Best Translated Book 2008 Longlist: 2666 by Roberto Bolano
For the next several weeks we’ll be highlighting a book-a-day from the 25-title Best Translated Book of 2008 fiction longlist, leading up to the announcement of the 10 finalists. Click here for all previous write-ups.
2666 by Roberto Bolano, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer. (Chile, FSG)
What more is there to say about 2666? Earlier this year I claimed it was the “big book at BEA,” I also have told various people that it is one of the greatest books to be published during my reading lifetime. It’s gotten a ton of review attention, and was the only non-Knopf book to make the New York Times Top 10 Books of 2008 list. It’s big, it’s available as a three-volume paperback and in hardcover, it’s ambitious, it’s five novels in one, and it’s on our longlist.
A simple Google search will bring you more reviews and descriptions of the book than you care to read, despite the fact that this isn’t an easy book to talk about or review. (In terms of Best Translated Book panelists, both Michael Orthofer and Scott Esposito have reviewed this.) Each of the five sections is very distinct, although they link together in a sort of mind-blowing fashion. And at the center of the novel are the disturbing Ciudad Juarez murders. From the “Note to the First Edition”:
In one of his many notes for 2666, Bolano indicates the existence in the work of a “hidden center,” concealed beneath what might be considered the novel’s “physical center.” There is reason to think that this physical center is the city of Santa Teresa, faithful reflection of Ciudad Juarez, on the Mexican-U.S. border. There the five parts of the novel ultimately converge; there the crimes are committed that comprise its spectacular backdrop (and that are said by one of the novel’s characters to contain “the secret of the world”). As for the “hidden center” . . . , might it not represent 2666 itself, the date upon which the whole novel rests? [. . .]
A final observation is perhaps in order here. Among Bolano’s notes for 2666 there appears the single line: “The narrator of 2666 is Arturo Bolano.” And elsewhere Bolano adds, with the indication “for the end of _2666_“: “And that’s it, friends. I’ve done it all, I’ve lived it all. If I had the strength, I’d cry. Farewell to you all, Arturo Bolano.”
Earlier this month, Words Without Borders hosted a special event at Idlewild books with Natasha Wimmer (the translator of 2666) and novelist Francisco Goldman (who, I believe, was the first person to turn Barbara Epler of New Directions onto Bolano). Sounds like the event was spectacular, at least according to these two write-ups:
I think I could have listened to Francisco Goldman tell stories all night long, despite the heat raditating from over a hundred of us standing, eager Bolaño fans at Idlewild Bookstore Thursday night. While Goldman and Bolaño had never met – indeed, Goldman had not read Bolaño until shortly after his death – he effused passion for the subject of the night’s talk and channeled their many mutual friends and admirers for a surprisingly intimate look an author who is taking on the near mythical status he’s had for some time now outside of the U.S. [From Bud Parr’s report for Words Without Borders
And, one of the most important details from Scott Bryan Wilson’s write up at Conversational Reading
Goldman pronounced the title “Two-six-six-six,” perhaps emphasizing the Number of the Beast association, while Wimmer opted for the lengthier but seemingly more correct “Twenty-six-sixty-six.
What’s even better is that both Natasha Wimmer and Francisco Goldman wrote essays for this event (click above names for both) that are quite interesting. Here’s a nice section from Francisco’s piece that’s also a good note to end on:
Bolaño drew from reality in his fiction, and from his own life, yet his fiction is not really realist. His fiction pointed away from reality, and certainly away from mundane political or moral interpretations of reality, towards something else—poetry, open-endedness, a kind of philosophical and tragicomic shock; his fiction always opens “new paths,” as Bolaño said of Borges’s writing. And it is partly this mysterious, radical quality, sometimes even a quality of epic parable (someone in 2666, Amalfitano maybe, says something along the lines of “if you could solve the mystery of the murders of women in Santa Teresa, you’d decipher the meaning of evil in our time”) that makes his writing seem more kin to the spirit of Borges and even Kafka than to other Latin American writers he also admired, such as Lezama, Onetti, Cortazar, or Bioy.