Book Review: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

2666 is hypnotic and dreamlike as the author segues through the lives of dozens of characters, sometimes hilariously, and sometimes in a dark, twisted journey of horror.

Title: 2666
Author: Roberto Bolaño,
Translator: Natasha Wimmer
ISBN:978-0374100148
Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

A book review of 2666

2666 by Roberto Bolaño centers around the fictional Santa Theresa, Mexico. On the U.S border, Santa Theresa is a city of maquiladoras and poverty where hundreds of women have been murdered. If this sounds like Ciudad Juarez, it is meant to, although it’s location corresponds more closely to Nogales, on the Arizona border.

The novel is divided into five parts, each with its own cast of characters, some interconnected. In the first part, entitled “The Part about the Critics,” three European academics travel to Mexico in search of mysterious and elusive Benno von Archimbaldi, a German novelist around which they all have built their careers. But Archimbaldi is never found and the critics leave, not sure if he was ever there at all. Ever in the background are the murders, like a news item in the morning paper.

The murders remain in the background until the third part, in which an African-American reporter from New York, in Santa Theresa to cover a boxing match, learns of the crimes and unsuccessfully tries to get permission from his editor to stay and investigate. In part four, we finally come to “The Part about the Crimes.” Interspersed with stories of the policemen who are assigned to the cases, Bolaño details one murder after another, as though they were being read from the police blotters, until the true horror of the crimes begin to sink into your subconscious. Finally, in the last part, “The Part about Archimbaldi,” we are given the story of the German novelist, who was a soldier on the Eastern Front in World War II, and witnessed the horrors of the Nazi regime. This section is almost fairy-tale like, but it is a dark, terrible fairy-tale about genocide and the atrocities of war.

2666 is hypnotic and dreamlike as the author segues through the lives of dozens of characters, sometimes hilariously, and sometimes in a dark, twisted journey of horror. The novel ends as Archimbaldi is leaving for Mexico to help his nephew, imprisoned and charged with killing four women. But there is no ending here, just a story which appears to stop in the middle, unfinished. This passage, describing the fictional writing of the fictional Benno von Archimbaldi, found near the end of the book, is a fair description of 2666, itself:

“The style was strange. The writing clear and sometimes even transparent, but the way the stories followed one after another didn’t lead anywhere: all that was left were the children, their parents, the animals, some neighbors, and in the end, all that was really left was nature, a nature that dissolved little by little in a boiling cauldron until it vanished completely.”

This is not a traditional novel with a beginning and neatly tied-up ending. It is more like a meditation on human nature, and how we humans rationalize and cope with the most horrible of crimes, and how our rationalizations (and complicity) end up biting us in the ass .

Near the end of the book, an old writer says to Archimboldi:

“I too believe in the intrinsic goodness of human beings, but it means nothing. In their hearts, killers are good, as we Germans have reason to know. So what? I might spend a night drinking with a killer, and as the two of us watch the sun come up, perhaps we’ll burst into song or hum some Beethoven. So what? The killer might weep on my shoulder. Naturally. Being a killer isn’t easy, as you and I well know. It isn’t easy at all. It requires purity and will, will and purity. Crystalline purity and steel-hard will. And I myself might even weep on the killer’s shoulder, and whisper sweet words to him, words like ‘brother,’ ‘friend,’ or ‘comrade in misfortune.’ At this moment the killer is good, because he’s intrinsically good, and I’m an idiot, because I’m intrinsically an idiot, and we’re both sentimental, because our culture tends inexorably toward sentimentality. But when the performance is over and I’m alone, the killer will open the window of my room and come tiptoeing in like a nurse and slit my throat, bleed me dry.”

For me, this passage most clearly sums up my understanding of what this novel is trying to say. Maybe you will read something different into it.

This is a difficult and complex novel in a number of ways, and may be of interest only to academics and other writers. At about 900 pages of dense prose, it took me about three weeks to read, but the subject matter, too, made this book a hard slog. Don’t get me wrong, it was worth every minute I spent with it.

Roberto Bolaño is a Chilean, who has lived much of his life in Mexico. The author died in 2004, and this book was published posthumously.

My rating: 5.0 stars

[rating=5]

The Germaine Truth an experiment in CyberFiction

In the early part of 2006, we will be officially launching The Germaine Truth, an experiment in CyberFiction, based on a fictional town in Eastern Oregon.

In the early part of 2006, we will be officially launching The Germaine Truth, an experiment in CyberFiction, based on a fictional town in Eastern Oregon. The website includes a newspaper, a chamber of commerce site, local history and genealogy pages, a chat room and bulletin board.

The heart of The Germaine Truth is a blog called Applegate Trail, written by fictional character Susie Applegate, which provides the main narrative. The serial cyber-novel is part mystery, part soap-opera, and part commentary on the rural/urban divide.

The town of Germaine, Oregon, in order to adapt to the future, has become a center for appropriate technology and organic agriculture. City folk, new agers, old hippies, and eco-activists have begun to move into Wilbur County, seeking to be part of this experiment, but this has caused a lot of tension among the pioneer descendants of Germaine, who, for the most part, are conservative, and skeptical of city people.

Germaine is set in the real-time, contemporary world, so state, national and international news is very relevant the progress of the story. There is room for a number of writers to work on this project, which is interactive in the sense that news stories in The Germaine Truth newspaper will influence the direction of the narrative. Letters to the editor, classified ads, and related web sites are also welcome if you get really into (which we hope you will).

Check out the website in progress, if you like, at The Germaine Truth. or use the link at the top of our page.

*Caution: you will need a good internet connection to view the flash presentation.

the next ice age — an excerpt

The transit, the chain, the compass. Those were the instruments of the land surveyor, before geo-positioning and such electronic wizardry. My Cherokee ancestors had a word for compass, duyuda kahonvsgi. It meant “land stealer.” That’s what land ownership is really. It is about taking something that belongs to everyone, and saying, “This is mine. I paid for it. It’s been measured. I got a piece of paper and I own it son-of-a-bitch, so keep your filthy mocassins off of it!”

But who did they pay for it? God?

In my part of the country, we have these so-called Property Rights people. They think they’re blessed with the absolute God-given right to real estate. They purchase some hot piece of property, looking to make a killing, and when the zoning doesn’t go their way, they expect the rest of us to pony-up. Loss of Potential Income. Pain and Suffering. Boo-hoo.

I got news for you, pal. You’ve got no right. You have a piece of bleached dead tree, marked with invisible ink. The people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They have a right to protect Mother Earth. They have a right to a place to sleep, piss and eat the fruit of their labor. You have the right to take your thieving piece of paper and stick it where the sun don’t shine.

When the next Ice Age comes, and the snow starts piling up for 100,000 years, your borders and boundaries and property lines won’t mean a damned thing. Your surveyors stakes will be buried beneath a mile of ice. A fool might invent some electronic gadget to attach to the bedrock, which will withstand gazillions of pounds of pressure. But so what? You think the Queen of the Polar Bears is gonna recognize your so-called Property Rights?

Another Ice Age is a lot closer than most of us realize. The Gulf Stream spills over from the South Pacific, into the salty Atlantic Ocean to keep Europe and North America toasty. When Ma Earth gets hot enough from your global warming, and the polar ice begins to thaw —which it already has, by the way— the change in salinity will shut off the Gulf Stream like a switch. Click. An Ice Age.

Another theory I have is that the Ice Age has already started. The coldness emanates from the hearts of callous human beings. The Cherokee word for cold is the same word we use for Republican. No lie!

by duane poncy