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The Savage Detectives

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New Year’s Eve, 1975: Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, founders of the visceral realist movement in poetry, leave Mexico City in a borrowed white Impala. Their quest: to track down the obscure, vanished poet Cesárea Tinajero. A violent showdown in the Sonora desert turns search to flight; twenty years later Belano and Lima are still on the run.

The explosive first long work by “the most exciting writer to come from south of the Rio Grande in a long time” (Ilan Stavans, Los Angeles Times), The Savage Detectives follows Belano and Lima through the eyes of the people whose paths they cross in Central America, Europe, Israel, and West Africa. This chorus includes the muses of visceral realism, the beautiful Font sisters; their father, an architect interned in a Mexico City asylum; a sensitive young follower of Octavio Paz; a foul-mouthed American graduate student; a French girl with a taste for the Marquis de Sade; the great-granddaughter of Leon Trotsky; a Chilean stowaway with a mystical gift for numbers; the anorexic heiress to a Mexican underwear empire; an Argentinian photojournalist in Angola; and assorted hangers-on, detractors, critics, lovers, employers, vagabonds, real-life literary figures, and random acquaintances.

A polymathic descendant of Borges and Pynchon, Roberto Bolaño traces the hidden connection between literature and violence in a world where national boundaries are fluid and death lurks in the shadow of the avant-garde. The Savage Detectives is a dazzling original, the first great Latin American novel of the twenty-first century.

577 pages, Hardcover

First published November 2, 1998

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About the author

Roberto Bolaño

145 books5,501 followers
For most of his early adulthood, Bolaño was a vagabond, living at one time or another in Chile, Mexico, El Salvador, France and Spain. Bolaño moved to Europe in 1977, and finally made his way to Spain, where he married and settled on the Mediterranean coast near Barcelona, working as a dishwasher, a campground custodian, bellhop and garbage collector — working during the day and writing at night.

He continued with his poetry, before shifting to fiction in his early forties. In an interview Bolaño stated that he made this decision because he felt responsible for the future financial well-being of his family, which he knew he could never secure from the earnings of a poet. This was confirmed by Jorge Herralde, who explained that Bolaño "abandoned his parsimonious beatnik existence" because the birth of his son in 1990 made him "decide that he was responsible for his family's future and that it would be easier to earn a living by writing fiction." However, he continued to think of himself primarily as a poet, and a collection of his verse, spanning 20 years, was published in 2000 under the title The Romantic Dogs.

Regarding his native country Chile, which he visited just once after going into voluntary exile, Bolaño had conflicted feelings. He was notorious in Chile for his fierce attacks on Isabel Allende and other members of the literary establishment.

In 2003, after a long period of declining health, Bolaño passed away. Bolaño was survived by his Spanish wife and their two children, whom he once called "my only motherland."

Although deep down he always felt like a poet, his reputation ultimately rests on his novels, novellas and short story collections. Although Bolaño espoused the lifestyle of a bohemian poet and literary enfant terrible for all his adult life, he only began to produce substantial works of fiction in the 1990s. He almost immediately became a highly regarded figure in Spanish and Latin American letters.

In rapid succession, he published a series of critically acclaimed works, the most important of which are the novel Los detectives salvajes (The Savage Detectives), the novella Nocturno de Chile (By Night In Chile), and, posthumously, the novel 2666. His two collections of short stories Llamadas telefónicas and Putas asesinas were awarded literary prizes.

In 2009 a number of unpublished novels were discovered among the author's papers.

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Profile Image for Jessica.
593 reviews3,364 followers
January 13, 2014
I'll bet a lot of us walk around with some real concrete ideas about just who it is we could possibly fall in love with. Maybe the specifics of our ideas change over time and even become less rigid, but still we maintain that we know on some level what it is that we want. Maybe when we're nineteen, we're convinced we could only ever truly love a man with a neck tattoo who sings lead in an Oi! band and has great feminist politics and knows how to cook. Or maybe our criteria are purely negative, and we know for a fact that we could never love anyone who voted for Nader, who has facial hair, or is a Yankees fan, or knows about wine. Perhaps once we get a little older we insist we're not picky, and maintain it is just simple common sense that we could not under any circumstances possibly fall in love with someone who uses emoticons, smokes clove cigarettes, dislikes children, has a barcode tattoo, or watches too much television.... We will fall in love with a person who's got great taste in literature, who has beautiful arm muscles, who also can't dance, who's memorized Repo Man and is useful in a bar fight and knows how to sign. We say we're open-minded, but we have these ideas. We know what we want, what we are capable of falling for. We sense what it is that we can love and what we cannot, in the abstract, without even trying and waiting to see.

Pretty much same thing goes for books: I tend to think that I know what I'll get into, just as I'm pretty sure that I know what I won't. I hate On the Road and shy away from what I perceive to be "dude books" or "dick lit" or anything too scenestery or self-consciously literary. For these reasons and more, I really wouldn't think that I'd particularly go for a longish, fairly plotless novel about a group of drunk, shaggy-haired, pot-smoking poets hanging out and getting laid all the time and bouncing around Latin America, Europe, and other sundry continents. In fact, this thumbnail description is sort of the book equivalent of the right-wing, cigar-smoking pharmaceutical rep blind date who loves jam bands. I would not have gone out with Roberto Bolaño in a million years based on my google-stalking his myspace page, if my friend's girlfriend and my coworker and my roommate's friend and the chick who cut my hair hadn't all happened to know him in one way or another and all universally insisted that I give this guy a shot.

And whaddaya know: old spinster Jessica, swept off her feet!

This was like when you find a guy who's cute but wearing sandals and a really ugly Hardrock Cafe tee shirt and has long, scruffly hair and listens to Latin Jazz and is really into capoeira and rock climbing -- like really into capoeira and rock climbing -- and you go over to his house and realize he owns no books, except like three Kurt Vonnegut paperbacks and maybe The Outlaw Poetry Anthology and a hardcover of Guns, Germs, and Steel that his aunt gave him for Christmas six years ago and which of course he never opened because he hasn't read a book since high school.... but then you go out into his backyard and both climb up into the tree there, and he makes you laugh a lot for some reason, and then you stay up until 6 am drinking ginger ale and talking about life, and then awhile after the sun comes up you both go to bed, and he doesn't even have blankets he has a sleeping bag even though he's actually almost thirty years old, but suddenly you don't care about that anymore, and pretty soon you're walking around in his baggy Hardrock Cafe tee shirt and sandals because you lost one of your shoes and your own clothes are too dirty to wear anymore since you haven't been home in a week and you're so stoned out of your mind just from being around him that you start to think that tee shirt is actually kind of cool, and anyway, it smells like him, and him is the best smell that you've ever smelt, the best idea you've ever even thought of, if that makes sense, which of course it doesn't, because at this point you're gone....

I already lent my copy out to a friend, which makes getting into specifics more difficult but should recommend the book on its own. If I remember correctly (the affair is already a bit of a blur), this book has three main parts. The first and last are the diary entries of a seventeen-year-old student with incredible stamina who's living in late seventies Mexico City, who gets caught up with the emerging "visceral realist" poetry moment. The huge middle portion sandwiched by the kid's diary entries is a series of depositions (or anecdotes, or monologues, or whatever they are) taken over three decades from characters whose paths have crossed, on one continent or another, those of the founders of visceral realism: the infamous poets Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano.

The quantity of characters here is a bit Dickensian/Russian (i.e., ridiculous), and I'd actually started making a list of them in the back flap, which I sort of recommend doing because it can get slightly confusing at times. However, the fact that making such a cheat sheet isn't strictly necessary is a testament to this guy's skill as a writer. His characters are distinctive from one another, and all speak in the author's style and yet also in their own recognizable and totally enthralling voices. Ay, those voices! This book changed the way I felt about that whole talking-to-the-camera device in fiction. This can work, and moreover, its effect can be incredible. This is how people honestly are, or maybe it's just how I want them to be.

The way Bolaño writes about women is one of the reasons why I was able to give myself over so fully to this novel. While the world and characters described are far from egalitarian, I felt that the author took his female characters very seriously, and was equally adept at writing from a male or female perspective. This is a gift I maintain is fairly rare, and it really helped counter my impression that this was a dude novel. At the same time, I really liked the way he wrote about sex from a male perspective. This book is hot! I mean, parts of it are. This guy can write a sex scene, that's all I'm saying. I mean, you might not agree, in which case you'll probably think I'm weird. But whatever, I'm just calling it like I see it.... Jeez! Leave me alone!

In any case, The Savage Detectives restored my somewhat agnostic faith in narrative, fictional characters, and humanity in general. This book was incredibly beautiful. It really was. I know I should come up with a better way to put that, but unfortunately that's all I got: if you want to read something wonderfully phrased, I suggest you jump ship on my review and grab yourself some Bolaño. Again, I wish I had a better way to say this, but The Savage Detectives caught some breathing, squirming, hot-blooded aspect of the experience of living, and bottled it for convenient distribution and mass consumption during dull moments such as train rides. For me, this book justified the importance of language by reminding us of the reason why it exists: as a form of expression and communication, as the medium which makes sense of our experience and helps the pain of living seem like something worth freaking out about in a grand and desperately passionate fashion.

If I were more the type of girl to hand out five-star reviews, I'd have given one gratefully to The Savage Detectives. This novel singlehandedly transformed the way I felt about commuting, and I'm a little terrified by the prospect of returning to the subway (not to mention my life) now that I'm done with it. It's been awhile since I was this instantly and consistently caught up in a book. There was no getting-to-know-you period: I was immersed right away in the first few pages, and my interest never waned all the way through to its thoroughly satisfying close. There were no missteps in here, no off notes or dull parts or things that I felt were wrong or missing. Was it high passion? It wasn't high passion. I don't think this is the greatest thing I've ever read, and I'm still really not sure what was so wonderful about it, or why everyone else on here went so bananas over The Savage Detectives..... I just know that for some reason, I did kind of fall in love with this book.

I think falling in love is the answer you get when you solve for a special, specific equation of familiarity and surprise. Falling in love is the recognition of yourself in someone else, shot through with a foreignness that shocks you with something beyond what you'd ever be capable of doing or imagining alone. Reading this book felt just like that to me. Falling in love, like reading great fiction, means trusting someone enough to let that person take your hand and then lead you gently, firmly, adoringly, right off a cliff. The Savage Detectives did exactly this, and at the end of the day, that's all I want.
Profile Image for s.penkevich.
967 reviews6,852 followers
August 13, 2023
A book so good I had to get it tattooed onto me.

Youth is a scam

Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003) created a very special novel with The Savage Detectives. The novel is constantly moving, grinding slowly across the years steady and sure as a freight train, carrying the baggage of our existence towards the inevitable finality of life. During the course of my reading, people would misinterpret the title and tell me they enjoyed a good crime thriller and inquire into the plot of the book I clutched lovingly in my hands. While this is no ‘whodunnit’ novel, it is still an investigation of sorts formed primarily through a series of interviews that leave the truth up to the reader to deduce. These various perspectives provide anything from glowing reports to unflattering dismissals of the major characters as their lives intertwine. These perspectives form an ever-expanding collage of lost souls floating across Europe and the Americas. They occasionally collide and leave their mark upon one another and redirecting the course of their lives for better or for worse.

