Every now and again, the literary and/or publishing worlds discover or rediscover an author, living or dead, whose writings are so exceptional that they change the way we read, understand the world, and reexamine the act of writing itself.  Three or four years ago, I read Roberto Bolaño’s Savage Detectives, in which this recently dead Peruvian author combines the world of young poets, mainly in Mexico, his adopted homeland, with a diffuse but not entirely clarified violence endemic to the places in which his books are set.  Savage Detectives is one of the most glorious celebrations of writing and language in the 20th Century.  It was rapidly followed by Bolaño’s masterpiece, 2666, an enormous tome of a novel, again combining similar elements and characters, but in a near apocryphal post-industrial world wherein the clash of the life of the poet and the life of the drug lord are utterly irreconcilable, even if and as they inadvertently overlap.

In 2666, Bolaño becomes the third of three novelists of whom I am aware to predicate the apocalypse of contemporary life in the Sonoran Desert, south of Texas in the drug riddled area of Mexico which now seems lost to civilization.  Both Cormac McCarthy and Phillip Caputo, in their fiction view this clash of first and third world fight over drugs and money as less where the world will end, than where it has already ended, presuming a no man’s land of murder, money, drugs, and a mercenary man of such extreme amorality that one could read the morning news and one of their novels and be unclear as to which is truth and which fiction.

Bolaño’s heirs (he most regretfully died at 50) recently found a manuscript that was published in 2011 at The Third Reich.  The lead character and narrator is a game fanatic, who goes back to a resort in Spain with his girlfriend, where they meet some low life locals and, in typical Bolaño style, the lines between game playing and violence is, yet again the superficial theme of the book: one man’s game may be another’s route to violence.  Bolaño’s characters, set in the resort hotel, may or may not have been involved in World War II as collaborators or spies: one is not quite sure, deliberately.   The narrator’s obsession with the board game called “The Third Reich” leads him into madness, surreality, and near death.  The novel is a superb meditation upon our contemporary world, and its arbitrary divisions between games and external life, and the blurring between the two which Bolaño presciently saw as the psychological terrain in which we indeed now find ourselves.  Once characters no longer know the difference between virtual reality and reality, madness may be the least of the issues caused by this obsession, and speaks to, in its way, the whole electronic world in which we now reside.   The Third Reich is a wonderful precursor, along with Savage Detectives to Bolaño’s great masterpiece, 2666.

–Daniel Brown

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