Ryan Chapman's Reviews > The Savage Detectives

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño
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's review
Jul 17, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction, desertislandpicks
Read in August, 2007

Bolano's works are only recently being translated into English; as I understand it he cast a pretty long shadow over Spanish Literature in the past twenty years or so. With this book, I can see why.

Massively experimental in form and confident in tone, this epic indirectly traces the lives of two poets/drug dealers/itinerants/con artists, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, who wish to save Latin American Poetry from itself. A young sycophant's mid-70's diaries bookend the main bulk of the book, which consists of hundreds of people's transcripts from the 70s to the 90s of their various dealings with the two central characters.

While this formal structure is a bit difficult at times--I had to take a break about halfway through--the rewards are more than enough. By the end of the book I felt I'd experienced these peoples' lives as wholly as I did Charles Kane's after watching Citizen Kane; which is to say, through misdirection. What Bolano's work ultimately teaches us, besides several crushing truths about the nature of a life of the mind and the romanticism of the artist, is that to know someone is impossible. Life is too long and our world too large to encompass any totalizing knowledge. A text like this can only hope to look at it all askew; like the sun, looking head-on is blinding and teaches us nothing.
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Oriana Oh, fabulous review. I really need to hurry up and read this, don't I?

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