2666 by Roberto Bolaño

Of literary critics, professors, journalists, crime detectives, and cult writers – 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

2666 is Roberto Bolano’s master statement. Published a year after his death and translated into English a few more years later, it is an enormous book that defies summary. The novel’s core is the violent killings of women in the fictional town of Santa Teresa, a town that parallels the Mexican border town Ciudad Juarez. Revolving around these murders are literary scholars in search of a reclusive cult writer, a professor who struggles to maintain his sanity, a journalist sent to the town to cover a boxing match, and the cult writer himself. Written with prose that is all at once riveting, insightful, humorous, deadening, and resonant, it is that kind of death defying novel that only few writers can come up with.

Last year, I chose this as my first read of 2012 with a fellow blogger. We do not know how to approach this. We were wishing ourselves loads of good luck because we were intimidated by the sheer length of the book, not to mention the preconceived notions I had for it. I imagined it to be a long, tough, and boring read. Long is undeniable; the latter two are dubious.

The book turned out to be very entertaining. It helped that the first part, The Part About the Critics, is about four scholars who talk nonstop about their literary careers with people within their circle. These four are all interested in the works of the German writer Archimboldi, a writer whose shadow they have never seen and who is even a worse recluse than Thomas Pynchon. When rumors of his appearance in a Mexican town reach them, they set out to look for him, and the reader never hears of these scholars again.

Anyway, these ideas or feelings or ramblings had their satisfactions. They turned the pain of others into memories of one’s own. They turned pain, which is natural, enduring, and eternally triumphant, into personal memory, which is human, brief, and eternally elusive. They turned a brutal story of injustice and abuse, and incoherent howl with no beginning or end, into a neatly structured story in which suicide was always held out as a possibility. They turned flight into freedom, even if freedom meant no more than the perpetuation flight. They turned chaos into order, even if it was at the cost of what is commonly known as sanity.

This book is composed of five parts supposed to be published separately, which is what the writer instructed his inheritors. However, this was not fulfilled due to practical considerations and respect for the entirety of the five books. Although these five are not even tightly connected with each other, I agree with the decision to put them all together into a single volume. Yes, the parts could possibly stand alone on their own, but their disconnectedness links them all together in a mysterious way.

[What a sad paradox, thought Amalfitano. Now even bookish pharmacists are afraid to take on the great, imperfect, torrential works, books that blaze paths into the unknown. They choose the perfect exercises of the great masters. Or what amounts to the same thing: they want to watch the great masters spar, but they have no interest in real combat, when the great masters struggle against that something, that something that terrifies us all, that something that cows us and spurs us on, amid blood and mortal wounds and stench.]

This disconnectedness is immediately felt as one proceeds with the next parts, The Part About Amalfitano and The Part About Fate. These two are people (yes, Fate is a person) who have nothing to do with the first part. These are equally good, although I have to say that the former felt incomplete, which could be deliberate given the tendencies to madness that Amalfitano has.

The main course is The Part About the Crimes. Here, the reader is immersed into hundreds of terrifying forensic reports of women killed, and either thrown or buried all around the deserts of Santa Teresa. These reports resemble news clippings gathered from different tabloids and broadsheets. By the 50th case, one must be too desensitized to feel nauseous about the gruesome details of the decaying bodies’ states. Perhaps this is the intention. The writer must have had a vision of a nearly apocalyptic world so filled with violence that killing has become a mundane activity.

[On December 10, some workers at the ranch La Perdicion informed the police of the discovery of some bones at the edge of the ranch, around mile fifteen of the Casas Negras highway. At first they thought it was an animal, but when they found the skull they realized their mistake. According to the forensic report, it was a woman, and the cause of death, due to the time elapsed, remained undetermined. Some three yards from the body a pair of leggings and a pair of tennis shoes were found.]

The murders are not real and yet they give one a visceral sensation given their matter-of-fact descriptions. Nonfiction is employed to create a fictional world as opposed to the nonfiction novel claimed to be popularized by Truman Capote. It is like a documentary based on imaginary events, and reading through this part will make one convinced that these are the ones that really took place and not the ones that were recorded in the real life Ciudad Juarez.

The final part, The Part About Archimboldi, tells us, finally, the life story of the writer who wouldn’t show himself. Although it is not proper to call it The Part That Would Sum Up 2666, it unconsciously justifies that alternate title. Archimboldi’s musings on his writing, violence, and the connection between the two are intuited here, but only in mercurial fashion.

So to catch the slow susurrus of Bolano’s statement, submit yourself to all parts of the novel. Do not make a deliberate attempt to dissect the novel. Do not expect anything. Do not fear. But do prepare to be overwhelmed.

