book review: the savage detectives

i finished reading the savage detectives by roberto bolaño, an award-winning chilean author, on thursday night.  published in 1998 and translated from spanish by natasha wimmer in 2007, belaño is considered by some as the best latin american writer of his generation, and has been compared to gabriel garcia marquez, author of the acclaimed one hundred years of solitude (if you haven’t read this book, pick it up immediately).

the book follows a group of young poets known as “visceral realists”, through the 1970s-1990s.  the leaders of the group – arturo bolano and ulises lima – are loosely based on roberto himself and his best friend mario santiago, who pioneered a group called infrarealism in mexico during 1976.  In terms of structure, the book is divided into 3 parts, the first part is from the diary of 17-year old juan garcía madero and his introduction to the visceral realists; the second part is divided into sections which are narrated by a wide array of characters – some of them repeated and others never heard from again – and their recollections/experiences with bolano and lima; the final section picks up where the book started, with madero’s narrative.

this book isn’t for the faint of heart (there are more than a few racy scenes) or those who want an easy read.  it took me awhile to get used to the style, but once I stopped trying to remember everyone’s names (there are a lot of minor characters – though only a handful of major characters), i really started to enjoy it.  the style and language reminded me of the beat writers like bukowski and kerouac, but with a rebellious, poverty-stricken, passionately-devoted latin american poets.  i felt myself immersed in the culture – or, more accurately, counter-culture – of the characters.  their pitfalls and heartaches are described so vividly by bolaño that as you turn the pages you can’t help but feel nostalgic for their lost youth.

if you’re looking for something a little different, something a little raw, then i highly recommend it.  the initial challenge is well worth the reward.