Wednesday, May 6, 2009

2666: The Verdict

Pre-Script: This is too long and I didn't bother editing. It is not meant to be a proper book review. This is just me, telling my friends about a book I read.

As soon as I raved about my initial impressions of Bolaño's 2666, I got nervous. What if I was mistaken, what if I got restless and never finished it, what if I hated it?! I should have known better.

Briefly, the book is organized in three tomes, a total of 5 short novellas. Apparently, Bolaño was already really sick when he started working on the project and by the time he was finishing up, he knew he only had a few months to live. So, out of practical considerations, he divided the novel into these five independent novellas that he wanted to be sold separately so his kids would be able to have a steady income off the royalties. 2666 was published posthumously and ultimately, after careful consideration, all five parts came out together. I am happy they did that because even though the texts could be read separately it only makes sense to read them as parts of a whole. The publishers have stated their intention to respect Bolaño's wishes and have future editions of the book be published as separate works, which, I think, is fair enough.

Part 1 of the book, The Part About The Critics, follows four academics in their obsession with the mysterious German writer Benno von Archimboldi.
Part 2 , The Part About Amalfitano, takes us to the fictional town of Santa Teresa in Northern Mexico where we meet Amalfitano... a single father and university professor... struggling to keep his wits in a place he fears and detests.
Part 3, The Part about Fate, introduces an African American journalist by the name of Oscar Fate, who ends up in Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match even thought Fate himself has never written a sports piece in his life.
Part 4 ,The Part About The Crimes, is the longest novella in the collection and documents the murders of hundreds of women in Santa Teresa and the surrounding areas.
Part 5, The Part About Archimboldi, introduces us to the mysterious writer and ties the whole thing together.

My initial response to reading the book was horror and madness. I couldn't quite figure out why... I just kept reading and felt terrified. It was nothing specific to the plot, I don't think, and to be honest, I found that especially surprising while reading Part 4 of the book... the one about the killings of the women. Bolaño has this really strange way of writing... very even, a little bit monotonous, matter-of-fact, no gimmicks or tricks to pull you along... so you just kind of learn to go along with it and accept the story... even, like I said, the really horrendous parts. As you do make your way through, though, you realize that the terror and discomfort is building up ever so slowly and before you know it, you are having anxiety attacks. At least I did and I mean, full-blown anxiety attacks, I am not speaking metaphorically.

To me, the book is ultimately about loneliness: the loneliness of regular people, going about their small lives with no expectations of greatness or recognition, just doing their best. It is precisely that theme of loneliness that binds the five novellas together, I think. Also, I think that's the primary reason why the book is so hard to read... all these people... the critics, their Mexican colleague Amalfitano, Oscar Fate, the Mexican women and those involved in trying to solve the cases of their murders... so alone, so so so alone. And hardly ever a glimpse of hope that things could be otherwise. I am not even talking about better. Just different.

Moving beyond the specific characters, I think Bolaño does a fantastic job describing the loneliness of creative work; the loneliness of being a woman in a macho culture that not only tolerates but also encourages violence against women; the loneliness of poverty; the loneliness of childhood (heartbreaking, really)... But I LOVE that he never stops there and shows that loneliness is also a necessity in the processes of art creation; that it can provide salvation and escape from the horrors of war; that perhaps, sometimes, it is even a prerequisite for authentic human interaction.

As I was reading the book, I felt sooooo sad for the characters... it made me mad. All I wanted to do was shake them or tell them go talk to so-and-so, find a friend... or... you know... give them a hug. But then Bolaño would write in a brief tender moment and I would feel a great sense of hope and relief and settle back in...

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