More on The Savage Detectives

The Quarterly Conversation has a few articles on Roberto Bolaño, including one on his recently translated novel The Savage Detectives (my review here). It reproduces a poem by the mysterious founder of the “visceral realist” movement Cesarea Tinajero in whose search the two “detectives” in the novel set out for. The only published poem by Tinajero, and which perplexes the two is:

Javier Moreno observes that one needs to see Bolaño’s work as a whole, rather than individual works:

None of Bolaño’s books can be seen as an island, completely isolated from the rest. Each one is crucial to the overall goal in its own right. There is a constant and intense dialog among the novellas, short stories, and novels. Figuring out the precise shapes and natures of these links should be an occupation for the interested reader.

Scott Esposito explains the posthumous popularity of Bolaño:

To a very large degree, Americans are preoccupied with questions of what future they are passing on to the next generation. Bolaño shows us how these questions work on a personal level, and By Night in Chile especially shows us the enduring humanistic fibers that link our 9/11 to Chile’s 9/11. There is much talk about Americans writing the post-9/11 novel these days, but perhaps the post-9/11 novel has, thus far, best been written by a Chilean.

There is also an interview with Natasha Wimmer, translator of The Savage Detectives into English:


Q: And lastly, which of Bolaño’s novels is your favorite?


A:That’s easy–The Savage Detectives. The others all have their own appeal, but The Savage Detectives is just the easiest one to fall for. And I’m not the only one who feels that way. There’s a reason that it made Bolaño a cult figure, and it’s probably no coincidence that it’s also the most autobiographical.

Chris Andrews who has translated both Bolaño as well as Cesar Airas comments about translating Bolaño:

One difficulty that crops up frequently in Bolaño is how to translate regional familiar language: Mexican or Chilean slang, for example. If you use regional terms in English it can be confusing for the reader, because they will hear the Chilean or Mexican character as an Australian, say. So you have to try to respect the level of informality, make the expression fit with the character as he or she has been constructed, and rely on other markers of locality in the context. Just occasionally, I think, the best solution is to leave the word in Spanish, but only very occasionally (as with chido in Amulet).

The new issue of the excellent World Literature magazine has a good collection of a number of Latin American authors, including Cesar Aira’s How I Became a Nun, Bolano’s Amulet, Eduardo Galeano’s Voices in Time (warning: pdf format). The issue’s main focus is, however, a review of Chinese literature.

Update: The New York Review of Books has a review essay by Francisco Goldman on all the novels by Bolaño available in English:

In Garcìa Márquez’s writings, wrote Vargas Llosa in 1971, the “social and political theme, although essential to those fictions…appears in an oblique manner.”[4] (The famous scene of the massacre of the banana plantation workers in One Hundred Years of Solitude passes like a brief hallucination within the spectacular whirl of that novel, yet we never doubt Garcìa Márquez’s political sympathies with them.) Such a novelist, wrote Vargas Llosa, declares war on mundane reality and attempts to supplant it: “To write novels is an act of rebellion against reality…. Every novel is a secret deicide, is a symbolic assassin of reality.”

Bolaño did write about political violence directly, though in a way that couldn’t have been further from the literature of “denunciation” that Garcìa Márquez condemned. He even claimed that violence functioned in his writings “in an accidental way, which is how violence functions everywhere.”

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6 thoughts on “More on The Savage Detectives

  1. Bhupi,

    I was reading your review, but the thing that struck me was – take the case of Kerala – Marquez is considered to be a malalayali writer by a large chunk of literature readers, thanks to translations and references that abound in the local press and book shops. But the new writers of latin america are virtually unknown. best selling author from LA now is Coelho…who is not considered an author in LA circles 🙂

  2. Good point, BVN. I can think of a few possible reasons;
    -Garcia Marquez got a stamp of the West when he won the Nobel Prize, this is a mandatory condition for anything to be popular in India, it is notable that no other Latin American writer has won either Nobel or any other prize in the English speaking world
    -there has been, instead, a number of Indian writers especially those writing in English who have gained prominence/ acceptance starting with Rushdie/ Arundhati Roy
    -there is very little to connect Latin America and India- there are no historical ties and hence few other channels for interaction
    – to some extent, it was the Left and the intellectuals of the Left who popularized Garcia Marquez, over the last decade and half there has been a silencing of this trend, a neo- liberal intelligentsia (something unheard of till a few years back) has spawned whose distance from literature from Latin American literature is understandable (where even a man who considers himself politically on the Right, also considers himself to be an intellectual of the Left)- my reference is to Mario Vargas Llosa
    – On Coelho, and most Indian writers writing in English, I’d rather not comment, other than everyone has the right to write what they like

  3. I like Isabel Allende. I once commented on a Latin American literature blog that I liked her, and they thought I was crazy. They think she is just commercial.

  4. Wanted to share this article with you , could not find an email address of yours..

    Read an article about a doctor jailed by the state , because he documented State atrocities .
    and about Shankar guha Niyogi ..

    Your blog is great ….its great food for thought…

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