"2666" by Roberto Bolano (2004)
"Bottom line: the kid gets himself a degree and a wife, who moves to Mexico with him. So then the short Mexican grandkids aren't so short anymore, they're medium, and meanwhile their skin's getting lighter too. These grandkids, when the time comes, set off on the same journey of initiation as their father. American college, American wife, taller and taller kids. What this means is that the Mexican upper class, of its own accord, is doing what the Spaniards did, but backward. The Spaniards, who were hot-blooded and didn't think too far ahead, mixed with the Indian women, raped them, forced them to practice their religion, and thought that meant they were turning the country white. Those Spaniards believed in a mongrel whiteness. But they overestimated their semen and that was their mistake. You just can't rape that many people. It's mathematically impossible. It's too hard on the body. You get tired. Plus, they were raping from the bottom up, when what would've made more sense would be raping from the top down. They might have gotten some results if they'd been capable of raping their own mongrel children and then their mongrel grandchildren and even their bastard great-grandchildren. But who's going to go out raping people when you're seventy and you can hardly stand on your own two feet?"
Roberto Bolano was a Chilean novelist who spent many years in Mexico. He passed away in 2003, and "2666" was published after his death. The novel is divided into five parts, though it is said that a sixth part was discovered by researchers going through his estate.
This book is HUGE, and it's difficult to discuss as a whole. The print is also really small, and I was only able to read around 50 pages at a time. By the time I got to the end, my memory of the first and second parts was fuzzy.
Part One: The Part About the Critics
Four Literature critics form an association over their shared devotion to Archimboldi, a mysterious German-language author. One of these critics, an English woman, becomes romantically entangled with two of the other critics. All three of the male critics vie for the English woman's affections while they attempt to solve the mystery of Archimboldi's true identity. Their search leads them to Santa Teresa, Mexico, where one of the critics has a change of heart.
Part Two: The Part About Amalfitano
Amalfitano, professor of Philosophy at the University of Santa Teresa, remembers his mentally unbalanced wife, who has absconded to Europe in search of a poet. Amalfitano's increasing eccentricity is a source of worry for his daughter, who tries to be the voice of reason.
Part Three: The Part About Fate
Oscar Fate's mother passes on, and after her death he must journey to Santa Teresa, to cover a boxing match for the magazine that employs him. While in Mexico he learns of the killings that are taking place there, and also runs into Amalfitano's daughter, whom he falls in love with. After a night out on the town proves sinister, he flees Mexico with Amalfitano's daughter.
Part Four: The Part About the Crimes
Young women fall victim to a serial killer (or serial killers) in Santa Teresa, and the inept police force does its best to find the killer(s).
This is the longest part of the book. In it are discussed many features of Mexican society, and also this society's grudging relationship with the United States. Some sections are quite gruesome, and the picture painted of Mexican prisons might be even scarier than what one finds in Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy.
Despite its strengths as a portrait of modern Mexico, this part is extremely repetitious. It also introduces many plot threads that are never resolved. It brought to mind some of James Ellroy's books, in particular "The Black Dahlia." The difference being that Ellroy does this kind of story much better.
Part Five: The Part About Archimboldi
In this part a young Hans Reiter grows to manhood in pre and post WWII Germany. He joins the army, sees action in both France and Russia, returns to Germany, and begins writing books under the pseudonym Benno von Archimboldi. After this his fame grows steadily, and he spends the following years traveling through Europe.
This was by far my favorite part of the book. Parts of it reminded me of Gogol's short stories, and also Gunther Grass' "The Tin Drum." The characters are all interesting and it never grows dull.
As a novel? This book is less than the sum of its parts. The Part About the Crimes is egregiously long, and the plot points left unresolved in this part of the book make for an unsatisfying read overall. Add to this the fact that the last part may not really be the last part, and one is left with the impression of an experiment gone wrong, or at least an experiment left incomplete.
Yet there are some parts of this book that are worth reading. I would encourage you to read Part Three and Five. It seems to me that the parts of this book could be in any order, and reading Parts Three and Five first will not diminish your enjoyment of this book.
I'd like to read Bolano's earlier novels. This is perhaps the deepest impression that "2666" made upon me. It's not an easy book, it's definitely not a short book, but it has made me curious as to what Bolano's earlier - and more complete - efforts might be like.
If you don't like long, cryptic books I would avoid this one. If, however, you're looking for a challenge you might give "2666" a try.