The novel begins with the youth and youthful aspirations of young Hispanic poets. As is the common folly of youth, they believe firmly in their still-forming convictions and have yet to embrace the truths of their own mortality, thus believing in an impenetrable immortality that they will construct of themselves by etching their mark upon the literary scene and politics of Mexico. As the timeline expands, we see often these lofty ideals falter, the bonds of friendship fizzle and their efforts fail, and the reader is reminded of their own mortality and the uncertainties that lie ahead of them. That sharp flint which we would plunge into the beating heart of the world is chipped through our battles for selfhood and dulled by the temoltous seas of life – seas comprised of changing tides and hostile currents that toss us about at will, shattering dreams, friendships and romances upon the rocks. Not only is it the personal lives of the characters, but the whole of Mexico itself is thrashed and ravaged as time marches on. The sad state of the characters are representative of the state of their nation, and vice versa. We are all connected through each other, and through our homeland. We can all be dragged down together if we are not careful.

Life is fragile and our goals are even more fragile. Yet, still we have to press on. We must adapt and produce in order to not be effaced from the memory of the world. Many of these characters are able to, and we are treated to the advice and stories of those who make it in the literary scene. However, it is those who never reach the peak that are ultimately the heroes of this novel. Through poetry, they attempt this immortality, this cup of eternal life they so seek. If it is not through poetry, then they strive towards criticism and translations. Is reaching for immortality through the arts the answer? Inaki Exhevarne offers this discouraging impression on the arts and criticism:

For a while, Criticism travels side by side with the Work, then Criticism vanishes and it's the Readers who keep pace. The journey may be long or short. Then the Readers die one by one and the Work continues on alone, although a new Criticism and new Readers gradually fall into step with it along its path. Then Criticism dies again and the Readers die again and the Work passes over a trail of bones on its journey toward solitude. To come near the work, to sail in her wake, is a sign of certain death, but new Criticism and new Readers approach her tirelessly and relentlessly and are devoured by time and speed. Finally the Work journeys irremediably alone in the Great Vastness. And one day the Work dies, as all things must die and come to an end: the Sun and the Earth and the Solar System and the Galaxy and the farthest reaches of man's memory. Everything that begins as comedy ends in tragedy.

This ultimately makes one feel awkward even writing a review of this book, as it acknowledges that I too must become a permanent fixture in the trail of bones. The only way out is to hitch a ride on the Work, to be the name attached to the eternal manuscript even though we still must face Death.

Despite all this bleakness, Bolaño offers a bright outcome. It is curious that a novel about poets is relatively devoid of poetic works. There are a few samples of older, famous pieces, including an extensive reference to Theodore Sturgeon’s short story When You Care, When You Love, but the reader never gets to sample the actual poetry of the Visceral Realists. Then, the true poetry is the actual lives of the characters. Life itself is the poetic beauty in the world, and it is through our interactions with others that we find immortality. Those we encounter become our readers, and through their stories and perspectives they carry on our legacy. They interpret our proverbial footprints in the sand for all those who would seek them.

Felipe Müller's recounting 0f the Sturgeon story told to him by Belano gives us a glimpse into the sort of immortality granted by the encounters with others. It is an exercise in infinity. The number of people we encounter is constantly growing, hurtling towards an infinite number of people our simple existence affects. Many of the characters stories in Savage Detectives have only small references to the major players, Belano and Ulises, but even they take something away from these encounters that will pass through them and their actions into the people they subsequently interact with. We occasionally play a large role in the lives of others, but even our smallest roles can be told. Think of the cashier you annoyed by buying cigarettes in all change (guilty), or the waiter you left an extra generous tip to. They may have later told of the small encounter later (especially in the case that you annoyed or enraged them, but hey, if Bolaño is accurate, it’s just a step towards immortality or at least unflattering notoriety). Each individual perspective is unique from everyone else’s of a person, Each encounter bounces off, sometimes revealing positives and sometimes revealing flaws, and the summation of these perspectives, this penumbra of those around us, form the picture of a person. The more perspectives, the more accurate and clear the image. In a way, it is like pixels in a picture. The novel could have been told from a perspective closer to Ulises and Belano, but through all the various perspectives we get a well rounded idea of who they are, and also learn the lives and aspirations of all those they meet.

Bolaño does a magnificent job creating a diverse cast of characters whose eyes the reader can peer through. The voices don’t ever become stale, however when compared to more chameleon-like writers such as David Mitchell of which I’ve been gushing over for months now and can’t help but use as a yardstick for all other authors, a bit more diversity in the voices would have been a nice touch. Still, the effect is pulled off expertly and there are a number of unique voices to soak up. Quim offers a truly surreal depiction of the world around him, Barbara is hilariously vulgar, the optimism of the hippy hitchhiker and the amazing chapter of Heimito told in an obfuscating style that reminded me of Faulker’s Benjy. The rotation of these voices keeps the novel fresh and exciting, and the multiple vantage points on key situations, such as the duel, help pull the reader into the situation and make them feel as if they were there in three dimensions smelling the surf and feeling the sand beneath their feet.

If I may, I’m going to switch from intellect to inebriate for a moment (intellect being a term I’ve shamelessly and unwarrantedly bestowed upon myself, but it made for some fun word play). This novel came at the right time in my life, and allowed me to examine the bonds that tie us to reality. A novel like this makes one question their lives, their choices, and really evaluate themselves and value those around them. It may be a bit clichéd now, but this novel felt to me similar to how On the Road did to me as an impressionable teen. I credit many of the traits of my silly-puddy teenage personality to my experience with that novel. One look at my young college days at MSU, arriving at parties with a cigarette between my lips, guzzling a jug of wine while wearing a flannel shirt and drunkenly ranting about Buddhism, poetry, and the inescapable sadness that provides the true beauty of life, and I might as well have the books title tattooed on my spine. It worked at the time, but this is the sort of life we have to let go of lest we become pathetic. Savage Detectives takes this sort of ideals and displays them further on down the road. The book is rather sad in that it shows how fickle people are towards their goodtime friends. Once Ulises and Belano take off, the ‘tight knit’ group relatively forgets them. Some could care less when they return. The ephemeral moments we with could last forever are just a brilliant burning flame that will be extinguished. We can keep it in our heart and immortalize it through epic retellings, but we can’t expect time to stand still. If we do, it will trample us on its march to the future. I miss my old friends, but I have good ones now too, just a lower number of them due to societal constraints on my time. In the past few years I’ve left behind my home, my friends and family, to live several hours away and have noticed how true this book is. There are good friends I’ve now lost touch with, and people that I’m sure have forgotten me. We all have lives and responsibilities, and when someone isn’t immediately present, it is understandable that current issues will elbow their way into the vacant spot. The reading of this book in a GR group made a sort of ‘metagroup’ considering the ideas expressed in the book, and made me really value the discussions and friendships that have been formed on this site. Thank you everyone. There was a time when I took trains around the Midwest and crashed on couches in Tennessee, but now those are just stories that I hope when others tell them that I appear as a positive and amiable figure in. The Kerouac days are over, but what Road was to my youth, Savage Detectives is to my present state in my mid-twenties. I hope to learn from this book and always remember that our immortality comes through our interactions with others. I want to live to the fullest, and to strive to be a positive figure in the stories that will one day be told. If you made it this far, thank you for listening to me vomit up some overly sentimental ramblings. Don’t judge too harshly?

Savage Detectives is an incredible investigation into the lives of the Visceral Realist, a group based upon actual people in Bolano’s life. It paints a well-rounded portrait of these key figures and reminds us that life is always fluctuating, for better or for worse, as it inches closer to our inevitable deaths. This book comes together quite nicely. He leaves us with an empowering message that the world outside our window is ours to shape. It is a world of infinite possibility. Just don’t let it shape you. Also, it was moving to see the mother of Visceral Realism defend the later generations like a lion to her cubs. Despite all the frailties of friendship, the human bond will not break or shake in the face of death, and we see good always strive to conquer evil. We all end up as the bones that the eternal Works will step over, but even bones have their story to tell. May we all face the stars and the depths of eternity together. Everything that begins as comedy ends as as bittersweet memories

Best enjoyed with a bottle of Tecate or Modelo on a hot summer's day.

(my original posting of this review years ago was 4 out of 5, but as time goes on this one has grown so much in my heart that I had to give it the full five).

Thanks to everyone in the Cabbage Detectives group led by Don Juan Ian. I would encourage anyone to please read their wonderful reviews, as each perspective brings this novel into clearer focus.
In no particular order:
Scholar Mike
Ja(y Rubin)son
And more to come...
Profile Image for Glenn Russell.
1,378 reviews12k followers
April 6, 2022

Since there are so many fantastic reviews of The Savage Detectives, I thought I would offer a slightly different approach as per below.

In Part 1, the first-person narrator, seventeen-year-old Juan Garcia Madero, tells us right off he is reading the erotic fiction of Pierre Louys (incidentally, one of Louys's novels was made into a Luis Buñuel film – That Obscure Object of Desire). Also, the way Juan speaks of the visceral realists, a group of wild avant-garde poets where young Juan is a member, reminded me of another group -- the League, a secret society in Hermann Hesse's The Journey to the East.

I enjoy how Juan will list the authors -- various poets, novelists, short-story writers, essayists -- he comes across as his meanders through Mexico City. For example: when he enters the room of one of the visceral realists, Luscious Skin (what a name!), he spots a stack of books, one by Auguste Monterroso.

Turns out, this author wrote one of my favorite short-stories -Mr. Taylor - about an American anthropologist who goes to a Central American country to live with a forest tribe. He sends the tribe's shrunken heads back to the US and makes a fortune. The demand for shrunken heads skyrockets but the tribe runs out. Well, the government finds out and, along with the anthropologist, comes up with some great plans to cash in on shrunken heads. How? Let me just say that if you are a poor person living in that country, you had better watch out! Anyway, associations like this make for rich, provocative reading.

Poetic Novelist RB

Young Juan's life in Mexico City is filled to the brim with young women and sexual encounters, conversations about poets and poetry and magazines, lots of coffee and marijuana, but through it all Juan is a kindred spirit to that narrator of Journey to the East, when Hesse's seeker says, "For our goal was not only the East, or rather the East was not only a country or something geographical, but it was the home and youth of the soul, it was everywhere and nowhere, it was the union of all times."

Juan has a strong sense his true home is his poetic voice and, in a way, the visceral realists is his 'league'. I must say reading about the two worlds of Juan's life: the nitty-gritty of everyday Mexico City and the light-filled realm of poetry is most refreshing.

Then, at one point, when Juan goes into a café. We read, "After dark I went back and found Jacinto Requena dying of boredom. None of the visceral realists except for him, he said, were showing their faces at the café. Everybody was afraid of running into Arturo Belano, though their fears were unwarranted since the Chelean hadn't been there in days. According to Requena, Arturo Belano had begun to kick more poets out of the group."

You have to love a seventeen-year-old who is having sex left and right but still has his eye (and poetic soul) on his ray of light, his league of fellow questers, the visceral realists. And you have to admire an author who can splay himself into multiple characters within a novel.

Roberto Bolaño - The Poet and Novelist as a Young Man

And, thank goodness there are some sensitive seventeen-year-old souls who experience life as an artistic odyssey. The printing of this novel could have been set in gold. And perhaps a few pages coated with hallucinogens so the reader could lick the pages from time to time. -- this is one of the techniques used by a short-story writer in Moacyr Sclair's The Short-Story Writers.