Dates Read: January 2 to 21, 2012

No. of Pages: 898

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Thirteen Translations

Quarterly Rhapsody: Translated Books

Quarterly RhapsodyI almost forgot my quarterly feature, which is a post where I ramble about book-related stuff. Previous topics that I discussed in Quarterly Rhapsody, if you are interested, are:

So for the third quarter of the year, let’s talk about books translated into other languages. This topic has been bothering me for the past couple of weeks, and we have two books to blame: Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass. For the first book, I have this unquenchable desire to immediately read the translation by Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee, but unfortunately, I couldn’t find a copy. As for the second book, I was going to start reading Ralph Manheim’s translation when by some accident, I found out that he made some omissions from the original text.

I put it back on my shelf and asked the local book stores if they have the Breon Mitchell translation available. I’m luckier with this one; I am currently reading it and I am not making a lot of progress because I often find myself comparing it with the older translation that propelled Grass to worldwide fame and ultimately, to the Nobel.

With my minor comparisons (really, I just picked some notorious paragraphs and winding sentences), I found out that the meaning is not lost. The thought is still there, although one could discern the style of the translator with his diction. Let’s take the opening paragraph of each translation.

From Manheim:

Granted: I am an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there’s a peephole  in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed like me.

From Mitchell:

Granted: I’m an inmate in a mental institution; my keeper watches me, scarcely lets me out of sight, for there’s a peephole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can’t see through blue-eyed types like me.

Not a lot of difference, right? Yes, but for the reader who’s sensitive to style, there’s something to consider. Disclaimer: I am no literary person. I didn’t major in the letters, I don’t work in the publishing industry. I am merely a reader who appreciates some style.

So please check out that second semi-colon in Manheim’s version; it is dropped in Mitchell’s version. The first translation sounds a little terse to me because of the repeated punctuation mark; the other one is more fluid, which is, according to Grass himself, the narrator’s manner of speaking. This is may be something only for the finicky reader, but if we consider the cumulative effect of trying to make the two languages as parallel as possible, it is worth obsessing which translation to read.

The rest of the first page consists mostly of differences in word choice. Everything seems to be present. I wonder what’s omitted from the older translation?

Two Tin Drums

Two Tin Drums

I jumped to the afterword and found out that there weren’t more than five whole sentences omitted. One of them is about a comparison of a smell with that of a condom, and another one is about the splattering of semen somewhere. Others are hard to translate German dialogues that play with sound and style, and these were either dropped or translated into readable English.

To illustrate that, here’s another example, and with this, we will truly appreciate the insurmountable effort that translators put in their craft.

From the original text:

Auch fiel mir auf, das Tätigkeiten wie: Daumendrehen, Stirnrunzeln, Köpfchensenken, Händeschütteln, Kindermachen, Falschgeldprägen, Lichtausknipsen, Zähneputzen, Totschießen und Trockenlegen überall, wenn auch nicht gleichmäßig geschickt, geübt wurden.

From Manheim:

I also saw that activities such as thumb-twiddling, frowning, looking up and down, handshaking, making babies, counterfeiting, turning out the light, brushing teeth, shooting people, and changing diapers were being practiced all over the world, though not always with the same skill.

From Mitchell:

And I saw too that activities like thumb-twiddling, brow-wrinkling, head-nodding, hand-shaking, baby-making, coin-faking, light-dousing, tooth-brushing, man-killing, and diaper-changing were being engaged in all over the world, if not always with equal skill.

Whoa! I don’t understand German, but looking at those German words mostly ending in -en (an assonance or consonance?), there’s a rhythmic pattern produced. And that took some time to type; I had to be loyal to the diacritical marks.

The same issue of being loyal to stylistic sound effects pervades the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation of War and Peace. Take this short sentence: Kápli kápali. Obviously an alliteration, but older translations dropped the effect and turned it instead into “The branches dripped,” or “The trees were dripping.” The duo, which are my favorite translators, went with “Drops dripped.”

Also, the duo kept the French dialogues unchanged. That made reading the novel a little tougher since I had to refer to the footnotes for the English translations. Other translations, such as Constance Garnett’s, translated everything into English. Nothing wrong, but it felt that everyone was speaking the some tongue, which I think isn’t the effect intended by Tolstoy.

I trust PV when it comes to Russian literature

I trust PV when it comes to Russian literature

We barely have a clue on how translators work their magic and how they go about their translations. Should they be loyal to the text or should they make the text more readable? Should they preserve the feel and culture of the text or should they make the text fit the feel and culture of the language where it is being translated?

I can’t help pondering these questions because I love world literature. I want to read novels from as many countries as possible. I guess it’s my way of traveling and learning about the world. There’s so little time and we can only do so much. Not all of us can travel everywhere in this lifetime or learn the languages of lofty literature, so we have to thank these translators who do the dirty tasks for us.

