Friday, June 29, 2007

Red Hot Chile Writing

An edited version of a review that appeared in the June 29 issue of TimeOut Mumbai.

Translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer

Among the so-called ‘post-boom’ generation of Latin American writers, it’s the Chilean Roberto Bolano who’s the most manic, so evident from the just-released English translation of The Savage Detectives. This is the story of two young poets, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, founders of the “visceral realist movement”, who leave Mexico City to hunt for another elusive poet, Ces├írea Tinajero. Despite a desert showdown, they stay on the run, even after two decades. Their search may have been rendered hopeless, but their fires remain unquenched.

What makes The Savage Detectives impressive is not the tale but the telling. Bolano’s sentences: are elongated and dramatic, dancing between action and thought with ease. The novel is structurally innovative, too: it opens with the part-profane, part-innocent diary entries of the teenage Juan Garcia Madero, and we’re introduced to Belano and Lima through his eyes. Then follows a long segment told in a multitude of voices containing memories of meetings with the poets over the years: a chorus of journalists, stowaways, architects, lovers, employers and more, from Central America, Europe, Israel, and Africa. Finally, we return to Madero to discover the outcome of the poets’ journey.

Worth your while? This is a sometimes dense, largely polyphonic work about doomed quests, youthful exuberance and the passion for poetry. It demands to be wrestled with till the end to make it yield its pleasures.

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