Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano

Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives is the story of a group of young poets in Mexico in the early 1970's.  The book is written in three parts.  The first part is the story of the Visceral Poet group, young poets and writers living in Mexico City, all Hispanics from various countries.  The founders of the group are Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano, who named the group after an earlier set of visceral poets in the 1920's.  That group centered around a female poet, Cesarea Tinajero, who disappeared mysteriously. 

In the first part, we meet the various characters through the eyes of a 17 year old, who thinks he might be a poet.  This young man, Juan Garcia Madero, spends his days reading and writing and discussing literature with the group members.  He also discovers his sexuality, and much of the section deals with his sexual awakenings and various partners.

The second part is written forty years later, and is written as a series of short interviews with various people who have encountered either Lima or Belano over those years.  Through these vignettes, we discover what has happened to these poets over the succeeding decades.  The story winds through several countries and continents.  Each person knows a bit of their stories, and the reader is able to slowly piece together their lives.

The third part is a flashback to the road trip that Belano, Lima, Madero and a prostitute take to try to find Cesarea and what caused her to disappear.  The events of that trip fuel the rest of the book, although the reader only realises this in retrospect.

The Savage Detectives is a book that will be considered important for years, and will probably become a classic.  Many readers might pick it up thinking it is a mystery, and they might be disappointed.  But those readers that stick around for the ride will be entranced as they enter Bolano's world.  This is definately a book that will bear rereads, and is recommended for readers who appreciate cutting edge literature and exposure to the literature of other countries.


Smash said...

My book club is reading this in a few months. Thanks for the great review!

Sandie said...

That's interesting; most book clubs don't tackle something this ambitious!