In the photo below are shown some books which are not originally written in English and which I rated with either 4 or 5 stars. Below are their original titles and the translators I am indebted to:

  • 2666 – ditto (translated from Spanish by Natasha Wimmer)
  • Atomised (UK); The Elementary Particles (US) – Les Particules Élémentaires (translated from French by Frank Wynne)
  • Fatelessness – Sorstalanság (translated from Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson)
  • The Gospel According to Jesus Christ – O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo (translated from Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero)
  • Hunger – Sult (translated from Norwegian by Robert Bly)
  • Independent People – Sjálfstætt Fólk (translated from Icelandic by J. A. Thompson)
  • The Land of Green Plums – Herztier (translated from German by Michael Hofmann)
  • My Name Is Red – Benim Adım Kırmızı (translated from Turkish by Erdağ M. Göknar)
  • Noli Me Tangere – ditto (translated from Spanish by Soledad Lacson-Locsin)
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude – Cien Años de Soledad (translated from Spanish by Gregory Rabassa)
  • The Piano Teacher – Die Klavierspielerin (translated from German by Joachim Neugroschel)
  • The Tin Drum – Die Blechtrommel (translated from German by Breon Mitchell)
  • War and Peace – Война и миръ (translated from Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky)
Thirteen Translations

Thirteen Translations

Some notes on this list: I guess I’d have to hunt for other translations of my favorite book, Hunger. There are two more by George Egerton and Sverre Lyngstad. And look! That’s nine languages of great literature!

And oh, I made it seem here that Breon Mitchell is butchering Ralph Manheim’s work. That is not the case. The former is actually very grateful to the latter. He just had the great opportunity to work with Gunter Grass himself in coming up with a 50th anniversary edition of his first novel. He also mentioned that new translations for great works of literature are necessary for they do not endure as long as the original text. In addition, new translations of any work do not seek to be a better edition. Rather, they present different reading experiences that are totally separate from each other.

So if I get the translation that I don’t dig, I shouldn’t worry too much, right? I guess I should just do some more research when it comes to this matter. And good thing that I learned early on that the Fahnestock-MacAfee translation of Les Miserables is the one that I might enjoy. The book is just too damn long for me to read another translation of it.

2666 Diaries, V

Almost too late, but let’s do this – 2666 Diaries, V

For the sake of formally finishing the first chunkster diary of the year, let me repost some stuff and look back to this magnificent novel. Also included are some conversations with my reading buddy, The Misanthropologist. These notes are selected based on my ability to translate. Some full paragraphs in Filipino, I left them out because I’m not in the mood to translate. And why am I so anal about this?

Anyway, thanks so much for reading this with me!

Day 12:

It’s really a nice break to get away from the crimes. I am tired of reading those police reports and medical examiners’ findings. In fact, I almost gave up on the book.

We now get back to Archimboldi. Readers might have forgotten about him, but not me, because I’m really curious who really is this author that the literary critics from the first part are hunting.

The first part of the last part talks about the childhood of Hans Reiter. I suppose this is Archimboldi. I’ll be damned if he’s not. Reiter is not from an illustrious family, which is not hard to guess. In fact, his parents are what we shallow people would call the misfits. His mother is one-eyed, his father is one-legged, and the kid himself is abnormally tall.

The height of this kid is what made me assume that he is Archimboldi. It would be a huge coincidence if this kid is just an irrelevant character who just happened to be as tall as our elusive writer. And really, what sense is there to keep introducing new and irrelevant characters when we are at the near climax?

Irrelevance, I think, is a technique that the novel uses all throughout the novel. I am not even sure if this can be called a technique. It’s something that I am making up. It is something akin to stream of consciousness and the unreliable narrator, but there are slight differences. It can be argued that the seemingly irrelevant stuff are all necessary. I don’t know. I just have this feeling that there is a lot that can be taken out. Of course, I am just assuming. I guess I just want to finish this novel as soon as possible.

Day 13:

There’s a really graphic scene here. Oops! Is this something to look forward to? An officer and a baroness fucking in one of the bedrooms of Dracula’s castle? With blood and excessive bodily fluids? And oh, there are no rats in this castle, as if that really matters. But it does, just to make a point that Dracula might have been on a rat diet.

The war parts remind me of War and Peace, all the walking and battle scenes and attacking and retreating. Which is fine, probably because I got used to all that kind of stuff with the heavy Tolstoy read.

Tolstoy, speaking of him, is mentioned here, but not as extensively as Gorky. You see, Reiter, after contemplating suicide and evading death thrice, got his hands on this journal by Ansky during his recuperation at a far-flung Jewish town. This journal by Ansky is not really his journal. It’s more of a series of writings about his writer friend, Ivanov, who dreams of being in the ranks of Tolstoy. Which happened for like 15 minutes, and he even got Gorky, a writer that I don’t really know, to write him a fan mail. Which has a lot of ellipses. Not my favorite punctuation, hahaha, but yes, the letter elated Ivanov so much that he had it framed.

For which novel did Gorky write the letter? It’s for the novel Twilight. Not the basis of that Stephanie Meyer novel, but I think it’s better. I actually like that novel, particularly the parallel universe stuff and its ending.

