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The Savage Detectives

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  32,919 ratings  ·  3,417 reviews
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 b
Hardcover, 577 pages
Published April 3rd 2007 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published November 2nd 1998)
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Popular Answered Questions
Scotty there was a nutritionist in ann arbor who managed to crap out a 26-foot long turd. that's nothing compared to this book.
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Maria Larrain If I'm not mistaken, Amadeo Salvatierra is in "calle Republica de Venezuela", which is the name of a street in Mexico city.

Community Reviews

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Average rating 4.13  · 
Rating details
 ·  32,919 ratings  ·  3,417 reviews

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Apr 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: probably the young, and definitely the formerly young; people who like to read
Recommended to Jessica by: a few of my favorite booksters
I'll bet a lot of us walk around with some real concrete ideas about just who it is we could possibly fall in love with. Maybe the specifics of our ideas change over time and even become less rigid, but still we maintain that we know on some level what it is that we want. Maybe when we're nineteen, we're convinced we could only ever truly love a man with a neck tattoo who sings lead in an Oi! band and has great feminist politics and knows how to cook. Or maybe our criteria are purely negative, a ...more
Glenn Russell
Feb 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing

Since there are so many fantastic reviews of The Savage Detectives, I thought I would offer a slightly different approach as per below.

In Part 1, the first-person narrator, seventeen-year-old Juan Garcia Madero, tells us right off he is reading the erotic fiction of Pierre Louys (incidentally, one of Louys's novels was made into a Luis Buñuel film – That Obscure Object of Desire). Also, the way Juan speaks of the visceral realists, a group of wild avant-garde poets where young Juan is a member,
Jul 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: The dreams of the dreamers
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Jenn(ifer)
Youth is a scam

Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) created a very special novel with The Savage Detectives. The novel is constantly moving, grinding slowly across the years steady and sure as a freight train, carrying the baggage of our existence towards the inevitable finality of life. During the course of my reading, people would misinterpret the title and tell me they enjoyed a good crime thriller and inquire into the plot of the book I clutched lovingly in my hands. While this is no ‘whodunnit’ nov
I am struggling over writing this review. The Savage Detectives has become an important book to me, and I’m trying to find the best way to put a whole series of associations, emotions, and thoughts into words about how it has entered into my life and mind and heart. I have a tendency to hide behind a lot of formal analysis when I am writing, but I don’t think that approach is good enough for this review.

I just met a close friend from graduate school for dinner last week - he now lives in San Fr
Steven Godin
This novel has caused me great distress (not so much reading, but trying to figure out just how many of those little stars to dish out). I could have opted for a measly two because when it dragged me by the feet into a room of boredom (the middle third) it decided to drag big time, only to drag some more..."AAAHHH, let me out!, can't take any more!". But as a stubborn individual there was no way this was going to beat me, I huffed, and I puffed, and I set my eyes to work, as sometimes we have to ...more
Jim Fonseca
Jun 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
In this quasi-autobiographical story, a group of intense young poets, men and women, knock around in mid-1970’s Mexico City. Their lives are poetry: reading it, writing poems, trying to get them published in fly-by-night literary magazines that only they read. The intensity of their love for poetry is disarming. They exist in odd hours, wander aimlessly through the city, drink, make love, steal books from bookstores, and talk poetry constantly. As they get older they become émigrés in Europe, ma ...more
Apr 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
a reviewer wrote that she enjoyed Savage Detectives, but complained that it was 'about nothing' -- that she read nearly 700 pages and left with this notion proves her a total jackass and describes precisely why this is a great book: as with a life, Savage Detectives cannot be reduced to a few rote themes or ideas; it's a messy, sprawling jackson-pollock-painting of a book.

kept at a distance from our main characters, we hear testimonials by various people who knew them through different chapters
Mar 18, 2009 rated it did not like it
My interpretation of 90% of the passages I encountered in Savage Detectives

I walked around Mexico City for a while. And then I sat in a coffee shop and wrote poetry for seven hours. And then I saw a crazy poet I know and we argued about Octavio Paz. And then I read (name drop about 30 Latin American poets of whom I've never heard). And then I wanted to see Maria.

But somebody who cares a lot about the history and insider references of Latin American poetry might love it. I only managed 150 pages.
Apr 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: romantic dogs
Recommended to Jenn(ifer) by: MGK

I want to sum up my thoughts about this book using a quote from its pages…

“…What a shame that time passes, don’t you think? What a shame that we die, and get old, and everything good goes galloping away from us.”

But that seems insufficient. How about a song?

That doesn’t quite do it either. How about a poem?

I set off, I took up the march and never knew
where it might take me. I went full of fear,
my stomach dropped, my head was bu
I am so late to this party!

