It took a couple of years and a couple of other books of Roberto Bolano, to sum up enough courage to take up this mamoth book. Like many others, I too picked up this book in 2008 when it was a sensation around the world after its launch. However, I thought it would be premature to start reading Roberto Bolano without familiarizing with his writing. However even after a week finishing the reading, I am not able to gather my thought around it. Here is my failed attempt to get some thoughts together.
2666, the last work completed ( in haste apparently, as if he knew what is happening to him) by Bolano before his death in 2003, is probably the first of the classics of 21st century ( definitely in the first decade). This one will go a long way in discussions and will be heralded as one of the path breaking novels of the 21st century. The book is written in 5 parts, and he wanted to publish each as separate books, however better sense prevailed and the heirs decided to publish this as one consolidated mega book.
Tracing back and forth between Europe and Mexico, this follows the life of a literary genius on one side and as a crime detective story on the other converging the threads brilliantly towards the end.
The most important part, the fourth and the longest ( nearly 300 pages), named as 'The part about the Crimes' is the most discussed part by the critics and readers in general. Tracing the disappearance of young women in a fictional town of Santa Teresa in the norther borders of Mexico adjoining US. Mostly written in reportage and often repetitive in nature, he traces the crime over a period of 10 years, end of the 20th century and the initial years of 21st century. May be this part makes people declare this as a novel about crime, of death , of apocalypse foretold ( especially with the name 2666 of the book). Critics says, Santa Teresa is modelled on the city of Ciudad Juarez in the US borders, where the large US enterprises sets up their manufacturing units , attracted by the cheap labour force and the proximity to the key market. Interestingly, it was noted that these large corporates employee women workers in their factories, for obvious reasons. The disappearance of working women, later found dead abandoned in the desert , brutally murdered after rape and torture. The investigations as expected often abandoned with no results and the cases were closed citing lack of evidence. Bolano, gets the readers focus on this issue of murder and the investigations linking it to the other theme with some brilliant interplay.
The main thread follows an obscure Gernam Writer Benno Von Archimboldi. Chapter One focusses on four literary critics, who were attracted by Archimboldi and his writing, Presenting papers in various international forums and literary festival the obsessed quartet follow the writer in order to find the details through the publishers and the tracks of fellow critics, eventually ending up in the town of Santa Teresa following certain indication. It is in the last part, is the life story of Benno von Archimboldi, from Hans Reiter, a WWII veteran, turning into a writer maintaining his anonymity until the last days of his life( even from his family). This chapter is one gets the various chapters together giving the book a wholesome feeling, completing with the story of Archimboldi's sister and her son. Santa Teresa is the merging point of all the threads, it is where most of the actions are. It is also the place of eventual apocalypse.
The whole novel on a different angle can be viewed as a satire. A satire on the literary academics of Europe. The efforts of few individuals making an obscure writer , the sensation and someone who is Nobel worthy. This is also a political satire on the true story of murders of women in Ciudad Juarez. Thus it is often funny, and at times ridiculous.
It is evident that he wanted his last book to be a classic , an epic : and that is what he made it to be. In every sense the book goes through the narration that befit one magnum opus. The size of the book does not come in way of the overall enjoyment. Its a fast read and is an easy one. He purposefully vary lengths of his chapters, manipulates pace of narrative, and deliberate over matters of importance. He also include intricate subtexts and stories within stories ( especially towards the end) leaving you suspended and often bewildered. Interestingly every part is a different style of writing. A reportage for the crime, a biographical style for the last, a satirical style for the first part.
900 pages of shear magic. May be kept the best for last. This will not be the last ime I'm reading this and not the last time I talk about this..--------------------------------------------------
2666 ( 2004 )
Roberto Bolano ( Translated from Spanish by Natasha Wimmer in 2008)
Other Reads : Complete Review , Wiki , Latin American Review of Books