Anyway, Reiter got obsessed with this journal that he started to have dreams of it and of Ansky, whom he has never seen, and that is pretty obvious. He dreamed that the journal was severely damaged while he was drifting through a river. Upon waking up, he decided to return the journal to where he found it.

And yes, finally, the name Archimboldi is mentioned, who is a painter. Not a writer, huh? So probably this is a pen name after all, if Reiter really is the Archimboldi that the literary critics are looking for.

Day 14:

Things are getting better. There are still the distractions. I don’t think we could get rid of these. But really, I don’t mind. Yes, there should be a preparation for a climax, so it’s quite logical to let go of the side stories, which may or may not contribute to the grand scheme, but I was entertained with these. Even that lengthy story of the Jews killer. I even found myself reeling with weird emotions and seething with anger, and at the back of my head, I wished to be a Jew.

Anyway, at this part, we get to know how Hans Reiter transformed to Benno von Archimboldi. It’s not a dramatic metamorphosis. It’s just that, a whimsical instance. Not really out of whim, I believe, although on the surface it seems that way. It’s on one of those pivotal moments in a life, which is an ironic thing to say, having just read in one of the pages that history is not composed of such pivotal, monumental times; it’s just a series of instances clamoring for attention, like a whore working on her next client. Something like that.

There are also a lot of things said about reading and writing and literature. Like who are the real writers? How can we sift them away from the unreal writers? What makes up literature? Is it the masterpieces or the so-called minor works? What are the roles of the two?

And is it possible to abandon writing and still love literature? Of course! What is reading if not the communion of the reader and the writer, who screw each other to plant the seeds of fun and entertainment in the reader’s womb.

So the writer is a gigolo? And we, readers, are whores? And all the fun and entertainment are bastards?

Day 15:

Already, five of Archimboldi’s books were published by a Hamburg publishing house owned by Mr. Bubis, perhaps the only publisher who has faith in Archimboldi’s capabilities. This Mr. Bubis, as fate would have it, is married to the baroness! Archimboldi and the baroness inevitably meet, and they finally let themselves to be consumed by their lusts.

And they talk about penis size. Why is it that almost every Latin American writer that I read puts a special emphasis on the length of one’s member? Oscar Hijuelos, Junot Diaz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Roberto Bolano didn’t fail to make it a point that endowment is a virtue of sorts. Bolano’s take veers differently, although it is essentially the same. His has a matter-of-fact, defensive air. Should I expect Mario Vargas Llosa and Jorge Luis Borges to bring this up, even in passing, in their respective works?

Anyway, there’s a lovely part here about us being consumed by the past. It’s that scene where Ingeborg talks about the light of the stars being dead and yet existing. I imagined her dying on that freezing night while coughing blood on the snow. The blood on the snow is influenced by my reading of Halldor Laxness’s Independent People, his supposed masterpiece.

Really, I am as always being incoherent. I can’t help it. I’m excited to finish this tonight.

Day 16:

This is just to formally finish my reading. But not the discussion (if there are still things you wish to rant about).

For people who love closures and who are not comfortable with cliffhangers, I suggest that you do not read this book. Wait. I change my mind just now. I strongly suggest that you stop wishing for clean, happy endings. It’s better for our mental health to have questions boggling us than to have those answers. They clog our thinking. They kill our limited neurons.

Still, I found a sense of… an ending. I found the Lotte side story acting like an epilogue, something that would loop the whole thing to the first part. Although this book is not part of a series, I think it screams at the reader to get a copy of Amulet and The Savage Detectives (another brick), other Bolano works that are akin to 2666.

But I’m good. I won’t rush to the book store to buy those two ASAP. Probably when I finish reading my hoarded books I will consider.

For Ivanov, a real writer, a real artist and creator, was basically a responsible person with a certain level of maturity. A real writer had to know when to listen and when to act. He had to be reasonably enterprising and reasonably learned. Excessive learning aroused jealousy and resentment. Excessive enterprise aroused suspicion. A real writer had to be someone relatively cool-headed, a man with common sense. Someone who didn’t talk too loud or start polemics. He had to be reasonably pleasant and he had to know how not to make gratuitous enemies. Above all, he had to keep his voice down, unless everyone else was raising his. A real writer had to be aware that behind him he had the Writers Association, the Artists Syndicate, the Confederation of Literary Workers, Poets House. What’s the first thing a man does when he comes into a church? Efraim Ivanov asked himself. He takes off his hat. Maybe he doesn’t cross himself. All right, that’s allowed. We’re modern. But the least he can do is bare his head! Adolescent writers, meanwhile, come into a church and don’t take off their hats even when they’re beaten with sticks, which is, regrettably, what happens in the end. And not only do they not take off their hats: they laugh, yawn, play the fool, pass gas. Some even applaud.

