read it in detail when I finish up the novel :)

Aloha Thanks, Mark!

message 14: by Kris (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kris I haven't read 2666 yet, but based on what I've heard about it, TSD is much easier to read. (I'm hoping to read 2666 sometime next year, maybe.)

Stephen M Wow, this is quite the review. Well done!

Aloha Thanks, Proustitute and Stephen.

If you're stuck on 2666, I'd recommend pausing on it and starting on TSD. I haven't read 2666, but I heard TSD is much better. Since I'm used to the traditional narrative, I didn't like TSD on my first reading. I was expecting clearly defined character speech, etc. I also heard that the Spanish language version contained a lot of regional slangs, so I was disappointed that it didn't translate well into English, since I didn't detect that much difference in the dialects of the different narrations.

It wasn't until my second reading that I noticed the details, in particular the passage on the influence of the Comte de Lautréamont on Visual Realism. That's when I looked him up and started reading some of his narrative poems. Then it all came together that this is Bolaño's ode to poetry, but a funereal ode, full of sadness, sweet memories, maybe a wishing of what could have been and an appreciation of what was had. This was how he reconciled being forced to write a narrative novel to make a living instead of creating the poetry that he loves. Using the narrative poetic style was a way that he can couch poetry in a traditional novel, a true ode to poetry that is scorned in the current climate.

Proustitute wrote: "Wonderful review. I'm still stuck halfway in 2666, have been for a year now? I've read shorter Bolaño since, but haven't felt brave enough for this."

Jenn(ifer) wonderful review Aloha! and i really enjoyed that tribute video; thanks for posting it!

Aloha Thanks, Jennifer! I'm glad to have discovered the Comte de Lautréamont. All these years of visual arts, and I didn't realize what an influence he was to the Surrealists.

back to top