When we come to Part 2, there are multiple adult men and women first-person narrators who relate their experience with the visceral realists and Latin American poetry. The more I turned the pages, the more I was drawn into a mythic dimension of time. Such an uplifting, energizing experience to enter a world where the spirit and power of poetry is the polestar.

And not only a poetic reaching up, as if the night sky contained a thousand poems for every star, but deep, deep down into the earth. Here are a few of my favorite lines, where Venezuelan poet Amadeo Salvatierra relates a conversation with his father and a friend riding through the country outside Mexico City:

“He said that there was probably some pyramid lying buried under our land . . . deep underground there must be lots of pyramids. My father didn’t say anything. From the darkness of the backseat, I asked him why he thought that. He didn’t answer. Then we started to talk of other things but I kept wondering why he’d say that about the pyramids.”

Of course, there were pyramids at Teotihuacan, the pre-Columbian Mesoamerican city thirty miles outside present-day Mexico City. I wouldn’t want to press the point too hard, but pyramids bring to mind inner depths of the psyche. The Jungian analyst Robert Moore talks a great deal of the archetypal pyramid each of us carries in our collective unconscious – the four sides are king/queen, warrior, lover and, magician, the magician being that part most directly connected to imagination, creativity, the inner quest and spiritual transformation.

In traditional societies, those profoundly in touch with magician energy would be chosen to be shamans; in our modern, ‘civilized’ world, the role of shaman is inhabited by, among others, artists and poets. It is this magician power the narrators are in touch with as they move through their days and nights, their conversations and writing and reading of poems. Here is a reflection from one of the narrators, an Argentinian poet, as he is walking in Mexico City with a Mexican poet and a Chilean poet:

“The three of us were quiet, as if we’d been struck dumb, but our bodies moved to a beat, as if something was propelling us through that strange land and making us dance, a silent, syncopated kind of walking, if I can call it that, and then I had a vision, not the first that day, as it happened, or the last: the park we were walking through opened up into a kind of lake and the lake opened up into a kind of waterfall and the waterfall became a river that flowed through a kind of cemetery, and all of it, lake, waterfall, river, cemetery, was deep green and silent.”

Young Juan makes his return in Part 3. After all the poetic voices and multiple journeys across many lands in Part 2, we have a deeper appreciation of Juan as a member of the visceral realists. And, my word, what a book. The Savage Detectives, a novel about those wild, ferocious, half-crazed men and woman driven to mythic, intoxicating summits by the carnival of words and the Latino rhythms of their poetry. 650 pages of breathtaking magic.
Profile Image for Jim Fonseca.
1,101 reviews7,202 followers
January 3, 2022
Edited 1/3/21
In this quasi-autobiographical story, a group of intense young poets, men and women, knock around Mexico City in the mid-1970s. Their lives revolve around poetry: reading it, writing poems, trying to get their poems published in fly-by-night literary magazines that only they read. The intensity of their love for poetry is disarming.

The young people exist in odd hours, wandering aimlessly through the city, drinking, making love, stealing books from bookstores, and talking poetry constantly. As they get older they become émigrés in Europe, mainly in Paris and Barcelona, but also in Germany, Israel and Africa. This is Jack Kerouac’s story if he had been a Latin American.

The book is structured in three parts. The first part is their youth in Mexico City as described above. A group of them free a woman from her pimp and flee to the northwestern Mexican desert in search of a perhaps-mythical woman poet. They are chased by the pimp and the police. The third section of the book is the conclusion of this story.


The middle of the book is a series of 4- and 5-page vignettes by folks who knew these poets throughout their lives. Some parents, friends, acquaintances and distant relatives who fed and housed them. Some are ex-girlfriends and boyfriends. A couple are wealthy Latin Americans who lived in Europe and maybe knew their parents, and found them on their doorsteps. There are old poets who welcomed them into their homes and book dealers who knew the poets were sealing books from them.

Bolano is master of the startling, flat statement:

“I don’t get many visitors, just my daughter and a woman and another girl who said she was my daughter too, and who was remarkably pretty.”

“But most of the time she didn’t have serious problems.”

“For a moment I thought he was going to cry, but suddenly, before he said anything, I realized that I’d be the one who cried…”

“…I thought that if I died … Arturo would know everything I hadn’t told him and would understand it without having to hear it from my lips.”

“…it’s as if I’m still dreaming and I can’t wake up, although you might think that Latin Americans were less affected by horror than anyone else, at least in theory.”

In one scene a woman chases her would-be rapist with a knife, stops at a cemetery to watch a child’s casket lowered into a grave, and then goes to meet a friend for drinks.


Bolano was a Chilean who lived mainly in Mexico and Spain. He died at age 50 in 2003 while waiting for a liver transplant. After his early death, Bolano’s fame skyrocketed and this book, in particular, has contributed to what his fans have called “Bolanomania.” He was a writer of the second generation that arose after Latin American literature burst onto the international scene after World War II thanks to the work of Carlos Fuentes, Mario Vargas Llosa, Julio Cortazar and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I also reviewed Bolano’s short novel, The Skating Rink, set near Barcelona.

Photo of Mexico City in the 1970s from time.com
The author from newsweek.com

Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,494 reviews2,376 followers
May 26, 2022

There is no doubt that as a debut novel this really is quite something, and has one of the greatest opening sections of a novel I have probably read. My sheer enthusiasm for these characters and their setting was just unprecedented. I was so enjoying the first third so much and kept thinking to myself that if it carries on like this then I could be looking at a novel that gets into my top 5 of all time. In the end though, it was the last third that took away the chances of that (this would still end up probably getting into my top 20 novels though). Damn, I thought, where are we going now? - all over the bloody planet by the looks of it. NO! I want to go back to 1975, Mexico, to the visceral realists. Sitting around all day, drinking, smoking, reading and having enough sex you'd think they had rabbit genes or something. I mean, come on, up to fifteen orgasms a night - really?. Was Bolaño trying to break some sort of record of how much intercourse you could stuff into a single page!

Once we got over the early sexual escapades, the moving around in time and places ended up being a really clever idea, and I soon realised this narrative change was only going to add and expand on the story, turning it into one of those epics that completely suck you in. Although it would seem Bolano has written a novel solely about poets, his interest in poets is not so swaying towards their intellectual side, but rather how easily make they can make such a mess out of their lives. The two key poets in this case, Arturo Belano, a Chilean, and his Mexican friend Ulises Lima, call themselves visceral realists. Their enemy is the grand Octavio Paz, a character in a bizarre scene about walking in circles in a park. These neo-surrealists meet in bars, steal books, sell drugs, have lovers, run a magazine, excommunicate members and feud with Mexican poets. Bolaño is funny and cruel about this in-fighting, which stretches to Barcelona and Paris (this is where the story really is stretched out). Belano and Lima truly stand out, they are the heart and sole of the novel, and predominantly live a fast-paced and drugged up life on the run. As they hunt the vanished Cesárea Tinajero, we try to make sense of their obscure motivations. Bolaño amusingly mixes up real names and literary movements, like the estridentistas, with invented ones. A reader unaware of these minor poets may miss the deadly humour about literary self-satisfaction and oblivion.

Actual poetry rarely ever comes into it, instead, we have reports on their activities, their readings, and lovers' accounts of them in bed and on the road. The Savage Detectives after the first 100 pages or so is broken up into a multi-fractured open diary, of various characters who may or may not have links to the pair, some by fellow travellers and others back in Mexico. Bolaño has a perfect ear for the Mexicans, Argentines, French and Spaniards who tell us about their brief encounters with the two poets. It's as if he went globetrotting with a microphone and film crew in tow.
Best remembered, for would-be poets fed on extremists like Rimbaud and Marx (a couple make love with Sade as a manual). But they did not take these mentors to the conclusions Belano and Lima do, by giving up art for something never defined that seems to be willed failure and uprootedness. Bolaño can be savagely comic as he mocks his generation, yet is equally tender when dealing with family issues and growing up. Apart from the novel taking place Mexico, we have the European settings too, and I did enjoy the Parisian part quite a bit because I used to live there and have such great memories.

Bold and hugely ambitious, this is one novel with just so much to chew over. But boy, I'll admit, it was hard going at times. And yet, I'm sort of glad that it was. It consumed my thoughts, day and night, and I couldn't wait to pick it up again every time I put it down (I know that's a bit of a cliché, but how else can I put it?). Just so pleased to have gone on a journey into Bolaño's stunning literary world. A Latin-American masterpiece. Makes me want to read everything he ever wrote.
Profile Image for Kris.
175 reviews1,468 followers
August 1, 2012
I am struggling over writing this review. The Savage Detectives has become an important book to me, and I’m trying to find the best way to put a whole series of associations, emotions, and thoughts into words about how it has entered into my life and mind and heart. I have a tendency to hide behind a lot of formal analysis when I am writing, but I don’t think that approach is good enough for this review.

I just met a close friend from graduate school for dinner last week - he now lives in San Francisco, and we don’t get to see each other all that often. We entered the restaurant soaking wet from a tropical-style thunderstorm that hit just as we got out of the cab. As we were drying off (courtesy of a pile of extra napkins that the sympathetic host gave us), we reconnected with each other as if no time had passed since we navigating the highs and lows of graduate school together. It was the 1990s, and we were like sponges, soaking up ideas and books and movies and good meals together. We were politically active too, campaigning together to elect Clinton, writing a parody of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas to try to shake off the sting of the 1994 US elections that swept Gingrich and a wave of other Republicans into the House, and commiserating with each other over the latest offensive legislative initiative. It was an exciting, scary, enthralling time to be alive.

As I was talking with my friend over old times and new, our conversation kept resonating with The Savage Detectives. In our mid-40's, we were looking back across our lives, with affection for our younger selves, but also with understanding over how we had grown and changed over the years, and how the world had changed with us. In The Savage Detectives, as Bolaño pays homage to his younger self and his comrades in poetry, there’s a maturity and wisdom mixed in with the affection, humor, excitement, and sadness that he brings to his exploration of the Visceral Realists, who came together to form an artistic-political-counter-cultural movement in Mexico City in the 1970s, similar to the Infrarealist movement that Bolaño belonged to. Bolaño represents himself through two characters in the novel - Juan García Madero, a young, naive student who navigates sexual, artistic, and emotional transitions and rites of passage, and Arturo Belano who, along with Ulises Lima, heads up the Visceral Realists, a group of young poets who are striving to forward political and artistic aims through their poetry.

The novel is structured around three sections: a first and a third section narrated by Juan through diary entries, and a long second section, in which Visceral Realists and their friends, family members, associates, and enemies come together to tell their story through interviews or oral histories. There are many themes you can explore through the novel -- the Latin American poetry scene, the formation of youth cultures and countercultures, gender relations, sexuality, and rites of passage, the split between ideals and reality, how friends grow up, grow apart, and sometimes re-connect. To me, though, what I take from the novel more than anything else is a re-immersion in the excitement of youth, with its discoveries, explorations, complications, and questions. There’s a dynamism throughout the novel, and while Bolaño is willing to poke gentle fun at himself, he also recaptures the excitement, energy, and ideals that fueled the Visceral Realists.