Buddy Notes:

…So far Archimboldi is still Hans Reiter, a boy frequently described as seaweed-like, of all things! He has a one-legged father, and a one-eyed mother, and a so-far normal sister…

…He befriends the nephew of a baron and a Japanese man, gets drafted in the war and almost gets himself killed thrice…

…Sometime during the war he gets stationed at Dracula’s castle…

…While searching through abandoned houses, he finds some hidden manuscripts behind a fireplace of some guy named Ansky…

…The manuscript, which is supposedly about Ansky isn’t really about him (surprise, surprise) but about his friend, Ivanov, who is a fantasy/sci-fi writer…

…Now I’m on the part where Hans is reading about a book that Ivanov wrote, “Twilight,” which seems just as bad as Stephenie Meyer’s version…

…This book is just getting crazier and crazier. And why do I have a feeling that the author is going to tie up the 5 separate parts in the end…

…Honestly, I don’t really understand the other parts, or maybe it would be more truthful to say, I am not making an effort to understand, hehehe (the story of Ansky and Ivanov)…

…I feel that it’s not about me not able to understand, but it’s really incoherent. It’s like what Amalfitano was saying to Norton that was so long, and in the end, it was just nonsense. That’s what I feel about Part 5…

…Regarding Part 5, I’m pissed off because a big part of it is about the war. And for me, it’s not that interesting because he just described the places that they’ve been to…

…Of Ansky and Ivanov and Twilight? There are a lot of side stories in Part 5, the significance of which eludes me. Are the side stories important in knowing the “real” Archimboldi, or are the stories important in understanding the author’s philosophies in life, or are the stories important in understanding the novel as a whole?

…I liked the side stories from the earlier parts of the books, but for some reason I didn’t find the side stories in Part 5 very interesting…

…Or my patience has run out because I’m almost about to finish the book? Hahaha…

…The Aztec thing was interesting though. But Twilight, that I didn’t like, and the later ones which you may not have read yet, I didn’t really like them…

…Don’t you find it weird that bits of Mexican culture are incorporated into Hans’s life? Like that Aztec story? Where would a crazy German girl read about the Aztecs during WW2?

…A wonderful, but crazy – insane(!) book…

…By the time I finished, I was left with more questions than answers…

…Now, I want to go out and read all of Bolano’s novels, starting with The Savage Detectives, then Amulet…

…Actually, I did enjoy some of the side stories in Part 5, like the story of the Jew killer. And the part about Hans’s life is pretty interesting…

…It’s strange how they show Archimboldi as a writer who just writes because he wants to – without much thought to his work or stories. And then we read earlier how the critics are so obsessed with his work and how they analyze it to death, injecting his novels with different meanings, philosophies, etc…

…It seems like such a contrast from Archimboldi’s life at the time he was writing the novels, which seemed so real (as opposed to the scholars’ abstract ideas and meaning)…

…Is there sense in what I’m saying?

…I think the ending was ok, not much of an ending, but good enough?

2666 Diaries, IV

Translating the thoughts about the killings – 2666 Diaries, IV

The Part about the Crimes

Yes, this time, I took my time to translate my buddy’s thoughts from Filipino or Taglish to English. Quite an effort since I do not wish to sound like I’m translating the inputs literally. Like “Wala lang,” a phrase that literally means “Nothing much.” Actually, that cannot even pass as a literal translation if we adhere to the strict literal sense because “lang” seems to be an exclusive Filipino thing.

Anyway, I’m just going to note again that these thoughts are from The Misanthropologist.

Day 7:

We read all about the women who were abducted, raped, strangled, staked, and thrown everywhere. The descriptions are delivered matter-of-factly, much like a police report. Well, these are mostly police reports, and autopsy reports, and such reports.

And since there are police reports, there are also inspectors. We are introduced to a number of them, but I remember mostly Juan de Dios Martinez. He seems to be the most capable and levelheaded among them, the inspectors and police men. But despite this, he can’t crack the cases assigned to him yet.

The cases, which are not only about the killings, include one about a church desecrator, which is more of a side story, unless this desecrator is somehow related to the more serious crimes. I’m quoting someone when I say that, I think it’s the police chief who said that.

There is another side story about a young bodyguard who turned to be a real police thanks to the fearless execution of his duty. Actually, there are a lot of side stories. The descriptions of the crimes are all side stories, some to be endured, some to be relished.

I sometimes think that these relaying of the crimes is saturating this part. We get the point: the murders appear random, they are violent, they are crawling at a significant number. Is this the intention of the author, to make us flinch at each page?

There are some crimes which I find less interesting than the background. Like the murder of one woman where the body is found by an El Salvadorean, who was imprisoned and released a broken man. He then wandered around, lost in that city, and he died. That’s me cutting the short story shorter.

And then there’s also the family of the eleven-year old victim. A picture of a squalid, striving family. Very poignant. And there’s something really terrible about young girls being raped.

And there is, too, the case of the American. Not really striking, but it sort of left me hanging because that’s where I stopped reading last night.