Sorry, I meant to share my review of The Savage Detectives sooner but things got sort of crazy. I was enjoying a Cuba Libre at El Loto de Quintana on Avenida Guerrero near the Glorieta de Insurgentes with Ian Graye’s visceral reviewers, the self-proclaimed readers of the Goodreads avant-garde. We were discussing the poetry of Alberto Bonifaz Nuño and López Velarde and even the butch queer Manuel José de la Cruz from San Luis Potosí when I noticed the waitress Jacinta R
Ian "Marvin" Graye
What’s a Giggle Amongst Family and Friends?

I bought this book 15 months ago. I finished it yesterday. It started off as a crisp, thin-leafed semi-brick whose 648 pages intimidated me. I only got the courage to read it when a discussion group gave me the impetus I needed. Now, it sits less crisp, but read, on my desk, wondering who will read it next. Like me, it’s 15 months older, but we are both easing into middle age and are still making new friends. We two are friends now, as if we’ve known ea
Mar 25, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Because it seems almost impossible to organize ideas for this review, in ode to the author I will present it as so:

March 1- : See "Savage Detectives" & "2666" (in Spanish) at Walmart (Yarbrough, El Paso, TX). Yes- it is easy to see the difference between the English books (Steele, Vampbooks by Meyer and Meyer-wannabes [hey, writers gotta eat too, you know:], magazines...) and the Spanish books (Gabriel G. Marquez, the Biblia). Because Liana told me to do so, I pick "Detectives salvajes."

March 1-
Mar 11, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I have a good feeling about this, based on the first few pages. Feels like Murakami meets Kerouac. So, grown up Roddy reading meets teenage Roddy reading. The locale shifts from Japan and the USA to South and Central America. The quest narrative continues with a new backdrop. Everybody wins.


300 pages later, and nothing has happened yet, so I'm having second thoughts about my first impression. It's not at all clear what the big deal is supposed to be about this book. I mean, seriousl
Jonathan Ashleigh
Feb 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
I read this book because a friend of a friend recommended it to me. It reminded him of The Sorrows of Young Mike and because of the style and the way some of the sex scenes were described I understand where he was coming from. But, in the end this book did very little for me. I couldn't care about their literary movement (whatever that means) or any of the characters in general. The first section was readable but the second was not as it was more of the same page after page. I started the third ...more
Aug 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing

To do anything well we must do it until death, and we won't have gotten closer to perfection for all of that; and it is sad that most of us don't do anything more than what was asked of us by something else a long time ago; and so our energies are dispersed and lost and we are less for our efforts. Not to serve another and not to serve the Self but to serve the inner Void where all infinities collide and collapse. If we followed what calls to us most desperately we'd all be wanderers, or we'd
Mike Puma
Aug 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: James Wood

This review, such as it is, might be considered spoilerish, actually, it’s a lotta spoilerish, it’s presented in a rambling, perhaps, incoherent manner, and it is tentatively offered. It also includes a speculative consideration, for your reading enjoyment—one you’re very entitled to disagree with. Take a little theory, take a little text, stir them together, you get speculation. Toward that end I focus on a single aspect of the novel. You’ve been warned.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you want to know wh

Feb 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
“Nothing happened today. And if anything did, I’d rather not talk about it, because I didn’t understand it.”
― Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives


“In some lost fold of the past, we wanted to be lions and we're no more than castrated cats”
― Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

This is a book that is nearly impossible to review, absolutely impossible to summarize, and simultaneously amazing and frustrating. Bolaño created a novel and a narrative that (IMHO) attempted to capture the energy, th
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What differentiates Bolaño from other much-loved authors is that he does not have a singular, distinctive style by which he can be universally recognised. I have found in my experience, and from reading the reviews of others, that having enjoyed one Bolaño novel is no guarantee that you will enjoy the next. In fact, given the range of styles and approaches he employs, perhaps a correspondingly wide range of responses is also to be expected. So in a way when we talk about a shared appreciation of ...more
The innocence of childhood, the muddiness of adolescence, the charm of youth

Unconditional love of a mother, passionate love of a lover, bloody revenge by an enemy.

Teachings of a teacher, lessons learnt by a student, choosing a road untraveled.

Poems by poets, novels by writers, paintings by painters.

A lost idol, reminiscences by ironic souls, A regained Idol.

Love, obsession, sex, drugs, heart-breaks, longing, road-trip, search, survival.