There is another personal and special meaning of The Savage Detectives for me. I joined a Goodreads group read moderated by Ian Graye (see http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/7... ). In a short period of time, through discussions of the novel, posts of music we loved, and some very creative collaborative interviews, we formed a tight-knot group of fellow adventurers. I am grateful that everyone was so welcoming to me, a relative newcomer. The group exhibited camaraderie, warmth, creativity, intelligence and humor; I can’t imagine a better group to have read The Savage Detectives with, or a better novel to have read with this group. Many thanks to all of you for a truly special experience. It’s worth coming out from behind my barrier of academic analysis to say that!
Profile Image for Guille.
785 reviews1,748 followers
August 27, 2020
Parece que lo que siento ahora con la primera parte de 2666 es algo muy parecido a lo que sentí en su día con “Los detectives salvajes”, la cual terminé igualmente sin saber muy bien qué pensar. La novela me fue interesando y gustando por fragmentos, casualmente coincidiendo casi siempre con las voces femeninas. Al final me pareció un conjunto de cuentos caóticamente enlazados que disfruté, incluso mucho, solo en contadas ocasiones. Con Amuleto, que bien pudiera haber formado parte de esta novela, no por nada Belano y Lacouture proceden de ella, estos detectives salvajes habrían llegado sin dificultad a unas cuatro estrellas muy bien servidas.
Profile Image for RandomAnthony.
394 reviews110 followers
March 30, 2009
My interpretation of 90% of the passages I encountered in Savage Detectives

I walked around Mexico City for a while. And then I sat in a coffee shop and wrote poetry for seven hours. And then I saw a crazy poet I know and we argued about Octavio Paz. And then I read (name drop about 30 Latin American poets of whom I've never heard). And then I wanted to see Maria.

But somebody who cares a lot about the history and insider references of Latin American poetry might love it. I only managed 150 pages.
Profile Image for Kenny.
507 reviews937 followers
September 3, 2022
Poetry and prison have always been neighbors.
The Savage Detectives ~~ Roberto Bolaño


Selected by Aesaan for
May 2021 Big Book Read

I’d vaguely remember first hearing of Roberto Bolaño while living in San Francisco. Those discussing him weren’t readers, but were instead those pseudo literary snobs who read only certain authors because it made them look hip. You know they type ~~ I could never read Woolf; she’s too plebeian.

Fast forward to this lifetime. I decided it was time to read Bolaño after reading all the rave reviews of his work written by friends here on Goodreads. I chose The Savage Detectives as my first foray into Bolaño’s universe. Having read The Savage Detectives, I am eager to read Bolaño's other novels ~~ both long and short.

The Savage Detectives is a stunning novel; books like this are why I read. Unlike other novels it deals with a highly unlikely subject, poetry, and its heroes are all poets. But like all great novels it really is about life and what it means to live.

Back to the task at hand ~~ how do I review The Savage Detectives?


The Savage Detectives is made up of three sections. The first 100 or so pages are a coming-of-age novel in the form of a series of diary entries by the 17-year-old student and aspiring poet Juan García Madero, spanning the period from early November until the end of December 1975. He is introduced to a group of poets, led by two young poets, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, who call themselves visceral realists, a term coined by Cesárea Tinajero, a woman poet of some decades earlier, whose work appears to have been lost and which Lima and Belano search for all over Mexico City. The term is never really defined; all we know is Belano and Lima reject all other poets.

Bolaño revisits familiar themes here, but attacks them from a fresh perspective ~~ what drives people to create, and what happens to those people when the things they create are pushed, like themselves, to the margins of society. Garcia Madero’s drive to write forces him to confront his everyday reality as he attempts to shed his innocence. He loses friends, loses his virginity ~~ both literally and figuratively ~~ quits school, moves in with a waitress, falls in love, has his heart broken, has his cherry popped again ~~ he wasn’t certain the first time counted. He writes when he eats, he writes when he should be doing something else, he writes about writing. He assumes that he and his comrades are on the verge of fame; he sees himself as being bold and profound. Why then, Bolaño asks, is Garcia Madero satisfied with reading his poems to others when he dreams of placing his work in well-regarded anthologies? What happens when we realize that immortality is ultimately an illusion?

For the most part the aspiring poets spend their time having sex ~~ lots of sex ~~ both gay and straight, measuring their cocks ~~ machismoism is alive and well in this world, and size does matter, discussing poetry, smoking pot and going from one odd job to another ~~ pimping, prostituting, pushing. Garcia Madero falls in love with Maria Font, who is some kind of a muse to the visceral realists, and whose father, the Spanish architect Quim Font. Font offers his house as shelter to Lupe, a prostitute and friend of Maria, who is being harassed by her pimp. The pimp soon finds out where she’s hiding and together with his accomplices quietly waits outside the Font’s house for Lupe to come out.

At this point the diary entries suddenly end. The great chase begins.


The second section ~~ over 2/3s of the novel ~~ consists entirely of testimonies covering a period of 20 years by people who used to know Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano. We don’t get to know how these testimonies were collected or who is collecting them and why. We learn a lot about Lima and Belano, but we don’t get to know them. We never read a single line of poetry that either has written. The reader is told they weren’t poets, as much as they were drug dealers who dabbled in poetry. The novel jumps back and forth through time ~~ from one narrator to another. Bolaño brilliantly gives each narrator a voice of their own.

The novel’s third section resumes with the great chase as Lima, Belano, Madero and Lupe flee Mexico City in search of traces of Cesárea Tinajero.

Every section contains at least one plot point that is left unexplained but this is essential for the unfolding plot. When Lima, Belano, Madero and Lupe flee Mexico City they are pursued all the way into the Sonora desert by Lupe’s pimp and an accomplice. Why would a pimp go through all this trouble to get back one of his prostitutes? Who knows? Bolaño never tells us why. Why are Lima and Belano are in pursuit of a poet who sought to unify life and art in her poetry and who in turn gives up poetry for life? Bolaño is silent on this as well. Perhaps, this is their visceral reality?


So … what makes The Savage Detectives a revelatory work to me? I think it is the visceral realists awareness, often times too late, that brief and startling connections between people are always possible and love may be found anywhere. Old friends meet unexpectedly on strange bridges in Paris, condemned men revisit their lives in the moment between a gunshot and death, and poor, unpublished poets will continue to read, and despite derision and hardship, will continue to express their own vision of hope and possibility. They persevere.

Profile Image for Valeriu Gherghel.
Author 6 books1,447 followers
April 21, 2023
Detectivii sălbatici reconstituie două decenii (1975 - 1996) din biografia aventuroasă a poeților Arturo Belano și Ulises Lima. Cei doi protagoniști nu vorbesc la propriu niciodată. Dar despre ei se vorbește neîncetat. Viețile lor sînt relatate de 53 de naratori-martori. Nu i-am numărat eu. Cifra trebuie luată cum grano salis. Wikipedia a numărat doar 52.

Printre multe altele și mai grozave, am un mare defect: admir mai presus de orice scriitorii ironici. Neîndoios, Bolaño a fost unul dintre ironici, foarte înzestrat, cu un umor feroce. Stilul său simplu, direct, lipsit de metafore (sau aproape), colocvial, mi-a adus aminte imediat de prozatorii nord-americani, de aceia care au scris texte scurte, dar și de Raymond Chandler, să zicem.

Nu vă lăsați duși în ispită de titlu. În Detectivii sălbatici se trage un singur glonț și acela dintr-o întîmplare, dar mor trei oameni dintr-un foc, un proxenet care tocmai a scos cuțitul, ajutorul lui, o „gorilă” inexpresivă, și Muma real-visceraliștilor, legendara Cesárea Tinajero, femeia care a scris un singur poem în toată viața ei și acela vizual (din linii frînte și puncte). Creația ei se numește Sión, cu accent ascuțit pe o, și constituie fundamentul curentului poetic real-visceralist.

Roberto Bolaño a scris odată aceste rînduri hiperlucide:
„Înţeleg că ar exista oameni care cred în nemurirea sufletului, pot înţelege şi că sînt unii care cred în rai, în iad şi chiar în acea staţie intermediară şi îngrozitoare care e purgatoriul; însă cînd aud un scriitor vorbind despre imortalitatea anumitor opere literare, îmi vine să-l pocnesc. Nu să-l bat, doar să-i trag una în figură, după care să-l iau în braţe şi să-l liniştesc”.

Un mare prozator...
Profile Image for Jenn(ifer).
159 reviews973 followers
July 31, 2012

I want to sum up my thoughts about this book using a quote from its pages…

“…What a shame that time passes, don’t you think? What a shame that we die, and get old, and everything good goes galloping away from us.”

But that seems insufficient. How about a song?


That doesn’t quite do it either. How about a poem?

I set off, I took up the march and never knew
where it might take me. I went full of fear,
my stomach dropped, my head was buzzing:
I think it was the icy wind of the dead.
I don't know. I set off, I thought it was a shame
to leave so soon, but at the same time
I heard that mysterious and convincing call.
You either listen or you don't, and I listened
and almost burst out crying: a terrible sound,
born on the air and in the sea.
A sword and shield. And then,
despite the fear, I set off, I put my cheek
against death's cheek.
And it was impossible to close my eyes and miss seeing
that strange spectacle, slow and strange,
though fixed in such a swift reality:
thousands of guys like me, baby-faced
or bearded, but Latin American, all of us,
brushing cheeks with death.
~ Roberto Bolaño

Damn it. I have no way of telling you about this book. My words fail me. I went full of fear, my stomach dropped, my head was buzzing. This book fills me with regret. I heard that mysterious and convincing call. You either listen or you don’t. There are so many things I wish I had done and did not do. This book makes me want to write poetry. This book makes me want to wander around the globe. It makes me want to make friends, make enemies, make love. This book makes me want to rethink my life. This book!

Profile Image for Ana Olga.
216 reviews206 followers
August 14, 2020
Hace algunos 11 años la leí, es una verdadera master piece 👌🏼👌🏼.
B U E N Í S I M O .
Es realmente lamentable la muerte tan temprana de este escritor, grandísimo talento.
Un estilo muy único.
Imposible dejarte indiferente.
Profile Image for Jason.
137 reviews2,348 followers
January 23, 2015
I am so late to this party!

Sorry, I meant to share my review of The Savage Detectives sooner but things got sort of crazy. I was enjoying a Cuba Libre at El Loto de Quintana on Avenida Guerrero near the Glorieta de Insurgentes with Ian Graye’s visceral reviewers, the self-proclaimed readers of the Goodreads avant-garde. We were discussing the poetry of Alberto Bonifaz Nuño and López Velarde and even the butch queer Manuel José de la Cruz from San Luis Potosí when I noticed the waitress Jacinta Rúbin eyeing me from behind the bar. It was clear what she wanted. Her English may not have been the best, but the meaning of her language required no translation. I quickly ordered a shot of tequila, downed it, and followed Señorita Rúbin to the back storage closet. The wet, sloppy blow job she gave me was amazing and I wanted to tell her I loved her but instead I cleaned myself up and left the bar through the back alleyway, wandering over toward the Encrucijada Veracruzana on Calle Bucareli in Colonia Lindavista. It was there that I indulged in a few more Cuba Libres, which undoubtedly caused me to receive looks of disgust from some of the other patrons, but it nonetheless strengthened my resolve to return to El Loto de Quintana. When I entered the bar, I noticed that the visceral reviewers had left, but Señorita Rúbin was still there, and when she finished her shift she asked me to accompany her back to the first-story flat she rented in the seedy part of Coyoacán reserved mostly for the city’s prostitutes and drug dealers, and I went. She asked me if I was a virgin and I told her no, which was a lie and I’m not sure why I said it except that it felt like the right answer at the time. We fucked six times between midnight and 4 a.m. which must be some kind of record. In the morning I returned to Calle Bucareli where the visceral reviewers were eating their breakfast, already having discussed their reviews of The Savage Detectives, but even though I am late to this party (DAMN YOU, JACINTA RÚBIN!), my entry into their collected works has been graciously accepted. It is therefore time to present my review.