Day 8:

I don’t think the writer is trying to shock the readers with the crimes. Probably he’s trying to say that murder can be as mundane as taking a stroll in the park if people who are supposed to investigate the crimes aren’t really fit for it.

The appearance of Florita Almada is such a delight! It’s a nice break from the reportage of the crimes. Florita, or La Santa, has a beautiful background. Beautiful not because she’s a princess but because it is thought-provoking. Besides, it’s hard not to be drawn to a character who reads a lot and who is somehow nerdy and who has a tendency to be incoherent.

Florita, I should say, is officially my favorite 2666 character. Anyway, the novel wouldn’t revolve around her, so let’s get back. Where is the novel leading to? I only have a vague feeling of what this is all about.

Is it about justice, which is only that, a lofty ideal that is forever out of reach? Is it about the slumbering society, who needs a hundred crimes to wake up and do something? Is it about the fear of women, as pointed out earlier?

Day 9:

Cause of death: Strangulation. Vaginally and anally raped. No source of identification. Multiple stab wounds. Hair is shoulder level. Wearing gray sweatshirt, black leggings, and white tennis shoes.

At least at this part, there is development as far as the crimes are concerned. Epifanio does his best to solve one of the cases assigned to him. He ended up with the arrest of a computer store owner, Klaus Haas, but even if this man is in prison, the murders go on.

Haas may have a history of sexual assaults, but I don’t think he has anything to do with the murders on a large scale. Really, I don’t know what to think of.

I was told by a college colleague that one of the safest places here on earth is the prison. That is, if you are not an inmate. I think it is better to assume that nowhere is safe. There’s always the danger of the AC exploding right in front of my face while typing these words.

Maybe that’s not being unsafe. It’s being unlucky. Haas must have been unlucky to get tangled in this murder business. But I don’t think he’s unlucky at all. Being able to call a press conference while you are at jail is not bad. It’s annoying if you imagine that happening in real life, but if we only consider luck here, it’s not bad at all.

Day 10:

I am so tired of reading about the crimes. It’s becoming a drag, like pulling a blanket cast out of the sea. I am no longer interested whatever it is that is behind the crimes. I just wish for this part to end.

I insist that all those descriptions about the crimes are unnecessary to the development of the novel’s core plot. Speaking of development, I don’t know whether the unresolved cases will have further development or they will just stagnate there, on the shelves. Cliffhangers, maybe?

As I try to connect this part with the previous ones, I wonder if there is anything solid to make it all cohesive. I am always waiting for characters from the previous parts to be mentioned, particularly Guadalupe, the reporter that Fate assisted and who was about to interview the prime suspect of the killings. But no, she was not mentioned, yet. Other reporters are mentioned though, but is that enough to link the two parts together? Is it even necessary to have a link?

Will Haas be able to redeem himself in such a rotten system, one that is filled with corruption and negligence? Everything is being lost, like blood samples, DNA results, and others. And if Haas were truly innocent, this would have sucked a lot. It is screaming injustice. But if he really were involved with the crimes, is justice really served?

Why, Haas is a perpetrator of injustice himself. Remember that the end does not justify the means? He is trying to investigate the matter by resorting to under the table tricks, like obtaining a cell phone while in prison. That is not allowed anywhere, right? I mean ideally? Really, I do not know what I am talking about.

Day 11:

I cannot fully express my joy and sense of achievement when I got to the last page of this part. It seemed to go on and on forever, and just as I predicted, it ended with no closure. There was a sense of development, but we are now moving to a different part, which hopefully will tie up all the loose ends.

We are introduced to the congresswoman Azucena. I didn’t really get what her role is in the near-end phase of this part. I thought she was the art writer’s lover. Until the last couple of pages, I realized that she wants the writer to follow-up the case of her missing best friend.

It could be that this art writer, Sergio, is that guy whom Guadalupe from Part 3 succeeded. In a novel like this, one can never be too sure.

And there are more investigations being started instead of being wrapped up. No, Guadalupe was not mentioned, and I don’t understand why I keep on expecting her to be a part of this. Anyway, the new investigations, particularly the one by Mary-Sue, are quite promising, but again, I feel that all efforts are doomed.

I think I understand now why the five parts of this novel were not published individually as the author requested on his last will. They can barely stand alone. Each novel, or part, will leave the reader gritting with both suspense and disappointment, which is both a good and bad thing. The first part is good enough. The second part is too short. The third part is a mix of the first too: quite good and quite short. The fourth is a mess.

And now, we are on the last part. I do not know what to expect anymore. Rather, I do not wish to set any expectations.