Arturo Belano, Roberto Bolano, Ulises Lima, Mario Santiago-
K.D. Absolutely
May 07, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2006-2010)
I enjoyed 2666(5 stars) more than this. 2666 is more engaging, brutal and with far more interesting characters. 2666 is also more cohesive and the plot is more intricately built. However, The Savage Detectives has more heart being basically a story of a male friendship. Then what made this friendship between two poets Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima more touching was the fact that this was based on real-life friendship between Roberto Bolano (as Arturo Belano) and his friend Mario Santiago (as Uli ...more
MJ Nicholls
I am told this novel made some minor splash upon its publication. I see no evidence to support this claim. I see no particular swelling of interest in this lowly text on Goodreads. I see no ecstatic over-the-top declarations of lust for this novel. No effusive dissertations conveying the message “I totally bought into the hype and splooged fifty times over this book like Ron Jeremy catching his reflection in the pupils of a malnourished Cuban trollop.” I see no substantial body of scholarship ag ...more
I hate the description for this novel. Anything longer than a single paragraph is destined for bloviation, an Excel graph of key phrases selling itself to as many bidders as possible. A long list of characters fishing for the lay reader's empathy? Borges and Pynchon for those who don't need that sort of nonsense? Please. If it gets more people reading Bolaño, sure, but these days that's the end all excuse for literature in a capitalist society. The least we can do is point it out and follow it b ...more
Jul 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Goodreads customer service, how may I direct your call?

I'd like to phone in a review, please.


I don't know how to do it myself.

I'm sorry sir. As part of Goodreads terms of service, I could have accepted: illness, vacation, out of body experience, picking vegetables in a garden, working overtime, mission control for the Mars rover program, --

-- That's it, that's it, mission control. I'm working mission control. It's --

-- Be serious, sir.

Alright, fine. I'll work on it myself.

Now we want
Stephen M
May 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ocean-of-noise
(This review has some vague spoilers, just as a warning. It’s really tough for me to do a proper analysis without spoilers.)

This is a brilliant book. This is a frustrating book.

This is due to the brilliance and the frustration of its second section, the largest section of the Chilean born Roberto Bolaño’s debut novel. This, the book’s namesake, is a sprawling and splintered affair that features an array of thrilling locales that would make Roland Emmerich’s budget committee blush. From Mexico to
I didn't get this one. Stopped at p. 400. Hated the sex, but I usually dislike sex in books. I thought the characters 3rd world losers and druggies. I couldn't understanding the point of the pretense of the poetry. I mean, is one critical word about writing ever spoken? There's nothing. It's just name dropping. Like Swann's Way, another much beloved book that left me cold. I should add that I admired Bolaño's 2666 immensely, as well as Amulet and The Skating Rink and I loved By Night in Chil ...more
Oct 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
I give up!!! I will consider this as read since the 300 pages or so that I read felt like 3 books. It took me more than 3 weeks to get here and I just can't continue. I do not have much time to read/day and I prefer to read something I enjoy. The first part was, strangely, both very gripping and incredibly boring. I wanted to read something else but ended up reading Savage Detectives but while reading it I was bored. Now, it just feels boring.

I understand the book's merits, I admired the struct
Jul 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: your chaotic and disdainful eyes
Let's pretend this is the picture on the cover:
Οι άγριοι ντετέκτιβ by Roberto Bolaño

The Savage Detectives seems like a book written entirely between the lines. The plot consists of several people talking about their encounters with the poets Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, the two creators of the visceral realist gang. The feeling of lost time, lost friends, lost ambitions builds with each of their testimonies so that by the last page - the last sentence, "What's outside the window?" - you have the feeling of being punch
Jul 07, 2007 rated it really liked it
I wish there was a proper way to splutter in written form. I mean, it's not that I didn't like this book, really. I certainly didn't not like it. I just... just... I dunno, I guess I just didn't get it like everyone else seems to've. As I said somewhere else, given that everyone really lost their shit over this book (I mean, did you see brian's review? Or Andrew's? Or freaking Josh's??), I guess I was really expecting to have my whole brain rearranged by it, like when I first read Cortàzar. And ...more
Jul 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mary by: Ian "Marvin" Graye
Shelves: 2012, fiction
"Always remember you are unique, just like everyone else." Author: Unknown

There are no true individuals. Bolaño knew this.

Juan García Madero did not know this.

When we were 17 years old, none of us knew this either. Sometimes when we're 30 we still don't know this. And if we're lucky/unlucky/smart/stupid maybe when we're 60 we won't know this then either.

This book is a lingering smoke cloud, a feeling that will not go away, impending doom?, recognition?, a satire of the literary world and a ho
Sep 11, 2009 rated it liked it
An artist about to paint a self-portrait was situating his mirror when it slipped through his fingers and crashed to the floor. He looked down at the shards reflecting segments of his face and liked what he saw. He also liked what he didn’t see. His mind’s eye had to fill in the gaps in his image – serendipitous disjointedness a la Picasso.

Maybe this book is a little like that. The vast middle section is a profile of “infrarealist” poet Arturo Belano (Bolano’s alter ego) and sidekick Ulises Li
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For most of his early adulthood, Bolaño was a vagabond, living at one time or another in Chile, Mexico, El Salvador, France and Spain.

Bolaño moved to Europe in 1977, and finally made his way to Spain, where he married and settled on the Mediterranean coast near Barcelona, working as a dishwasher, a campground custodian, bellhop and garbage collector — working during the day and writing at night.


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