But first, let us order an El Diablo and talk a bit about some poetry...

Jason Morais, West Grand Avenue, Old Orchard Beach, Maine, August 2012. I remember it like it was yesterday. Mary and Kris came to see me at my small studio apartment in Chapultepec where I often barricaded myself for days writing love letters and poetry to the waitress Jacinta Rúbin, which I never planned to send. They came to ask about the three Steves. The Steves had left México the previous year and hadn’t been seen since. We found this diary, Mary said, it belonged to one of the Steves, the one they called Hermano Penkí. I told them to sit down, offered them a drink, some Los Suicidas mezcal, a favorite of mine from a distillery that had gone out of business long before the Steves disappeared, but of which I had the sagacity to stock up on and it was only occasions like this along with my own excessive drinking when writing letters to Jacinta Rúbin that threatened to extinguish my supply. The diary was unremarkable, a simple square book with worn edges. I had never seen it before but knew what it would contain. I knew it would heighten the curiosity of its reader to the whereabouts of the three Steves, and even while it may not reveal the truth, it would surely point to me as the one most likely to know it. I read the diary slowly, trying to buy time and hoping to imbue myself with the fortitude to fend off questions from the young señoritas meant to ascertain what information I was not yet ready to give, information that would inevitably lead the conversation over the disappearance of the three Steves back to Jacinta Rúbin.

This review is as much about Roberto Bolaño’s novel as the novel itself is about visceral realism. In tribute to Jenn(ifer) and her style of song inclusion, here is the appropriate accompaniment to this Goodreads “review”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=soHq5-...
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
874 reviews2,268 followers
August 6, 2012
What’s a Giggle Amongst Family and Friends?

I bought this book 15 months ago. I finished it yesterday. It started off as a crisp, thin-leafed semi-brick whose 648 pages intimidated me. I only got the courage to read it when a discussion group gave me the impetus I needed. Now, it sits less crisp, but read, on my desk, wondering who will read it next. Like me, it’s 15 months older, but we are both easing into middle age and are still making new friends. We two are friends now, as if we’ve known each other since adolescence. When I pick it up and flick through the pages, I notice my pencilled notes, and a page that I accidentally folded over when I closed it clumsily before putting it down and going to sleep one night. There’s a mysterious stain at the edge of the last 20 pages. Initially, I’d hoped it was water and I tried unsuccessfully to dry it, but I think it came too close to the furniture oil on a paper towel that I had used, ironically, to remove a water bottle stain on my desk during the week. We can’t expect to age without blemish. During the week, one of our daughters co-starred in a musical play. The other wrote an elegant letter of resignation from her part-time job, so that she could spend the next four months concentrating on her final year exams at secondary school. (Her employer thanked her for her letter and said she could have her job back any time she wanted it.) Both girls’ school netball teams were beaten by a stronger school this weekend. FM Sushi’s team lost narrowly by three. ("Though you think you did the job wrong/ You did it great.”) I scored the games and tried not to talk so much that my scoring suffered. I wondered what I would write in my review. I thought up things to say in the Cabbage Detectives Interviews. I giggled a lot. I’m going to miss that giggling.

Here is the Discussion Group:


Make sure you visit our "homage", "The Cabbage Detectives (Interviews)":


Oral History

Eighty percent of “TSD” by volume is written in an interview format that reminded me of the first time I ever encountered an oral history (Edie: American Girl, an early biography of Edie Sedgwick).

I was captivated by this style and the book, and still am.

In effect, it was a collective biography of Andy Warhol’s Factory scene, told by insiders, though obviously the focus was Edie.

It was probably assembled from hundreds of interviews, lasting thousands of hours and resulting in millions of words.

Then it was distilled into one book of lasting crystalline beauty.

Studied Movements

I feel the same way about “TSD”.

You would normally expect a biography to be a study of one life lived. This is a study of multiple lives lived to the fullest.

It’s ostensibly about Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, two alter egos of the author, Roberto Bolano.

However, in contrast to “Edie”, it gives the impression of being more about a fictitious scene (a radical poetry movement called “The Visceral Realists”) than these two individuals who were pivotal in it.

Still, we learn a lot about these two, while listening to the tales and concerns of the interviewees.

It’s interesting that Belano and Lima are not interviewees, although there is no overt suggestion that they, like Edie, were dead at the time.

Those Damned Accretions

It’s customary for the author of an oral history to superimpose a narrative or some kind of chronological or thematic timeline over the top of the interviews.

If there is a thematic structure to the narrative of “TSD”, I am not conscious of it after just one reading.

I don’t really need one to enjoy it. For me, the book is like meeting someone and learning about them spontaneously “over time”, but not necessarily chronologically.

Over time, your knowledge of your friend, together with the detail of your friendship, grows by accretion, as if a whole is growing piece by piece in the hands of some cosmic potter (man!).

So it didn’t really matter to me that the Interviews didn’t seem to be going anywhere obvious, nor did it matter how long the Interviews ended up being in total.

I was just delighted to meet this many interesting people, as if it was one long party starting in the afternoon, going full pelt through the night and winding up in the early hours of the morning as the sun of a new day emerged above the horizon.

The Anthology of Life

Each interview is a vignette, a portrait. Collectively, they make up pictures at an exhibition.

We walk through the gallery, this pantheon housing the gods of Visceral Realism, observing each work, building an impression of the exhibition as a whole.

Like art works or an anthology of verse, it doesn’t matter what order we experience them in. The important thing is the lasting impression. Does it really matter that we encountered A before B, or B before A?

Measure for Measure

The most important impression is the vitality of the lives we are witnessing, not the sequence; the chaos, not the order.

The experience of reading the book is organic, not mechanical.

Bolano seems to be at odds with measurement. He explores some of these issues in a mock sexual context.

As the pimp Alberto shows us, it’s not the length of a penis that matters, it’s how you use it.

Similarly, it’s arguable that the intensity of an orgasm is more important than its duration, measured, like Dolores, in terms of “one Mississippi, two Mississippi”.

Lastly, the experience of being a poet and writing poetry is about much more than mastering the meter of the verse.

Perhaps, there is no better measure of pleasure than the pleasure itself.

These Things Happen

Similarly, time cannot be measured except in terms of the passage of something else (e.g., distance).

In a way, we’re not here for a long time, just a good time.

Yet, vitality reverberates in motion or movement.

Like Marcel Duchamp’s painting “Nude Descending a Staircase” (which is mentioned in the novel), Bolano depicts a sense of movement in the one frame, the novel as a whole.


Both the past and the future are superimposed on and appear in the present.

The passage of time can be observed in the present.

I keep the past alive by remembering it in the present.

I keep the future alive by anticipating it.

If I am alive, I move.

When the movement ceases, so does life.

You are the Stars that Guide Me and Light My Way

Despite my feelings about the absence of narrative structure, I still think there is a meta-structure at work in the novel.

Bolano as author is implicitly present in the narrative as Belano and Lima.

However, the tale is ostensibly told by the interviewees.

The self is defined in terms of the others; just as importantly, the self is defined by the others.

In contrast to Descartes’ maxim, “I think, therefore I am”, there is a social construction of self at work.

“You think of me, therefore I am.”

“I am your experience of me.”

“You are the stars in my cosmos. You are always there, watching me, comforting me. I don’t need a god to give me meaning. I have you.”

Bolano is working against the post-modern tendency toward solipsism and narcissism.

“You keep me alive by thinking and writing about me.”

Yet, perhaps the converse is also true: “I keep you alive by thinking and writing about you.”

Revolution and Freedom

Paradoxically, Bolano wrote the whole of the literary vehicle that makes this possible.

What are we to make of this?

Ultimately, literature is a social act, a form of social action.

What characterized the Visceral Poets was not just the fact that they wrote poetry, but that they were socially and politically engaged.

Their “generation all overdosed on Marx and Rimbaud”.

They rebelled against conformity, conservatism and the rigidity of tradition, both literary and political.

They wrote poetry that preserved youth, just as it preserved the present from the ravages of history.

They sought out the marvelous, when all around them was drab.

They resisted death as they resisted the passage of time.

Fiercely Modern

They rejected their own fathers and role models, becoming orphans on the way, not always discovering new fathers, except perhaps in fellow rebels such as Marx, Rimbaud, Trotsky, Gramsci, Lukacs, Althusser.

They found themselves trapped in diffuse labyrinths, so they travelled the world, navigating a sea of possibilities, exploring their spirit of adventure, seeking and finding youth, sex, love, friendship, experience, illumination and eventually death.

Then they realised that they were not alone, that Visceral Realism was not a destination, but just a mask that they wore on their journey toward modernity, that there had been others who sought modernity before them, the writer Borges, and the 20’s poet and mother of the Visceral Realists, Cesarea Tinajero, whose collected works they seek out in the passages that bookend the novel.

A Timeless Threnody

Bolano’s characters, like his own works, maintain a vigil over the body of life, literature and culture that lies dormant in the forgotten province of poets, essayists and professors.

They are a threnody that mourns our predecessors and their achievements, but somehow keeps them alive.

They create a dirge in what would otherwise be a void, a music that challenges silence, a being that defies nothingness.

Just as his characters look to the past, they inspire the future.

They become parents, mothers and fathers who inspire children and followers like the 17 year old Juan Garcia Madero.

They keep value alive and perpetuate it through the ages.

This is what Bolano did for us.

All he asks in return, now that he is dead, is that we do the same for those who follow us.


"The only real voyage consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes; in seeing the universe through the eyes of another, one hundred others--in seeing the hundred universes that each of them sees."

Marcel Proust

Autor! Autor!

How did you do it?
You made me giggle and cry.
Holy Bolaño.


Robyn Hitchcock and the Venus 3 – “Belltown Ramble”


"It's an independent life
And you wanna see your eyes
Reflected in the world.

"You can walk a square
You can walk an oblong
Even just walk straight.

"You'll still be standing there
Though you think you did the job wrong
You did it great."

Profile Image for Fernando.
684 reviews1,127 followers
May 22, 2019
"La verdad es que a mí no me interesaba hablar de Encarnación Guzmán sino de Cesárea. ¿Qué va a ser de tu revista?, le dije. ¿Qué va a ser del realismo visceral? Ella se rio cuando pregunté aquello. Recuerdo su risa, muchachos, les dije, caía la noche sobre el DF y Cesárea se reía como un fantasma, como la mujer invisible en que estaba a punto de convertirse."

