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by Roberto Bolaño; Natasha Wimmer

  Print book : Fiction  |  1st American ed

Intentionally sprawling   (2016-01-28)


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by vleighton

  This five-book tome was Bolaño's final work. According to a friend who is a passionate advocate for Bolaño, Bolaño's aesthetic theory is, first, to create a text that lacks closure and easy resolutions, and then, to make the reader a detective who has to come to his or her own conclusions about what the text means. His aesthetic has been compared to Pynchon's, though Pynchon may have a more life-affirming moral to the story. If you like such a text, and you enjoy an HBO-rated story (lots of sex and violence, like the Sopranos or the Wire), then you may like this book. It is a sprawling book, and it can be depressing if you let the long catalog of murders in Book Four get to you. I detected a sense of moral outrage in that catalog, and on balance I support the book. However, the book is very unwieldy, and I am not a huge fan of the aesthetic of "no closure," so I give it three stars. I listened to the audiobook version.


  Two main stories intertwine across the five books. The first story deals with a German novelist whose pen name is Benno von Archimboldi. Book One follows a group of literature professors who discover the literary merit of Archimboldi and promote his work at conferences. However, he is a mysterious figure whom no one has met, save his publisher, Mrs. Bubis. At the end of the book, the critics travel to the city of Santa Teresa, Mexico, on information that he is there, but they fail to find him.  


  The second main story is the series of crimes committed against women in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, Mexico. Apparently, the fictional city is a thin disguise for the real Ciudad Juarez, and all of the rapes and murders cataloged in Book Four of 2666 actually did happen in Ciudad Juarez. While the book does not reveal exactly who was committing all the crimes, it is clear that the poisonous interlinkage between the civil authorities and the drug cartels opens a space that permits the crimes to continue unsolved. The reader is left to postulate exactly how the nefarious forces align to perpetuate the crime spree.


  The connection between the two main stories is the presence in Mexico of a tall German in prison for the crimes, a man who could answer to the description of Archimboldi. His true relationship to the crimes is never fully clear, though crimes with the same modus operandus continue after his imprisonment.


  Book Five recounts the boyhood and young adulthood of the person who becomes Archimboldi. He was just of an age to serve in the German army during World War II. At one point, his unit is sent to guard Dracula's castle in Romania. When they go to dig a trench around the castle, all they find are human bones. That image seems to be symbolic of what Bolano catalogs in Mexico: a land full of bones put there by an agency of evil. The one person Archimboldi murders in cold blood is a fellow German prisoner who confesses to him that he had been a bureaucrat who oversaw the murdering of Jews because he didn't know what else to do with them. That murder to me stands for the impulse of the reader toward the culpable authorities in Mexico, moral outrage. 


  One interesting side note: in Book Five, it is mentioned a few times that Archimboldi was influenced by the book "Berlin Alexanderplatz." I have not read that book, but I did attempt to watch a very long film version of the story. I am by no means an expert on it, but it is a long tale of violence against women. Though in Berlin Alexanderplatz it is obvious who is committing the crimes, one might argue that they are also the victims of a cruel social and economic system, just as are the women who are victims in 2666. 


  The book also comments on its own technique. At one point, Archimboldi's sister, who does not know the literary identity of her brother, picks up an Archimboldi novel and reads it. She discovers her own autobiography. She describes the book as full of wandering stories that do not resolve themselves. Thus is 2666. 


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