2008 Fiction Finalist 2666, by Roberto Bolaño

by Marcela Valdes member | Feb-18-2009

Each day leading up to the March 12 announcement of the 2008 NBCC awards, we highlight one of the thirty finalists. Today, NBCC board member Marcela Valdes discusses Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

We will never know what ending Roberto Bolaño would have placed at the finale of his extraordinary novel 2666. Though he worked furiously on the book during the last years of his life, he died in Barcelona in 2003, before he could ever complete it. But what he left behind is a work so rich and dazzling that it will surely draw readers and scholars for ages.

2666 is, at its heart, a meditation on love and evil. In five sections—The Part about the Critics, The Part about Amalfitano, The Part about Fate, The Part about the Crimes, and The Part about Archimboldi—the novel traces how affection and violence have shaped the lives of dozens of characters over a century of history. It begins with the passion four literary critics feel for the novels of a mysterious author named Benno von Archimboldi and ends with the tender attachment that Archimboldi himself feels for his younger sister. In between lie perhaps the most harrowing 284 pages in modern literature: a tour of the fictional town of Santa Teresa, Mexico, that includes clinical descriptions of 108 murders, all of them of women and girls.

Mexican crime and corruption have been much in the news over the past year. President Felipe Calderón’s war against drug cartels has resulted in a country-wide shoot out and the deaths of thousands of police officers, lawyers, journalists, government officials, criminals, and bystanders. Bolaño’s novel is a carefully researched indictment of the circumstances that led to this war and to the murder of more than 400 women and girls in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. It is also, however, more than a book about Mexico. By casting his narrative net so widely—over Nazi soldiers and sympathizers, over Mexican cops and narcos, over Black Panthers and American sheriffs, over lonely detectives and writers, over Romanians and Argentines and Frenchmen—Bolaño assembles arguments for a sexy, apocalyptic vision of history. One that recognizes the constant presence of brutality and impunity, and love and courage in our world.




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