Qué cosa sorprendente es la literatura. Justo cuando uno piensa que lo ha leído todo, se cruza con Roberto Bolaño y esa misma literatura, supuestamente acabada, adquiere otra relevancia, otro sentido y otra significación.
Fueron tantos los lectores que me recomendaban leerlo que no me quedó otra que comprar una de sus novelas emblemáticas, "Los detectives salvajes" y comenzar a leerla. Aunque tuve momentos de zozobra y de aparente cansancio, sobre todo al llegar a la mitad de la lectura no claudiqué y avancé hasta el final.
Este es un libro enorme, extensísimo, que abarca una serie interminable de situaciones y escenas en las que los personajes principales se van multiplicando sin cesar, engrosando la complejidad de la historia, algo que me hizo recordar al famoso "Rayuela" de Julio Cortázar.
La novela está dividida en tres partes muy claras. Primeramente, nos sumergimos en la historia que nos cuenta las aventuras de Juan García Madero, que leemos desde su diario y que considero está narrada muy al estilo "Bildungsroman" o novela de formación y aprendizaje, aunque en el caso de García Madero, este no es un niño sino un joven en la etapa final de su adolescencia y para ser sinceros, en distintos pasajes la lectura me remitió en muchos de ellos a "Retrato de la vida del artista adolescente", más allá de no ser la única que se encuadra en este estilo, de hecho hay muchas en la literatura.
Si nosotros tomáramos la primera parte de este libro, "Mexicanos perdidos en México (1975)" y la tercera, "Los desiertos de sonora (1976)" lo que obtendríamos sería una novelita interesante, muy bien escrita, con un sinnúmero de situaciones generadas de manera espontánea por los personajes principales, y la terminaríamos con agrado y una buena sonrisa en los labios.
O también podríamos tomar la segunda parte cuyo título es el del libro "Los detectives salvajes" agregando 1976-1996, que es la más extensa (413 páginas en mi edición) y en donde nos encontramos con una enorme cantidad de anécdotas, testimonios, recuerdos, y hasta monólogos interiores del tipo "stream of consciousness" joyceano que se extienden por 20 años y continúan hacia adelante e incluso hacia atrás en el tiempo lo comenzado en la primera parte.
Estos selvantan a la manera de un documental escrito lo que sucedió con dos de los personajes principales, los poetas real visceralistas Ulises Lima y Arturo Belano en su búsqueda por encontrar a Cesárea Tinajero de la que comentaré más adelante.
Es indudable que este bloque que conforme el grueso del libro adquiere un tratamiento que aunque en algunos casos puede equivaler a aquellos "capítulos prescindibles" de "Rayuela", en su mayoría aportan a la complejidad de la historia disparando múltiples caminos en la búsqueda que los detectives salvajes, encaran en la tercera parte del libro. Las conexiones con otras novelas son sorprendentes, de hecho, el final primera parte en donde García Madero narra los festejos de años nuevo en la casa Joaquín "Quim" Font me recordaron instantáneamente a la tertulia a la que asiste Adán Buenosayres en la novela homónima de Marechal en la casa de los Admunsen.
Analogías y similitudes como estas las hay muchas más, pero me detendré aquí.
Es indudable que cuando Roberto Bolaño se sentó a escribir esta novela, lo hizo sin parar, acumulando seguramente una cantidad exorbitante de papel y anotaciones, pero que fueron indispensables para darle forma a todo el conjunto y apuntalan la coexistencia narrativa de las tres partes.
Otro punto muy importante en todo el proceso creativo es la inclusión de mucho material autobiográfico que el autor incluyó, dado que es innegable que en gran parte, juega a dos puntas entre García Madero y Arturo Belano, sobre todo en éste último, un chileno en México, al igual que él, ya que Bolaño vivió en ese país en dos oportunidades, 1968 y 1974. Su juventud, sus días de preparatoria y sus experiencias juveniles son aumentadas considerablemente en la ficción de esta novela y de esa manera, Bolaño va construyendo y deconstruyendo esa época.
Si hasta parece que Arturo Belano es su alter-ego, con ese pelo largo y gafas muy feas, como lo definen en un pasaje de por ahí.
Este muchacho, que cuenta cómo conoce a estos dos jóvenes poetas mexicanos, creadores del Realismo visceral (no intentaré explicar este movimiento poético literario) que están en pie de guerra con otra vertiente el "Estridentismo" y de su obsesión por seguir los pasos de otra fundadora del movimiento, la poeta Cesárea Tinajero.
De este modo, se embarcarán en toda una serie de enredos y aventuras inevitables por México, varios países de Europa e incluso Nicaragua, y para ello contaremos con un gran número de personajes secundarios que abarca prostitutas, poetas, novias, escritores, editores, estudiantes, pintores, etc.
Algunos que desfilan en la novela que son María y Angélica Font, Joaquín Font, padre de estas y ya nombrado anteriormente, Amadeo Salvatierra, Rafael Barrios, Lisandro Morales, Felipe Müller, Hipólito Garcés, Perla Avilés, Laura Jáuregui, Jacinto Requena, Bárbara Patterson, Piel Divina (vaya nombre) y muchos, muchos más.
Como se podrá apreciar, el libro adquiere un tamaño descomunal que le proporciona la segunda parte con los testimonios de las vidas de los personajes principales en esos días. Los real visceralistas han batallado para innovar en la poesía mexicana y ven en Cesárea Tinajero a su mesías y de esta manera encaran su búsqueda.
La parte central de la novela se transforma en un puzzle gigantesco. Bolaño introduce en esta novela absolutamente todo lo que la literatura le dio para darle vida propia a su libro, que por momentos es hilarante y en otros conmovedor, cómico, trágico, tragicómico, escatológico, cargado de sexualidad, con personajes disímiles que pueden ser marginales, revolucionarios, violentos, sensibles, enfermos, depresivos, intelectuales, arrogantes e inspiradores.
Mención especial para el contrapunto creado por los real visceralistas en contra del gran escritor mexicano Octavio Paz, a quien varios de ellos odian (de hecho, se narra un posible secuestro del escritor), pero que en realidad es un homenaje de Bolaño a quien seguramente ha sido uno de sus ídolos literarios como también gran influencia inspiradora.
Los conocimientos de Bolaño en cuestiones de poesía son totales. Disfrazado en el personaje de García Madero hace un despliegue contundente acerca de su sabiduría total en términos literarios, mientras que en otros pasajes la narrativa empleada o los diálogos son sencillamente brillante.
Si hasta se da el lujo de hacerle un guiño a la páginas 218, 219 y 234 del Ulises y 175 a 179 del Finnegans Wake de James Joyce cuando escribe una lista interminable de escritores, poetas y máximos exponentes de la literatura mundial
Su temprana muerte a los 50 años privó a la literatura de seguir disfrutando todo aquello que podría haber seguido escribiendo, pero afortunadamente dicen que dejó una vasta obra que incluye cuentos, ensayos y por supuesto, abundante poesía.
Me faltan muchísimo por descubrir de Bolaño, pero tengo todas las intenciones de seguir.
Los que saben, siguen considerando a Roberto Bolaño como unos de los más emblemáticos escritores hispanoamericano del siglo XX y lo ubican al lado de otros insignes como Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar y eso no se da por que sí.
Según ellos, Roberto Bolaño es LA literatura y yo, luego de leer esta novela, me digo ¿cómo contradecirlos?
Profile Image for Ben Sharafski.
Author 1 book131 followers
May 20, 2023
Please allow me to give myself a metaphorical pat on the back - after reading this book in translation a few years ago, I've now read it in Spanish, all 600-odd pages! It's a major achievement for me, being a newcomer to the world of Hispanic culture. As to the book:

Starting in Mexico City of the seventies and continuing across decades and continents, this novel follows the adventures and misadventures of Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima - poets, wannabe avant-gardists, drug dealers, alcoholics, eternal drifters - through a multitude of narrative voices, surprising and captivating in their originality, energy and passion.

An entertaining, absorbing tour de force brimming with life, this is an ode to an era when literature was everything and life was like a bumpy rollercoaster ride, fueled by cheap tequila and fat joints. Quirky, funny, over-the-top at times - this is a book to be savoured.
Profile Image for Rod.
134 reviews3 followers
April 22, 2008
I have a good feeling about this, based on the first few pages. Feels like Murakami meets Kerouac. So, grown up Roddy reading meets teenage Roddy reading. The locale shifts from Japan and the USA to South and Central America. The quest narrative continues with a new backdrop. Everybody wins.


300 pages later, and nothing has happened yet, so I'm having second thoughts about my first impression. It's not at all clear what the big deal is supposed to be about this book. I mean, seriously, nothing has happened. And it isn't even as if nothing has happened particularly artfully or lyrically. It's a very prosaic kind of nothing. I'm going to keep reading, because I hate to give up, but this is not good. I still have 300 pages to go, and there just seems to be a lot more nothing coming at me. and how exactly is any of this "postmodern" or "experimental," as some of the reviewers have suggested? This seems to be one of the very least experimental books you could imagine, unless typing is considered somehow innovative (cf. Jonathan Safran Foer, another really good typist, but not so much of a good novelist). In many respects this novel is like a Stephen Malkmus album. All the hipsters claim to like it, so you check it out, only to find that it's a really really long series of in-jokes that isn't funny or interesting in the least. In some cultures this is called wanking.


Finally, the long nightmare is over. I can fairly safely say that this is one of the very worst books I've ever read, which is all the more disappointing considering how excited I was about reading it in the first place. Nothing continued to happen for another 300 pages, until we ended up literally staring at an empty box. The next time I want to read about nothing I'll get out the Beckett. Nothing happens a lot more elegantly and succinctly there. I haven't been this mad about a reading experience since Bonfire of the Vanities.

Can I give a book no stars?
Profile Image for Fabian.
957 reviews1,623 followers
August 1, 2019
Because it seems almost impossible to organize ideas for this review, in ode to the author I will present it as so:

March 1- : See "Savage Detectives" & "2666" (in Spanish) at Walmart (Yarbrough, El Paso, TX). Yes- it is easy to see the difference between the English books (Steele, Vampbooks by Meyer and Meyer-wannabes [hey, writers gotta eat too, you know:], magazines...) and the Spanish books (Gabriel G. Marquez, the Biblia). Because Liana told me to do so, I pick "Detectives salvajes."

March 1- : At about page 150 (out of 609), I realize that before even though everything read like a very fresh, super-sublime Bret Easton Ellis creature of teenage doomdom, the novel soon cracks open and the range of possibilities seems infinite. The writer has you where he wants you.

March 26: Reading accounts of more than 40 characters should bring on a headache but it doesn't. I could get one, though, at any minute. Too many names, addresses, congruent story lines (or even worse: non-connectivity of vignettes) COULD make me want to quit, but this novel is read like all the others: you must let go.

March 30: There have been plenty of gems & plenty of ?s.

April 4: Almost done and it seems the conclusion will be--well, not what expected.

