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
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


Support the people of Oaxaca

Portland, Oregon

At least six people have been killed in the last few days in Oaxaca, including U.S. independent journalist Brad Will. For months now, the mostly poor, indigenous people of Oaxaca have been resisting police oppression and demanding the resignation of Oaxaca Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. Despite over 6000 soldiers and police amassed in and around Oaxaca City, the non-violent resistance continues, with the real possibility of a bloodbath in the next days.

You can help prevent violence by calling the Mexican Consulate in Portland, or by attending demonstration there:

Tuesday, October 31st from 4-6pm
Mexican Consulate (1234 SW Morrison St, Portland)

Call the consulate all week at (503) 274-1442. Demand:

* An end to the Federal Police invasion of Oaxaca. Portland supports the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO).

* A full and complete investigation by Mexican authorities into Oaxaca State Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz’s continued use of plain-clothed municipal police as a political paramilitary force.

***More actions may be announced***
Portland Central America Solidarity Committee (PCASC)
and Cross Border Labor Organizing Council (CBLOC)
311 N. Ivy St., Portland, Oregon 97227
Tel: 503-236-7916 Cell: 971-227-3527
PCASC website

i dreamed cousin Evo came down

I dreamed cousin Evo
came down from the mountains
carrying a single red rose
clasped firmly in his fist
and beside him walked the ghost of Che
and the ghost of El Libertador
   and the ghosts
of the children
   of the mothers
      of the disappeared
and behind those
came the spirits
of the vanquished gods
Inti and Mama-Quilla
Pia and Makunaima
Kulimina and Kururumany
Ixchel and Votan
Yurakon and Jaluka
Selu, the corn mother
and Kanati, the hunter
Child Born of Water
and Monster Slayer
and after this phalange
there came the immense
river of the people
the lost millions
bearing the deep crimson
flowers of our tears
held high into the air
millions of red flowers
   flowing north
like a great river of blood
       washing away
a half-millenium of history
written in the language of guns
and whips and disease
by the cowboys and the conquistadors
sweeping before it
all of the borders and all of the walls
which seperate us from them
   from all our relations
and they came dancing
into our waiting arms
and the soldiers of the empire
stood mouths agape
dropping their guns
   for they knew
there was no holding back
   the flood

©2006, Duane Poncy

Support our sisters and brothers from the south – no walls, no borders!

Before the Europeans conquered and divided up the Americas there were no borders. Unless you were entering the territory of an enemy tribe, there was no border patrol to prevent you from travelling from the tip of South America to Alaska. Our white ancestors changed all of that by murdering and raping the indigenous people and introducing the nation state.

Isn’t it enough that we have impoverished and isolated the few remaining natives in our own country, without now turning our hatred toward those indigenous people to our south, who only want the right to survive on this earth which once belonged to them?

A wall? We should be tearing down the walls, not building them up.

Those of us who are of indigenous descent need to support the struggle of our sisters and brothers from the south. No walls, no borders!