I am rereading the late, Roberto Bolaño’s modern classic The Savage Detectives and I am enjoying the hell out of it. Both the story and the telling of it reminds me of when I was young and passionately in love (like the characters in the story) with the written word.
A couple of excerpts:
“There’s a time for reciting poems and a time for fists. As far as I was concerned, this was the latter. But as I was saying, I closed my eyes, and I heard Lima clear his throat, then I heard the somewhat uncomfortable silence (if it’s possible to hear such a thing, which I doubt) that settled around him, and finally I heard his voice, reading the best poem I’d ever heard. Then Arturo Belano got up and said that they were looking for poets who would like to contribute to the magazine that the visceral realists were putting out. Everybody wished they could volunteer, but after the fight they felt sheepish and no one said a thing. When the workshop ended (later than usual), I went with Lima and Belano to the bus stop. It was too late. There were no more buses, so we decided to take a pesero together to Reforma, and from there we walked to a bar on Calle Bucareli, where we sat until very late, talking about poetry.”
“I’m back at home. I’ve been back to the university (but not to class). I’d like to sleep with María. I’d like to sleep with Catalina O’Hara. I’d like to sleep with Laura Jáuregui. Sometimes I’d like to sleep with Angélica, but the circles under her eyes keep getting darker, and every day she’s paler, thinner, less there.”
“Today I only saw Barrios and Jacinto Requena at Café Quito, and our conversation was mostly gloomy, as if something irreparably bad was about to happen. Still, we laughed a lot. They told me that Arturo Belano once gave a lecture at the Casa del Lago and when it was his turn to talk he forgot everything. I think the lecture was supposed to be on Chilean poetry and Belano improvised a talk about horror movies. Another time, Ulises Lima gave a lecture and no one came. We talked until they kicked us out.”
The story begins with a bunch of young poets in Mexico City. The narrator, Juan García Madero is dodging classes to hang out with the Visceral Realists, a troupe of renegade poets who all want to break with Latin American tradition vis-a-vis Octavio Paz.
The opening story – Mexicans Lost in Mexico – is a dizzying romp through one of the greatest cities in the world written by someone who intimately knew the city but was still able to deconstruct his tale as told from the slouching prospective of youthful louche.
When I read The Savage Detectives the first time I was living in Washington, DC and quite honestly I didn’t appreciate it because I wasn’t yet – as I’ve now just discovered – in a position to understand it.
But here I am now, better equipped having lived these past 6 past years in Mexico; knowing the culture somewhat significantly better. And then having walked so many of the streets in some of the colonias (neighborhoods) mentioned in the novel like Condesa, Reforma, Centro, Zona Rosa, Coyoacán and Roma to where I have a much greater appreciation for some of the bars, eating establishments and places named. (And comparing the physical locale to the written locale, I must say there is a wonderfully captured benign neglect of place which positively seeps from the pages.)
It is a giant of a novel (600 plus pages) that spans 2 decades (nonlinear), 3 continents and introduces a ton of characters. I can only now see across its vast landscape. And I am in awe to finally see Bolaño’s genius as he wrote across such a distance of place while demonstrating an almost encyclopedic depth of poetry.
Reading this book reminds me down to my very soul why I live as I do. To travel, to read, to take joy in both the pleasures of the mind and the senses of life itself.
PS – Today, July 29th is my 6th anniversary in Mexico. I arrived here on this day in 2012.