May 1: Bought "2666"

So, this one smells like a classic. It (almost) reaches the heights no one else even, well, imagined. The author makes his own expectations and smiles as he shatters them for his open-mouthed readers all along the way. There is an entire world constructed by Mr. Bolano and though not all characters inspire sympathy, nor are all that realistic, nor may have any purpose in the narrative whatsoever, many are like my (and probably your) friends. Here is the theme: that art is alive, that those that suffer for it, those that live for it, can only they themselves construct meaning out of life. There is an odyssey (do NOT tell me Ulises Lima ain't a quixotean Ulysses, or Homer's Odysseus) which is bravely taken by those that realize this beauty, this radical movement of the Americas to make poetry and establish a much needed Renaissance; they travel everywhere like nomads and never settle. They read, exchange ideas, & produce.

Certainly, what Bolano is trying to tell us here is that there is some literature out there that yearns to be discovered.
Profile Image for Geoff.
444 reviews1,232 followers
May 22, 2014

To do anything well we must do it until death, and we won't have gotten closer to perfection for all of that; and it is sad that most of us don't do anything more than what was asked of us by something else a long time ago; and so our energies are dispersed and lost and we are less for our efforts. Not to serve another and not to serve the Self but to serve the inner Void where all infinities collide and collapse. If we followed what calls to us most desperately we'd all be wanderers, or we'd never leave the arms of the people we love, or we'd carry those people with us as we go. The world intervenes on our plans and silly dreams and makes disasters of all of our lives; the most stable of us are made stable by the will of another, and our stability is the residue of compromise. Mortality is only reckoned with by a few, who seem to us criminals, geniuses, vagabonds, soldiers in the cause of some ghostly ideal, spoken on the tail end of a wind radiating from oblivion. Strain to hear it, and we wander off and vanish. We hope to live honestly, but we can't even define our desires in this field of noise through which we wade. So maybe History, or Tragedy, which are one and the same, intervene as the first cause, initiating what is unable to be initiated when we are just sitting here alone with ourselves motioning silently through thick, gelatinous waves of existence. I see the works of Bolaño as the beautiful rubble of a man who fought to serve the inner Void and who stared down the wind as to fix it to his eyes, hold it, a task at which of course he failed; all of us who try to hold the truth fail; prismatic shards are our recompense. We gather the shards and ingest them and they slice our innards to pieces. But this is growth. When we disappear, something else becomes real. There is comfort in that.

Profile Image for Jonathan Ashleigh.
Author 1 book118 followers
February 12, 2016
I read this book because a friend of a friend recommended it to me. It reminded him of The Sorrows of Young Mike and because of the style and the way some of the sex scenes were described I understand where he was coming from. But, in the end this book did very little for me. I couldn't care about their literary movement (whatever that means) or any of the characters in general. The first section was readable but the second was not as it was more of the same page after page. I started the third because I thought the book might get better after returning to the first section's format; it didn't. This book might have been better if it were only 150 pages.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,730 followers
December 24, 2015
“Nothing happened today. And if anything did, I’d rather not talk about it, because I didn’t understand it.”
― Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives


“In some lost fold of the past, we wanted to be lions and we're no more than castrated cats”
― Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

This is a book that is nearly impossible to review, absolutely impossible to summarize, and simultaneously amazing and frustrating. Bolaño created a novel and a narrative that (IMHO) attempted to capture the energy, the personalities, the youth and the mortar that held together Mexican and Latin American poets during the mid-1970s. It feels like he took every poetic image, idea, stray hair and paper from every Mexican poet during the past forty years and laid them all down on black velvet to be examined. He found poetry in the "visceral realists" excesses and his semi-autobiographical confessions. Bolaño jumps from chapter-to-chapter, from scene-to-scene, from sunset-to-sunset and keeps reinventing his PoMo novel as he writes it.

I have to be fair. It wasn't my favorite novel, but it seems the most likely (of all the novels I've read these last two or three years) to suddenly become animated. If any novel is going to jump off my lap, and wander off into the wilderness -- this is the one. It seems to be written not just in ink, but in blood, tears, seed, and fire.

It someways it reminds me of the beginning of Yeat's poem 'Second Coming':

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

With Roberto Bolaño the center of this gyre is Mexico City and with each page he writes (forward and back in time) Bolaño seems to be adding potential energy to the explosion that will loose his mad, Mexican poets; these thieves and dealers, these visceral realists, around the world. As I chew on this image, I think the idea of vortexes and gyres is equally applicable to ALL poets. It captures the way creativity often explodes, demands to be exposed, and drives before its flood chariots of innocence, creativity and youth.
Profile Image for Edward.
419 reviews404 followers
March 11, 2019
What differentiates Bolaño from other much-loved authors is that he does not have a singular, distinctive style by which he can be universally recognised. I have found in my experience, and from reading the reviews of others, that having enjoyed one Bolaño novel is no guarantee that you will enjoy the next. In fact, given the range of styles and approaches he employs, perhaps a correspondingly wide range of responses is also to be expected. So in a way when we talk about a shared appreciation of Bolaño’s writing, it may be the case that we are all talking about different things.

If there is such a thing as a Rosetta Stone for Bolaño, it is this novel: The Savage Detectives seems to compress and showcase many of the diverse features of his writing. The first and last sections of the novel employ the direct, journalistic structure of The Third Reich, while the lengthy central section utilises the multi-viewpoint oral history structure of The Skating Rink, which reveals the story gradually, almost incidentally, while building a larger universe (perhaps more accurately: a multitude of universes that bump and coalesce to form a volatile broth). The novel contains in one of its chapters the entire summarised plot of Amulet, and its major themes concerning literature as a fundamental component of life recalls Last Evenings on Earth. The entire central section of the novel is a relentless variation on a theme – also one of Bolano’s hallmarks - which is reminiscent of Nazi Literature in the Americas and the much-despised fourth part of 2666. These chapters are rich, though difficult, and here one must be prepared to become the Detective of the novel, uncover the story piece by piece, while accepting that it is impossible to reveal all the connections.

All of these things make The Savage Detectives a fairly challenging read, especially if you are someone unfamiliar with Bolaño’. If you have read this novel and felt mixed reactions, this is perfectly reasonable, and I hope the preceding paragraph can help indicate which of his other novels you may enjoy more, and which to avoid. For me, I appreciated the synthesis of The Savage Detectives, which encompassed my favourite aspects of Bolaño, while transcending those I enjoy less. This is the eighth Bolaño novel I’ve read and perhaps the last I will read for some time. It felt like a culmination, an apotheosis, and (strangely, given it is actually one of his earlier novels) something of a resolution.
Profile Image for Garima.
113 reviews1,788 followers
September 15, 2012
The innocence of childhood, the muddiness of adolescence, the charm of youth

Unconditional love of a mother, passionate love of a lover, bloody revenge by an enemy.

Teachings of a teacher, lessons learnt by a student, choosing a road untraveled.

Poems by poets, novels by writers, paintings by painters.

A lost idol, reminiscences by ironic souls, A regained Idol.

Love, obsession, sex, drugs, heart-breaks, longing, road-trip, search, survival.

Arturo Belano, Roberto Bolano, Ulises Lima, Mario Santiago- The Savage Detectives

WARNING: Reading The Savage Detectives can be injurious to Readers’ health. It contains symptoms of awesomeness, which are difficult to contain in words invented by English language, thus have the evil power to make you suffer from the dreaded REVIEWER’S BLOCK disease. With proper rest, retail therapy, finding solace in other books (less awesome ones) might help you overcome your pitiful condition. Since I’m feeling a bit better now, I am attempting this review. Kindly co-operate if I come across as somewhat deranged or childlike excited.


A while back, God knows what I was looking for on net and what magical words I typed in Google search bar in my sleep that I stumbled upon this page about neglected books:


I didn’t browse through it at that time but remember myself feeling sad just from the name itself. Thinking about all those writers whose books are featured on the site made me wonder about the artists who dedicate themselves to various arts like writing, poetry, painting, music, acting, film-making, et al and how many of them actually achieve in their respective fields to be known in the world and how many simply get lost in oblivion and move on to something clichéd to earn a living, just because they tried to live their dreams and got no one to acknowledge them.

Citing an trivial example, even here on Goodreads, I have come across some brilliant reviews lying somewhere on 10th page or 67th, with 0 likes or comments rendered unheeded due to lack of some other skills may be. This was all Before reading this book and then I read IT.

With the turn of 1st page of 1st part, I braced myself for a fascinating journey that was about to begin. And as expected, this book turned out to be a literary Time machine tugging me back and forth among various temporal shifts belonging to different species of human beings starting with the 1st part, MEXICANS LOST IN MEXICO which was decorative enough with the diary entries of a young fucked (literally) up budding poet, Juan Garcia Madero. A big time messed up or simply confused, he found his way through the supposedly fun, revolutionary, oxymoronic named poetry group, Visceral Realists. A chance encounter at a poetry workshop introduced him to king-pins of the present day visceral realism, Arturo Belano (Not Bolano) and Ulises (not Ulysses) Lima, an introduction that further led to getting acquainted with an assortment of normal, abnormal, homosexuals, prostitutes, pimps, pornographers, junkies, cuckolds, sleep talkers, and other virtuous kinds of dudes and dudettes, all of them are prime examples of what one should NOT be like in their youth.

In the process, he lost his virginity in epic style, developed the ability to be unfaithful and eventually entrapped in an event where the phrase, in the wrong place at the wrong time seems apt for him. And abruptly his diary ends at a cliff hanger to make way for 2nd part, THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES, and savage they were but in an endearing manner (whateva that’s supposed to mean). This part is purportedly a profound confession by a poet (Roberto Bolano) who ironically became famous as a writer and a confession made on behalf of his friend expressed through various voices having nothing great to say about those poets (except few) as they were busy recollecting the peripheral circumstances that brought the presence of either of them in their lives and saying, “and then I met him”. A simple fact that they could recall them was proof enough of their existence.

And here comes the most feared question.

Why do you like The Savage Detectives? Explain.

When I decided to read this book, I had some pre-conceived notions about it, that it’s going to be a tough read, difficult to comprehend and painfully long to get finished and by applying Speed, distance and time formulae (not really!) I allotted it a month’s time to complete. But Lo and Behold, I found myself reading it at every possible opportunity, while waiting for a friend, between job breaks, amidst refreshing the Goodreads Homepage and of course by stealing few hours of sleep. It was like I was meant to read this book, as if it was written for Me especially and when you feel like that you know you are in for a life-long friendship.

Every testimonial/ interview/ reminiscence in the book conveys a subtle facet of our past, present and future. You can’t help to feel a deep connection with one thing or the other in more than one way. The impalpable aspects of a situation or the whole story, leaves a deep mark on your being, making you ask yourself questions, analyzing the answers you somehow manage to give and present to you your life report card with comments at the bottom with heading : Possible areas of improvement or sorry, better luck next time, If there will be any.

When I mentioned, the prime examples of what one should not be like in their youth, I was just being sardonic. So what is youth exactly?

Some Definitions :

youth (yooth)

- the quality or condition of being young, immature, or inexperienced

- the period between childhood and maturity, esp adolescence and early adulthood

- the freshness, vigour, or vitality characteristic of young people

But one definition that is most suitable is that Youth is state of temporary permanency. It defines a huge part of our existence and it defined this book for its readers. Among all the revolutionary talk about the world of literature and Poetry, it slowly and steadily captures the essence of that endless ocean whereupon the ship of our life is sailing, tackling the rough waves or going smoothly over calm sea.

In the words of Mojo risin, “All the poetry has wolves in it”

And in the words of Roberto Bolano,” Literature is no innocent.”