Inside that book with a yellow cover everything was expressed so clearly that sometimes Florita Almada thought the author must have been a friend of Benito Juarez and that Benito Juarez had confided all his childhood experiences in the man’s ear. If such a thing were possible. If it were possible to convey what one feels when night falls and the stars come out and one is alone in the vastness, and life’s truths (night truths) begin to march past one by one, somehow swooning or as if the person out in the open were swooning or as if a strange sickness were circulating in the blood unnoticed. What are you doing, moon, up in the sky? asks the little shepherd in the poem. What are you doing, tell me, silent moon? Aren’t you tired of plying the eternal byways? The shepherd’s life is like your life. He rises at first light and moves his flock across the field. Then, weary, he rests at evening and hopes for nothing more. What good is the shepherd’s life to him or yours to you? Tell me, the shepherd muses, said Florita Almada in a transported voice, where is it heading, my brief wandering, your immortal journey? Man is born into pain, and being born itself means risking death, said the poem. And also: But why bring to light, why educate someone we’ll console for living later? And also: If life is misery, why do we endure it? And also: This, unblemished moon, is the mortal condition. But you’re not mortal, and what I say may matter little to you. And also, and on the contrary: You, eternal solitary wanderer, you who are so pensive, it may be you understand this life on earth, what our suffering and sighing is, what this death is, this last paling of the face, and leaving Earth behind, abandoning all familiar, loving company. And also: What does the endless air do, and that deep eternal blue? What does this enormous solitude portend? And what am I? And also: This is what I know and feel: that from the eternal motions, from my fragile being, others may derive some good or happiness. And also: But life for me is wrong. And also: Old, white haired, weak, barefoot, bearing an enormous burden, up mountain and down valley, over sharp rocks, across deep sands and bracken, through wind and storm, when it’s hot and later when it freezes, running on, running faster, crossing rivers, swamps, falling and rising and hurrying faster, no rest or relief, battered and bloody, at last coming to where the way and all effort has led: terrible, immense abyss into which, upon falling, all is forgotten. And also: This, O virgin moon, is human life. And also: O resting flock, who don’t, I think, know your own misery! How I envy you! Not just because you travel as if trouble free and soon forget each need, each hurt, each deathly fear, but more because you’re never bored. And also: When you lie in the shade, on the grass, you’re calm and happy, and you spend the great part of the year this way and feel no boredom. And also: I sit on the grass, too, in the shade, but an anxiousness invades my mind as if a thorn is pricking me. And also: Yet I desire nothing, and till now I have no reason for complaint. And at this point, after sighing deeply, Florita Almada would say that several conclusions could be drawn: (1) that the thoughts that seize a shepherd can easily gallop away with him because it’s human nature; (2) that facing boredom head-on was an act of bravery and Benito Juarez had done it and she had done it too and both had seen terrible things in the face of boredom, things she would rather not recall; (3) that the poem, now she remembered, was about an Asian shepherd, not a Mexican shepherd, but it made no difference, since shepherds are the same everywhere; (4) that if it was true that all effort led to a vast abyss, she had two recommendations to begin with, first, not to cheat people, and, second, to treat them properly.

Buddy Notes:

…The crimes in Part 4 are interesting – some very detailed, some mentioned just in passing. And the side stories are interesting too, especially the one about the Penitent…

…I think the author is trying to saturate the readers with his violent descriptions, trying to desensitize them…

…It’s strange because though there are lots of killings, they don’t seem to be done by the same guy or people. A lot of them are caused by domestic problems and a lot of the girls are killed by their boyfriends/husbands…

…I think it maybe have something to do with what the Asylum Director was saying about how Mexican Men have a fear of women…

…I am starting to notice that there are a lot of whores, pimps, and drug addicts in Santa Teresa, hehehe…

…I wish that instead of just listing down all the dead women, that the author would elaborate more on the events and kind of gel together the narration. For now, it’s still just a list of individual victims…

…As of yesterday’s readings, I counted 46 dead women…

…I was just curious because they mentioned in the earlier part of the book that hundreds of women died, and since Part 4 is really long, I was wondering if the author would actually list all 100 or 200+ incidents, hehehe…

…Well yeah, Mexico is classified as a 3rd world country (right?). I don’t know, but most of the deaths are whores, and there’s just too many whores for one town…

…I don’t think the sex trade is directly related to poverty, but poverty is a definite cause. I think whores and pimps are not prevalent in India, could be because of the caste system too and religion. Who knows, hahaha…

…After day 3 of The Part About the Crimes – body count so far = 76, hehehe…

…I actually like the layout of the this book because even though it’s thick and even though it has a lot of lines per page, it’s divided into chunks separated by the big dots. That’s why it seems to make it easier to read. I also feel that I can read this faster. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, hehehe…

…I think one of the things the author is doing is (exposing) and criticizing South American/Mexican culture – the prevalence of corruption, police brutality, drug-use, sex crimes, the general ideas of men towards women, etc…

…The prison in Santa Teresa doesn’t seem like a very safe place. LOL…

…I’m also waiting for a connection between the characters from Part about the Crimes with the characters from the previous parts, but I don’t think there were any, except that Haas was the guy that Guadalupe (?) from The Part About Fate interviewed in prison. But other than that, there doesn’t seem to be any connection…

2666 Diaries, III

And then there were two – 2666 Diaries, III

I don’t know what happened to our other buddies, but I’m glad that The Misanthropologist, yes, our still unnamed, elusive, not-so-anonymous friend, is still on. Who, by the way, does not sound as misanthropological as the name denotes.

