Roberto Bolaño's masterwork will astound readers

By Joe Houlihan

Forget November 4th for a second, the big day this year may really be November11th. eing able to anticipate the publication of “2666,” the last novel by Roberto Bolaño, is a little like being tied down to a train track by Snidely Whiplash, or hopelessly watching Alderaan turn to vapor, as this book proves an awesome, destructive, and fearfully imminent force. For all those seeking an escape, “2666” may provide solace for a couple of weeks before it is canonized. I expect my copy to arrive promptly by owl mail on the 11th, complete with cardboard box and lightning bolts, although I may still dress myself as Salvadorean revolutionary poet Roque Dalton and camp in queue outside of a Borders Books. Bolaño is the notable Chilean writer that gave us “The Savage Detectives,” published in English last year by Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux. The Savage Detectives effectively blew America’s mind, and we should expect no less from “2666.”Unfinished, and originally published posthumously in 2005, many regard “2666” as his masterwork. The book reflects a culmination of styles. It spans one thousand pages, eighty years, and is rank with obscure literary content, sex, violence, and desperation. In reading this novel, we are reminded that Bolaño is first and foremost a poet. His words reflect prose poetry, glibly falling into prolonged descriptive passages and uninterrupted streams of consciousness, vacillating between simple and almost incomprehensible Spanish voices.

Natasha Wimmer, also translator of “The Savage Detectives,” has tackled “2666” as a monumental work with élan. In interviews, Ms. Wimmer has compared her excitement over “2666” with that which Gregory Rabassa must have first felt for “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Judging by “The Savage Detectives,” Ms. Wimmer proves comparable to Rabassa in prowess. She is undaunted by profanity, slang, jargon, and esoteric literary allusions. “2666,” like “Detectives,” is made up of several sections, differing in narrating voice but unified in content. It clearly defies the conventions of traditional narratives. The content of the novel’s first section concerns four academics- a Spaniard, an Italian, a Frenchman, and a Brit-that have independently come to translate and study the elusive German author, Benno von Archimboldi. The relationship between the characters, and their pursuit of Archimboldi, provides an apparent frame for the novel; but Bolaño soon strays across the Atlantic, introducing a parallel search for a serial killer in Mexico.

It is this movement that most clearly defines the work of Bolaño. The protagonists of his novels are the constant outsiders, unable to settle. The author shared this wanderlust, moving with his family to Mexico from Chile as a youth, before traveling independently as a teen to El Salvador and returning to Chile in the 70s to support revolution. As an adult, Bolaño wandered the globe before finally settling in a small Catalonian town to become one of the most influential Latin American writers of his generation. Bolaño is no longer an unknown outsider, he is a sensation. “2666” is lauded with unending praise and awards, its legacy is already established. Representing the best of contemporary Latin American literature, this translation will help elevate our cultural intelligence. On November 11, innumerable Americans will be doing their duty as patriots: dressing/ lining up outside of bookstores everywhere. I entreat the Macalester student body, a temple of knowledge, to be similarly conscientious and, in the words of D’Mite: R-E-A-D-A- B-O, OK?