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2666: The NY Times Review

On the same day as the 2666 Launch Party (which, thanks to the d-bags curators of myopenbar.com was crowded with non-literary folk [seriously, we should all prank them by submitting hundreds of fake events featuring free booze], although Zadie Smith, Natasha Wimmer, Michael Miller, Craig Teicher, Mark Binelli, and many more publishers/reviewers/authors were also in attendance) I received a copy of Sunday’s NY Times Book Review, which included Jonathan Lethem’s front-page review of the novel.

By bringing scents of a Latin American culture more fitful, pop-savvy and suspicious of earthy machismo than that which it succeeds, Bolaño has been taken as a kind of reset button on our deplorably sporadic appetite for international writing, standing in relation to the generation of García Márquez, Vargas Llosa and Fuentes as, say, David Foster Wallace does to Mailer, Updike and Roth. As with Wallace’s Infinite Jest, in The Savage Detectives Bolaño delivered a genuine epic inocu­lated against grandiosity by humane irony, vernacular wit and a hint of punk-rock self-effacement. Any suspicion that literary culture had rushed to sentimentalize an exotic figure of quasi martyrdom was overwhelmed by the intimacy and humor of a voice that earned its breadth line by line, defying traditional fictional form with a torrential insouciance.

Well, hold on to your hats. [. . .]

Bolaño won the race to the finish line in writing what he plainly intended, in his self-interrogating way, as a master statement. Indeed, he produced not only a supreme capstone to his own vaulting ambition, but a landmark in what’s possible for the novel as a form in our increasingly, and terrifyingly, post-national world. The Savage Detectives looks positively hermetic beside it.

After finishing 2666 this past summer, I wondered how anyone would review this. It’s long, complicated, and made up of five standalone (in a way) sections. Lethem does a fantastic job describing the novel, highlighting many of the interesting aspects without sugar-coating the novel’s “difficulty.”

On an interesting sidenote, the Inside the List section features a note on how foreign fiction has fared on the NY Times Best Seller list.

While Bolaño, who died in 2003 at age 50, has been receiving ecstatic critical praise since his work began appearing in English translation, he has yet to make the best-seller list. The world may be going post-national, but the list is still pretty much an English-only place — like the American book market in general, which has seen the publication of only about 320 works of translated literature this year, out of roughly 15,000 literary titles, according to Chad W. Post of Open Letter Press. This week’s fiction best sellers include only two translated books, both on the trade paperback list: Paulo Coelho’s Alchemist (at No. 8 in its 59th week here) and Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses (at No. 18 in its 17th week). Meanwhile, Stieg Larsson’s Swedish thriller The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo drops to No. 17 on the extended hardcover list.



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