Harry's Reviews > The Third Reich

The Third Reich by Roberto Bolaño
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
May 30, 12

really liked it
bookshelves: reviewed
Recommended to Harry by: Longlong Cao
Read from May 10 to 16, 2012

Existentialism and Shifting Reality on Vacation

I have read some interesting reviews about this book. Sadly they all seem disappointed with it. I on the other hand found it quite thrilling.
At first I must admit that Roberto Bolano was a new name to me, but fresh eyes can usually see things that others cannot. While I think that other readers approached "Third Reich" as a Holy Grail, a lost unpublished manuscript only to find it unpolished I was optimistic.
A German war games champion Udo Berger on vacation in the last days of summer with his girlfriend Ingeborg, meet a rowdy Charly and his girlfriend Hanna, and the mysterious El Quemado. When Charly disappears while windsurfing the others leave while Udo stays on to face El Quemado in a match of The Rise and Decline of the Third Reich. Having no prior bias towards Bolano's work I was intrigued to say the least.

As I have said I am not familiar with Bolano's work but I am a fan of other elements of his book. First I am a philosopher so reading someone's review heading "Existentialism" immediately got my attention. Second I am a war games player. I think while this book may have let down the general Bolano audience it was very much tailored to my own interests.

Now, only reading a few pages in I was immediately struck with a sense of familiarity, which I compared to two other works of fiction that I felt were in the same vein: "Senselessness" written by Horacio Castellanos Moya and "The Outsider" by Albert Camus. I will be brief in my comparison as I want to talk mainly about "Third Reich". The feeling of desolation, foreboding and violence comes from Moya who's own character stumbles around town trying to write an article about indigenous people who's families were slaughtered. Whereas Camus' Meursault is charged with not "feeling" they way a normal person should, which to me is exactly how Udo appears to those around him. Interestingly it is the owner of the Del Mar, Frau Else, tells him,
"When you die, Udo, you'll be able to say, 'I'm returning to where I came from: nothingness"
Being and Nothingness...It's something to muse on if you choose to read "Third Reich" again.

I read somewhere else that "Third Reich" was going to be like Bolano's other novel, "2666" in that it had pages and pages of military manoeuvres and this lead to dull, meaninglessness. Oddly I found it quite enjoyable. I wish there had been a little more. As a player of war games I am always intrigued to step into the shoes of generals long past and try to find that perfect formula for victory. I was in rapt suspense during the match with El Quemado, not only because of how it went but also the the building dread, and through it all Udo's sense of indifference, as though he understood it all but at the same time did not.

I felt the characters were real, the settings were real, but as mentioned elsewhere Bolano keeps them at arms length. I would argue that has to do with the choice of literary technique, Udo's diary and since Udo cannot tell what other people are thinking the sense of distance from the characters is realistic. Something else I should note is the use of dreams. On occasion an author includes one or two in a work unless they are crucial to advancing the plot, here however Bolano uses them to blur reality, at times I wasn't sure what I was reading was reality or a dream.

I will agree that this book is not for everyone, possibly only for dedicated fans of Bolano. I enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. So much so I want to break out my war games again. But I can imagine if you are reading along and decide that nothing is happening and you haven't found the gloomy smoke filled mood of the book then it isn't for you. I just wanted to give "Third Reich" a positive review from fresh eyes, I think I have done so.
4 likes · flag

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

Reading Progress

05/10/2012 page 4
1.0% "And here we go..."
05/12/2012 page 35
12.0% "Now that I'm this far along I must say the writing is familiar, like Senselessness by Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya but also The Outsider by Albert Camus"
05/14/2012 page 68
24.0% "So Udo likes to play against himself? That's rather lonely. When will he play against El Quemado, the burn victim?"
05/15/2012 page 100
35.0% "So Charly is a women beater but I knew that the moment I we met him. Violence just around the corner, off stage as promised"
05/15/2012 page 101
35.0% "It's hard not to picture Danny Trejo in the role of El Quemado"
05/15/2012 page 109
38.0% "The second sentence of the new paragraph on 109 strikes me as very reminiscent of The Outsider, that is not being affected in the way society demands."
05/15/2012 page 120
42.0% "Interesting that the name of the game appears once in a letter from Conrad on 81 but it is not until 120 that Udo writes it himself"
05/15/2012 page 134
47.0% "I laughed out loud at the bottom of page 134."
05/16/2012 page 161
56.0% "While I read online many complaints about the detailed campaign fought in Third Reich, I as an avid Axis and Allies gamer, find it all quite fascinating"
05/16/2012 page 238
83.0% "It's Clarita who asks Udo if he's a Nazi"
05/16/2012 page 241
84.0% "You learn more by losing than by winning. Interesting how Udo is now trapped at the Del Mar by conspiracy..."
05/16/2012 page 251
87.0% "Oh my God! Get out, get out now!"
show 1 hidden update…

No comments have been added yet.