Finally, having overcome my hesitant hesitation in writing about The Savage Detectives, I am writing this first of three posts about this great novel.
Published as Los detectives salvages in 1998 and translated into English by Natasha Wimmer and only available in 2007, this novel is what one must read before all world happens, after everything else has happened. For each page, each nuance and every turn in this long novel is a step towards poetry.
It is divided into three sections, the first one called Mexicans lost in Mexico. This is how it begins......
I have been cordially invited to join the visceral realists. I accepted, of course. There was no initiation ceremony. It was better that way.
I am not really sure what visceral realism is........................
Thus begins one great narration, delivered by a 17 year old aspiring poet called Juan Garcia Madero. It ends on the 31st of December, as Garcia Madero jumps into a car with the visceral realists, as they are being shot at, looking at shadows.
all the sadness of the world was concentrated in that shadow, he tells us.
The diary is straight forward, revealing the extreme pain of being a gawky young poet, in Mexico city as our Madero jumps into visceral realism. At his poetic workshop, he gets bored till he runs into Ulises Lima and Belano ( bolano's alter ego), founders of this realism. He decides that leaving school is better, and joins the fraternity of unemployed, hopeful, hesitant, energetic poets who follow the moon rather than the sun. Madero falls in love many times, till he finally falls in love with maria, perhaps an ex visceral realist herself. This ends in failure, and Madero starts living with a bar maid till he leaves her for maria again, which ends in Madero fleeing with Lima and Belano into the Mexican desert.
But is that all? No. Let us see what visceral realism is.
Madero, whilst in a bar hears a singer and then tells us........the song sounded to me like a bolero, about a desperate love, a love that could never heal, although with the passage of the years it became more humiliating, more pathetic, more terrible. With these sensibilities, Madero reveals an undying love for sadness in beauty, which I think is the true definition of beauty. This beauty can only be found in poetry and writing, in associating with this underground movement, called visceral realism, for it is an alternative answer to the established voice of literature, which Madero calls pet it-bourgeoisie, as all visceral realists must be basically proletarians.
Madero spends all his time in poetry, for the world outside poetry is outside realism. He follows Lima and Belano, borrowing books from them, even at times stealing them. Madero feels a physical need to hear one of her poems from her own lips. Madero, who has left his family, drifts from place to place like a piece of flotsam. This drift is not a physical drift but a poetic drift. At a book shop, Madero hears the owner saying that realism is never visceral, visceral belongs to the oneiric world, which he finds disconcerting. the underprivileged youth were left with no alternative but the literary avant-garde. the problem with literature, like life, goes he is that in the end people always turn into bastards.
Visceral realism is always in madero's mind, even after frenetic love making with his barmaid. In one sense, madero says, the name of the group is a joke. at the same time, it is completely in earnest. according to Belano, the visceral realists vanished in the Sonora desert. the visceral realists walked backward. backward, gazing at a point in the distance, but moving away from it, walking straight toward the unknown.
Madero never discusses visceral realism with Lima or Belano directly. There is a deliberate mystery about the group, which Madero finds intriguing. However, he does rebel occasionally at the concept of this realism but is loath to distance himself from Belano and Lima. In between marijuana and endless tequila's, Madero the lover is actually Madero the poet. His affiliation to the literary world is very solid, which makes him accept the friendly overtures of Lima and Belano, who until the first section ends, are like ghosts on the fringe, like some dictators who own or direct this group, in the drone and darkness of Mexico City nights, purging the group of faulty poets and then denying this purge altogether.
However, they seem like men of action, revelaed on the last page of section 1, as they help Maria's father, whose house is under siege by criminals, as both Lima and Belano jump into a white impala, along with Lupe, maria's friend ( who is escaping a fiendish pimp). Our young poet Madero, unafraid, jumps into this impala too. It seems that Lima and Belano's real mission is to track down Cesarea Tinajero, an obscure Mexican poet of the thirties who disappeared into the desert, taking with her the great unpublished gems of Mexican poetry. Thus, Lima and Belano, literary detectives, travel on this savage mission, themselves hunted, destined for violence, poetry and exile.
This is Bolano's persistent theme, especially passionately written in last evenings on earth and in amulet. Madero, who reads at a frenetic pace, throws writers and poets at you on each and every page. This section is like a catalogue of Latin American poetry and literature. The necessary theme, the real action in this section is expressed by Madero, a young poet who leaves his family and lives like a nomad in Mexico city, drifting, sighing, drinking, loving but always, always in poetry. His flight into the desert is his answer and his response against the night of his city.