02 May 2010

Book Review: 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

I haven't written a book review in a while. That is because I was working on a gigantic book this past month, and boy it was one of the most wonderful reads I have had.

So more than a month ago, when I was in New York City, I bought three books to read in my trip. I finished them all, and that was neat and all that, but I felt that I needed something to read, and therefore went to a bookstore to find something. Thus, after finishing Seeing by José Saramago, I found this book, and picked it up. I saw this book for the first time about a couple of months ago, and was always curious about what it was about. Thus, when I had the opportunity to get my hands at it, I did.

Wow. I didn't know that this was an awesome book, considered by plenty of critics to be the first literary masterpiece of the twenty-first century. They compared Bolaño to the likes of Marcel Proust, Thomas Pynchon, James Joyce, and other heavyweights of the twentieth century. 2666 is one of those novels which push the limits of the novel past its conventional size and scope, and its 893 pages of text definitely is one literary mammoth.

So, what is this novel about? This is a surrealist novel divided into 5 different parts, which can be read individually, but is better read chronologically. The first part is The part about the critics, which concerns four scholars from Europe, trying to locate a rather elusive German author who they believe has been living in the town of Santa Teresa, Mexico. Santa Teresa is depicted here to be the scene of various killings of women, riddled with crimes that are left unsolved, something like the modern Ciudad Juarez near the US border.

The part about Amalfitano is about a widowed philosopher and his daughter. The philosopher is rather mentally unstable. They live in Santa Teresa too. The part about Fate is about a reporter for a black interest reporter based in New York City who was sent to Santa Teresa to cover a boxing fight, and along the way, he becomes curious about the killings of the women, and decides to report about them too.

The part about the crimes is the thickest part of them all, which is just a page by page description of all the killings that have happened, and the failing attempts of the Santa Teresa police to solve them, even resorting to corruption just to save public face. Finally, The part about Archimboldi details the life of Hans Reiter, who turns out to be the elusive German writer that the critics are trying to find in the beginning.

There are plenty of ways in which the five different sections of this novel are related. The scholars meet Amalfitano when they decide to head to Mexico to search for the German writer. When their part is done, the second part picks up on Amalfitano and details his relationship with his daughter, where he is always worried that his daughter might be the next victim of the crimes. In the third part, Oscar Fate, the black interest reporter, meets Rosa Amalfitano, the daughter of the mentally-unstable philosopher, and they get close together. The fourth part has a story arc about a certain Klaus Haas, who is a German American who gets imprisoned as an escape goat by the incompetent Santa Teresa police. It later gets revealed in Part 5 that Klaus Haas has a bizarre connection with Benno von Archimboldi (also known as Hans Reiter), the elusive German writer.

So what do I like about this book? Well, for one thing, this is not an easy read. This is not a book where every detail is given to the reader. This is a book that is full of mystery and unanswered questions. Perhaps, the fact that the number 2666 doesn't appear at all in the text adds to the mystery of things. There are questions that the reader would like to pose but is left unanswered simply because it is left to the reader to infer those things. I won't give such an example here, because I think that would spoil the book to others. I'll let you find out which questions are left unanswered and which are not.

But in any case, this is indeed a masterpiece. I am glad that I picked this one up, as this has been a rather tumultuous read, and a good one at that. 5 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

(Domed Building, from my University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Series)


  1. Will put it on my to read list !

  2. wow, i have never heard of this book. but if i randomly saw it at a bookstore/library one day, i would definitely pick it up! the cover alone makes it interesting. it reminds me of the anachronistic surrealist paintings of hieronymous bosch. definitely will have to check this one out, thanks!

  3. Sidney,



    Welcome to the blog. Yes, the cover is interesting as well, it's a detail of a painting by Gustav Moreau, a French Symbolist painter. There's a gap between him and Bosch, but yes, I agree that there is a resemblance there.