2666 – Roberto Bolaño

2666I’ve been trying to read a lot more non-fiction recently, but I received 2666, which is Roberto Bolaño’s last novel and by now, his most famous work.  I was interested with the many themes Bolaño incorporates into the novel and the way in which he intertwines five different stories together.  The main depiction over the course of the novel covers a series of serial murders taking place in the city of Santa Teresa and the separate stories of how each character becomes involved.  It also tackles the deeper issues in Bolaño’s psyche about the collapse of society in the 20th century through an array of characters spread across time and space.

The first section entitled “The Party About the Critics,” tells about four academics who are all enthralled with the mysterious German novelist, Benno von Archimboldi, a man who’s written widely over-looked books until some scholars begin translating and studying him.  These academics begin interacting with one another at conferences discussing an author who hasn’t been seen in decades—ultimately leading them to the Santa Teresa at which point the city takes center stage (Ciudad Juárez is the real life city).

The second section, “The Part About Amalfitano” immediately departs from the first story and we’re introduced to Oscar Amalfitano, a literature professor in Santa Teresa who is quickly losing his sanity—he feels his daughter, Rosa is slipping away and he becomes increasingly obsessive about whether the young women of Santa Teresa are safe, most importantly his daughter.  This section really gets into the compelling nature of the murders exposing the ever-present dangers surrounding Santa Teresa.

The third section, “The Part About Fate” introduces Charles Fate, a black American writer who was sent to Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match, something he really knows nothing about which leads to many more things.  He gets involved with Rosa while also gaining interest in the raped and murdered woman that are being found around the desert on a regular basis, wanting to become more of a detective than a writer.  He desire to figure out the murder lead him closer to death than to actually finding any closure about the murders.

“The Part About the Crimes” is the fourth part of the novel, a section that catches the reader in the headlights—at nearly 300 pages, Bolaño describes in absolutely every detail possible the circumstances and descriptions of all the girls that were murdered in Santa Teresa.  Page after page of grim details begin to mount, there is very little being solved by the police who don’t take the time to investigate any of the crime scenes.  This section brings about enormous questions about morality and intrigue.

The final section “The Part About Archimboldi” finally puts all the rumors and stories about Benno von Archimboldi to rest— Bolaño talks about Archimboldi’s life as a biography of sorts.  Archimboldi’s real name is in fact Hans Reiter, born in 1920 in Prussia—his life spanned the 20th century living in Europe, with the center of his life drenched in the atrocities of World War II.  The fragmented and unconcluded stories told about the war draw a very recognizable parallel to the murders in Santa Teresa.   Eventually, Bolaño returns the focal point to Santa Teresa and the murders, perhaps suggesting a descent of violence that we might prefer to deny.

While this book is at times PAINFULLY long, you are continuously sucked back into his writing, not only because the subject matter is interesting but also because you want to take up Bolaño’s challenge—don’t we owe the imaginary characters the benefit of finding out their fate because it’s just as necessary to find out the fates of their real-life equivalents? Bolaño points out the painful ironies of real life in that this violence happens all the time and the reason is because we choose to ignore it.  At just over 900 pages, 2666 leaves you feeling a little unsatisfied, but at the same time, you’ll feel a grand sense of accomplishment for finishing what you started.  The book is dark, mysterious, and horrifying, which makes you want to turn your head away and at the same time makes you want to continue to climb Bolaño’s mountain of significant storytelling.

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