This book is no innocent neither the writing of Bolano. His relentless prose won’t pamper you in any way. The writing is perfectly imperfect and complicated in the most sublime fashion. The backdrop though is the poetry world or arts in general; in actual it’s through various people associated directly or indirectly with that art, those who reeve the rope of life through pearls of emotions and feelings at different stages of life governed by love, madness, narcissism, loneliness or senility, that the main essence of this book delineates for me because anything apart from obvious joy or happy endings is where spirit of living rests for many.

The main characters are like shadows in most of the narratives defined for me through this quote:

“But I didn’t see his face, just his shadow as it crossed the bar. A shadow empty of metaphor, evoking nothing, a shadow that was only a shadow with no wish to be something else.”

I must admit that there are parts that bored me to some extent but BUT:

” Do you know what the worst thing about literature is?....That you end up being friends with writers. And friendship, treasure though it may be, destroys your critical sense.”

Ain’t Bolano one helluva smart fella!

This book is your story, my story and everyone’s story and isn’t it nice when you get to READ one.

What’s inside this book?


Ans. LIFE as we knew it!
Profile Image for Luís.
1,946 reviews610 followers
May 25, 2022
It narrates the adventures of a group of self-described young idealists and rupturists, "The Viscerrealists", who intend to change Latin American poetry forever. The book had divided into three parts. First, they exposed the Magna novel in its first and third divisions through the diary of Juan García Madero, a young law student with specific literary tastes. Then, in a particular poetry workshop, he meets the leaders of this group, Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano. They not only promote avant-garde poetry but, through the sale of marijuana and other gadgets, aim to finance literature magazines and find the whereabouts of an old poet called Cesarea Tinajero. Finally, due to an absurd encounter with some pimps, the group leaders, Madero and a prostitute, flee to the desert of Sonora, north of Mexico, where they take advantage of investigating the mysterious destiny of the Poet in question.
In the second part, the book's most novel is the crossing of voices. That is, dozens of characters tell their experiences and encounter with Ulises Lima and Arturo Belano (always poets, delirious and brave) from different global points and in a lapse of 20 years (1976-1996). Here, Juan García Madero, the author of the newspaper, loses prominence in favour of viscerrealist leaders.
Then, in the third part, we return to the newspaper of Madero and the persecution by Sonora in 1976. Finally, they find Tinajero's whereabouts, and a lady is surprised by its simplicity, although it has created an image of eccentricity for her. However, the viscerrealists had found by pimps, and the bloody battle ends with the old Poet's life and the criminals.
The narration is spontaneous and fast, with a unique oral character, as told in a bar.
Profile Image for Argos.
1,032 reviews314 followers
January 22, 2020
Oldukça şaşırtıcı hatta vahşi bir roman. Vahşi Hafiyeler’de Roberto Bolano’yu, tabii Arturo Belano’yu :) tanıdım. Yazar yaşıtım olduğundan, o yılları hatırladım. Her ülkede farklı yaşansa da sonunda yok olan bir kuşağı, yitik bir nesli çok farklı bir dil ve kurguyla anlatmış, daha doğrusu resmini çizmiş Bolano. Kitabın adının “Yitik Hafiyeler” olsa daha mı iyi olurdu diye düşündüm.

Hafiyelerin başlarında Şili’li (Bolano) ve Arjantinli (Papasquiaro) entellektüel iki şair adayı var. Kitap bu iki gencin birlikte olduğu yıllar içinde yaşadıkları olaylar etrafında örülen, ancak o dönemden çok uğruna hafiyelik yaptıkları bilinmeyen(ler)i konu alıyor.

Ortak değerleri azılı bir Octavia Paz düşmanlığı ve diğer şairleri (köylü şair diyorlar) küçümseme olan bir grup genç, yeni bir şiir akımı başlatıyorlar. Bu çocuklar şiir sevdalısı, şiir delisi, barışçıl, ayakları yere değmeyen bir avuç idealist ve hayalci gençler. Genelde bütün gün boş oturan ama boş konuşmayan, sigara, içki ve marihuana içen, devamlı sevişen bir grup genç. Kendi tanımlarıyla “uçurumun kenarında, yıkımından eşiğinde” süren hayat yaşıyorlar.

Zaten arka sayfa tanıtım yazısında Bolano kendilerini çok iyi tanımlıyor “kuşağım tüm gençler gibi aptal ve cömertti, elimizdeki her şeyi veriyor, karşılığında hiçbir şey beklemiyorduk”.

Kitap etkileyici ve ilginç ayrıca akıcı. 1968’de Tlatelolco’da üniversitede ordunun yaptığı katliamın anlatıldığı bölümde içim acıdı. Sanırım o kuşaktan devlet veya devlet destekli paramiliter güçler tarafından katledilen genç sayısının en yüksek olduğu iki ülkenin biri Meksika diğeri ise ülkemizin olmasından.

Latin Edebiyatı’nda öne çıkan edebiyatçıları tanıma şansını buldum ve sayılarının çokluğuna şaşırdım, daha doğrusu Latin Edebiyatının bu kadar zengin olduğunu bilmiyormuşum. Hatta bir ara Bolano’da bir çeşit Montana Hastalığı var diye de düşündüm :)

Kitapta beni rahatsız eden bir husus sevişme veya cinsel birleşmelerin, erotizmin sınırlarını zorlayan bir şekilde, aşırı detaylarla, orgazm olma sayısı gibi takıntılar ve absürd abartmalarla, birbirini tekrarlayan sahnelerin anlatılması oldu. Bolano bunları (damardan) gerçekçilik adına mı, sanatsal gerçekçilik adına mı yazdı bilemem ama Freudyen bir takıntısı olduğunu düşünmek de mümkün.

Ayrıca birinci tekil şahıs ağzından tanık anlatımlarının olduğu ikinci bölüm çok uzun ve ilgisiz olayların da anlatıldığı bir bölüm olarak zaman zaman sıkıcı geldi bana. Bu arada Latin Edebiyatı bilgisi için Alberto Manguel’in okuduklarım da dahil tüm kitaplarını yeniden okumam gerektiğine karar verdim bu kitaptan sonra.

Kitap piyasada yok, sahaflarda yüksek fiyatla (100₺ üzerinde) ve zor bulunuyor. Bolano’nun kitaplarının basım hakkını Can Yayınları almış, okumak isteyenler az sabretsinler yeni baskısı gelecek.
Profile Image for Adina .
891 reviews3,546 followers
March 16, 2015
I give up!!! I will consider this as read since the 300 pages or so that I read felt like 3 books. It took me more than 3 weeks to get here and I just can't continue. I do not have much time to read/day and I prefer to read something I enjoy. The first part was, strangely, both very gripping and incredibly boring. I wanted to read something else but ended up reading Savage Detectives but while reading it I was bored. Now, it just feels boring.

I understand the book's merits, I admired the structure ideea and some of the message but it is not for me. I do not know why but I really wanted to like this book. But nothing happens in it...Arghh
Profile Image for Emejota (Juli).
182 reviews85 followers
September 8, 2021
Tremendo libraco. Le tenía cierto miedo a Bolaño (es el primer libro que leo de él), pero nada que ver. No es difícil y es entretenido a pesar de que en algún momento se hace largo. Siento que hay niveles de lectura a las que no accedí pero lo disfruté igual.

Hay muchísimos personajes que van y vienen pero uno hace de puente entre la primera y la tercera parte (Amadeo). Ese tipo sostuvo mi atención hasta el final. Con esto no quiero decir que los testimonios de la segunda parte sean aburridos. Son historias buenísimas pero que se conectan solo tangencialmente con lo que se plantea en el inicio. Entonces me daba ansiedad. Quería saber. Avanzar.

El final vale la espera (aunque si se saltean algún testimonio no pasa nada).
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
October 10, 2012
I enjoyed 2666(5 stars) more than this. 2666 is more engaging, brutal and with far more interesting characters. 2666 is also more cohesive and the plot is more intricately built. However, The Savage Detectives has more heart being basically a story of a male friendship. Then what made this friendship between two poets Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima more touching was the fact that this was based on real-life friendship between Roberto Bolano (as Arturo Belano) and his friend Mario Santiago (as Ulises Lima).

This book is very popular among my foreigner friends here in Goodreads. So I will not write a long detailed synopsis of the plot anymore. If 2666 has 5 sub-parts, this has only 3. The first and the last are narrated by a young poet called Juan Garcia Madero while the middle part is narrated by 50+ people who have at some points in their lives crossed the paths of the Belano and Lima. Think of a long queue during a eulogy for a popular man. It's so happened that the people there deliver no-holds-barred eulogies. No-holds-barred because the people who speak in front of the coffin say not just the good things the dead man did did while he was still alive but even the bad ones, the dead man's intimate secrets and even their unfounded opinions.

Roberto Bolano was a genius. He was part of the new batch of Latin American writers who gave a fresher feel on the novels in that part of the world that used to be dominated by the magical realism writers led by my favorite Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Their styles are different and I do not want to take sides. I love them both.

Bolano was also one of those writers who are not afraid to write long novels. He said that "the longer the writer's book is, the higher is the chance that inconsistencies can come out." However, he was not afraid to expose himself, precisely because there was no inconsistency in both long novels of him that I've read. His storytelling is flawless and his imagination is boundless. There is basically no fault that I could cite in either of these two wonderful works.

My next read will definitely be his Amulet. Then because of this The Savage Detectives, I will buy his other book: By Night in Chile. When will this buying and reading ever stop?
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,050 reviews4,118 followers
November 8, 2012
I am told this novel made some minor splash upon its publication. I see no evidence to support this claim. I see no particular swelling of interest in this lowly text on Goodreads. I see no ecstatic over-the-top declarations of lust for this novel. No effusive dissertations conveying the message “I totally bought into the hype and splooged fifty times over this book like Ron Jeremy catching his reflection in the pupils of a malnourished Cuban trollop.” I see no substantial body of scholarship agglutinating on the first two review pages alone. I see no pitiful deniers, squeaking their dissenting humbuggery about the overrated and overhyped nature of the prose and so on and boo-hoo, swallowed up in box after box of Bolaño devotees on their knees licking the long-dead man’s Chilean loafers as though hoping to absorb some essence of the punchdrunk poet’s furious pace, first-person range and painful aversion to paragraph breaks. I see no evidence of this whatso— Oh no, wait . . . there they are. Oops.

What of this? A structural sandwich. The bread: a road-trip narrative about a poetry nerd with a penchant for obscure technical words for verse forms and metrical structures that explodes into violence. The filling: an nth number of first-person interview-style intersecting stories about the short-lived Mexican experimental poetry movement visceral realism. More unreliable narrators than the Bible. More icky sex than a caterpillar’s boudoir. More characters per page than Catch-22. A Mexican Thousand and One Nights of tales, yarns, confessions, digressions, hoodwinks, self-reference, neverending stories and long blog-like rambles. A personally insulting deficit of paragraph breaks. An entertained but infuriated MJ. A far-too-long second part which this gringo abandoned on p481 to move into the final section (which he left on p550 due to mounting boredom). A loquacious universe-sized novel of sprawling scope and ambition that collapses under its own weight but leaves an indelible imprint on the reader’s psyche. An aperitif compared to the five-square-meals of 2666.
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