Okay, I’ll stop pretending. Actually, we’re both done with this. I know, the posts are delayed. A lot of things to do. Here we go.

Notes: These are originally posted on a discussion thread at GoodReads-TFG. I was originally reading this with the bloggers of The Misanthropologist and Kikay Reader, and our bookish friends Emir and Doc Ranee. I don’t know what happened to the other three, but I can’t keep holding back for them. Their inputs, although copy-pasted from their original sources, have minor translations and edits. Also, there are spoilers! And please don’t expect to understand the novel’s entirety based on these ramblings. It’s fundamentally a logbook not intended to make light out of things for the would-be reader.

Day 5:

I thought this is going to be a real drag, but the opening paragraph proved otherwise. Something about death. And then immediately, we are introduced to a Quincy Williams. Like who is this guy and how will he contribute to the grand scheme of things? And why is this even about fate?

Rather Fate? I honestly thought it’s about fate fate, about destiny, coincidence, etc. Philosophical musings, existentialism, et al. But not really. We are presented with a guy called Oscar Fate. Why? I don’t know. It was never mentioned why. We probably always don’t need the why’s. There could be a celebrity with the same name, but I don’t know for sure. If not, it’s a bit of a puzzle, but as I mentioned, let’s not brood over it. It could be just a whim.

I enjoyed this part better than the previous part. Probably because there are interesting touches, like Seaman’s (?) talk about Danger, Money, Food, Stars, and Usefulness. I can’t say I fully understood them, but they are worth a reread. They can even stand apart from the book.

This novel is structured similarly to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, differing only in timeline. The parts of Bolano’s novel are moving concurrently while the chapters of Mitchell’s novel are connected in layers. 2666, however, somehow also works in layers, just because there’s a feeling that you are getting deeper into things, hahaha.

Day 6:

I think the events took a sharp turn here. A preparation for the next part, I think, since there is more talk about the crimes than before. We are introduced to Guadalupe, a reporter assigned to investigate the heinous crimes.

And look, Rosa Amalfitano is here. I didn’t expect her to have a lot of exposure on this part. Well, what can I say? She’s your typical American teenager. Well, she’s not American, but booze and drugs while slacking your college years away is something I find all too familiar. Not that I’ve been a college derelict, but hey, you get the drift. I think?

At the last few pages of Part III, there’s a sense of mounting action. We are excited to know who the prime suspect is. And we want to find out what will happen to Fate and Rosa. Is someone really after them? Will Guadalupe be able to pop the first question? Judging by the remaining number of pages, those questions will not be answered.

I also think that Fate’s character lost its flavor at the near end. He turned out to be someone who had less gall. I still give him credit for some of the things that he exhibited, like his interest to cover the crimes. But after seeing the beauty of Rosa, he crippled down and settled to a fetal position. That’s what I imagines, at least. He stopped caring for that.

Does this say that men’s principles are at the mercy of women?

When did it all begin? he thought. When did I go under? A dark, vaguely familiar Aztec lake. The nightmare. How do I get away? How do I take control? And the questions kept coming: Was getting away what he really wanted? Did he really want to leave it all behind? And he also thought: the pain doesn’t matter anymore. And also: maybe it all began with my mother’s death. And also: the pain doesn’t matter, as long as it doesn’t get any worse, as long as it isn’t unbearable. And also: fuck, it hurts, fuck, it hurts. Pay it no mind, pay it no mind. And all around him, ghosts.

Buddy Notes:

…I think I mentioned earlier that of all the parts so far, this one is the most “concrete,” in a sense that it’s about real issues, real problems, and real people. As opposed to scholars with their philosophical and intellectual troubles…

…For me, if there is a part that could stand by itself, I think it’s the Part About the Critics, because though I’m starting to get an idea how Amalfitano, Fate and Rosa tie into the whole story, I don’t know what the critics have to do with it other than being Archimboldi scholars…

…I think Part 3 jives with the existing theme that, in the end, it all boils down to sex…

…Anyway, I thought the ending of Part 3 was strange, with Fate hitting that guy at the other guy’s house, then Amalfitano telling Fate to take his daughter, Rosa to the US, then Guadalupe meeting Rosa and the three of them meeting the suspect and prisoner…

…When I read that, I had to re-read it a few times to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I just found Amalfitano’s actions toward Fate and Rosa so strange…

…To me the ending of Part 3 just seemed disjointed and out of character (for Amalfitano). I don’t know…

…Well I’m interested on your feedback about the events at The Part About the Crimes, hehehe. Personally I like it, though I wish it were more… cohesive? Maybe that’s not the right word for it…