In this posthumously published work by the great Chilean novelist—a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award—two founders of the "visceral realist movement" in poetry leave Mexico City in 1975 to track down the obscure, vanished poet Cesárea Tinajero. A violent showdown in the Sonora desert turns search to flight, and 20 years later the visceral realists are still on the run.
who died in 2003, Bolano traces the hidden connection between literature and violence in a world where national boundaries are fluid and death lurks in the shadow of the avant-garde. "The Savage Detectives" is a dazzling original, the first great Latin American novel of the 21st century.
The novel is wildly enjoyable (as well as, finally, full of lament), in part because Bolaño, despite all the game-playing, has a worldly, literal sensibility. His atmospheres are solidly imagined, but the tone is breezy and colloquial and amazingly unliterary ... It is as if the novelist has taken a tape recorder and journeyed around the world, from Mexico City to San Diego to Barcelona to Tel Aviv, desperate to find out what became of the young, optimistic, but perhaps now doomed poets ... Again, it should be stressed that this is not just a postmodern game about the fictionality of novelistic characters (though it is that, too). Movingly, no one seems quite able to get the two young poets in focus ... Curiously, The Savage Detectives is both melancholy and fortifying; and it is both narrowly about poetry and broadly about the difficulty of sustaining the hopes of youth. Bolaño beautifully manages to keep his comedy and his pathos in the same family.
This flat and lurid story is like an account that anyone might give of an acquaintance’s fate ... It’s something close to a miracle that Bolaño can produce such intense narrative interest in a book made up of centrifugal monologues spinning away from two absentee main characters, and the diary entries of its most peripheral figure. And yet, in spite of the book’s apparent (and often real) formlessness, a large part of its distinction is its virtually unprecedented achievement in multiply-voiced narration ... True, the reader is liable to protest, somewhere before page 200, that this book isn’t about anything. Later on, it’s possible to recognize, with admiration, that Bolaño has found a way to keep the novel alive and freshly growing in the Sonora of modern skepticism—our skepticism, that is, as to what can finally be known or said of any life, and whose life is worth being represented, or considered representative, in the first place.
Not since Gabriel García Márquez...has a Latin American redrawn the map of world literature so emphatically as Roberto Bolaño does with The Savage Detectives ... [he has] such a flamboyant, stylistically distinctive, counter-establishment voice that it's no exaggeration to call him a genius ... The Savage Detectives alone should grant him immortality. It's an outstanding meditation on art, truth and the search for roots and the self ... The classics are often imperfect, and The Savage Detectives, though inexhaustible, is messy and perhaps overly ambitious. Only one thing matters: Bolaño had the courage to look at the world anew.