The student narrator at the start of the novel is named Juan García Madero, and, having enlisted in the "visceral realist" movement, he spends his every waking moment racing around Mexico City trying to ingratiate himself with the leaders and fellow members of the movement; or else he devotes himself to stealing books and reading them; or devotes himself to feats of athletic sex with his enthusiastic girlfriends. In the next and largest section of the book, a few dozen people offer, as if speaking to an anonymous historian, retrospective recollections of the visceral realist leaders, and how the leaders departed Mexico on vagabond tours of Europe and Africa and Israel, and how life took many a grim turn for the leaders and for everyone else. And in a final section, Juan García Madero resumes his breathless teenage narrative, and he and the visceral realist leaders (with whom he has become close, at last) and one of his goofy girlfriends flee in a car into the Mexican north, trying to escape the wrath of the girlfriend's scary pimp, and trying, at the same time, to track down a forgotten poet of long ago, whom the visceral realists regard as their literary ancestor.Whole crowds of minor characters and passersby shuttle through those many scenes, and yet nearly everyone in those crowds, a few gangsters excepted, seems to share an unquestioning reverence for Mexican poetry—a sacred cause for which any sane person would gladly sacrifice his life. Not to mention the insane people, who seem to bring out Bolaño's keenest sympathies.
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