miércoles, 25 de enero de 2012

Los detectives salvajes

Los detectives salvajes (Anagrama, 2006)
por Roberto Bolaño
España, 1998

Al haber leído tantas novelas maravillosas desde que la primera vez que leí Los detectives salvajes, me alegro decirles que el mamotreto de 1998 de Bolaño siga siendo impresionante la segunda vez.  De hecho, joder, debo decirlo más claramente: esto libro me hace indeciblemente feliz. Estructuralmente algo de una "novela puzzle" en la tradición de vanguardia de Rayuela de Cortázar y de La vida instrucciones de uso de Perec, la obra se abre y se acaba con la historia del poeta adolescente hiperactivo Juan García Madero y de su iniciación en el llamado movimiento real visceralista en México a mediados de los setenta.  Más tarde, el argumento abarca veinte años y pasa por múltiples continentes siguiendo la pista de Arturo Belano y Ulises Lima (ellos mismos obsesionados con la búsqueda de una poeta mexicana vanguardista de los años 20 que se llama Cesárea Tinajero), los líderes de los real visceralistas además de ser vagos y vendedores de drogas y poètes maudits latinoamericanos, como el movimiento se desintegra.  A través de una manera de narrar que es asombrosa y, de vez en cuando, incluso sumamente exuberante por parte de Bolaño--en particular, el uso de una multiplicidad de más que 50 narradores que comparten sus diarios íntimos, historias orales, y monólogos en un mosaico de noventaiocho fragmentos de primera persona (¡que Thomas Bernhard supere a eso!)--un rayo x del alma de una generación de jovenes latinoamericanos perdidos eventualmente emerge de la nube de vapor.  Algunos aspectos notables personales.  El humor. Con la excepción posible de La literatura nazi en América, esto tiene que ser lo más definitivamente chistoso de todos los libros de Bolaño a pesar del horror que también se nota.  ¡La mera idea de una revista de literatura que se llama Lee Harvey Oswald!  La oración borracha de Ernesto San Epifano sobre la literatura heterosexual, homosexual y bisexual  ("Las novelas, generalmente, eran heterosexuales, la poesía, en cambio, era absolutamente homosexual, los cuentos, deduzco, eran bisexuales, aunque esto no lo dijo" [83]).  La manera distintivamente mexicana de un grupo de amigos de decir "ya basta" a un tipo que está exagerando la historia de una conquista sexual:  "-No te la prolongues -dijo Pancho.  -No le pongas tanta crema a sus tacos -dijo el hermano" (70).  El lenguaje y la oralidad.  Además de cómo Bolaño resuelve los problemas de la interioridad y de la perspectiva de sus personajes con la proliferación de narradores  --algunos, como Carlos Monsiváis y Michel Bulteau, escritores vivos con caras públicas conocidas  --no menos impresionante es la atención prestada al habla de la "vida real" y a la poesía de las pláticas cotidianas.  Los mexicanos, por ejemplo, hablan con el abanico completo de útiles palabrotes nacionales como hijo de la chingada, pinche, pendejo, mamón, naco y buey mientras que los argentinos y los uruguayos se diferencian por el uso de pibes en vez de chicos, etcéra.  En general, supongo, me gusta escuchar el diálogo de los personajes y también me gusta rendirse a una experiencia cuentística en cual un teenager puede describir a los poetas mexicanos como "mis futuros colegas' y en cual un duelo de sables entre un novelista y un crítico literario puede parecer como lo más natural de todo debido a las otras tragicomedias bajo consideración.  En resumen, un cóctel molotov de la ternura y la desesperación.  ¡Órale!  (http://www.anagrama-ed.es/)

The Savage Detectives (Picador, 2008)
by Roberto Bolaño [translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer]
Spain, 1998

Having read so many other wonderful novels since the first time I tore through The Savage Detectives, I'm happy to note that Bolaño's 1998 chunkster still impresses the second time around.  In fact, fuck it, let me make that more clear: this book slays me.  Structurally something of a "puzzle novel" in the envelope-pushing tradition of Cortázar's Hopscotch and Perec's Life A User's Manual, the work opens and closes with hyper teenage poet Juan García Madero's account of his initiation into the so-called visceral realism poetry movement in mid-1970s Mexico City before spanning twenty years and criss-crossing multiple continents following in the footsteps of visceral realist leaders/lowlifes/small-time drug dealers/Lat Am poètes maudits Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima--themselves hot on the trail of a vanished avant-garde Mexican poet from the 1920s named Cesárea Tinajero--as and after the movement implodes.  Through ace, often wildly exuberant storytelling on Bolaño's part--in particular, the use of a multiplicity of upwards of  fifty narrators who share their diary entries, oral histories, and monologues in a mosaic composed of ninety-eight distinct first-person fragments (top that, Thomas Bernhard!)--an x-ray of the soul of a lost generation of Latin American youth eventually emerges from the haze.  Some personal highlights.  Humor.  With the possible exception of Nazi Literature in the Americas, this has got to be the most laugh out loud funny of all Bolaño's books by far despite the desperation that's also present.  I mean, c'mon, the very idea of a litmag called Lee Harvey Oswald! Ernesto San Epifanio's drunken three-page rant on heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual literature ("Novels, in general, were heterosexual, whereas poetry was completely homosexual; I guess short stories were bisexual, although he didn't say so" [80, in Natasha Wimmer's translation]). The distinctively Mexican way a group of immature young friends razz the guy who's laying it on too thick during the recounting of a sexual conquest:  "-No te la prolongues -dijo Pancho.  -No le pongas tanta crema a tus tacos -dijo su hermano" ["'Don't overdo it,' said Pancho.  'Don't put so much cream on your tacos,' said his brother"] (73, in my rendering of the Spanish original; Wimmer presents this exchange on page 69 of her translation as "'Spare us,' said Pancho" and "'Cut the crap,' said his brother," which conveys the essence of the colloquial dialogue but doesn't do justice to the second brother's culinary witticism).  Language and orality.  In addition to how Bolaño resolves the problems of interiority and POV with the profusion of narrators here--some, like Carlos Monsiváis and Michel Bulteau, living writers with established public personas at that--no less impressive is the attention paid to "real-life" speech patterns and the poetry of everyday chatter.  The Mexicans, for example, use the full panoply of national curse words like hijo de la chingadapinche, pendejo, mamónnaco and buey for insults; the Argentineans and Uruguayans speak in terms of pibes in place of chicos for boys and kids, etc. (would that I knew how Wimmer handles all these regionalisms).  Mostly, I guess, I just like listening to the way Bolaño's characters talk and the act of surrendering myself to a storytelling experience in which a teenager who can refer to dead Mexican poets as "my future colleagues" and a swordfight between a novelist and a critic on a beach can seem like the most natural things in the world amid all the other tragicomedies on display.  In short, a Molotov cocktail of tenderness and despair.  ¡Órale!  (http://www.picadorusa.com/)


Savage (and non-savage) Readers
Rise of in lieu of a field guide
Amanda of Simpler Pastimes
Amateur Reader (Tom) #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5 of Wuthering Expectations
Bellezza of Dolce Bellezza
Bettina of Liburuak
Caroline of Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat
Gavin of Page247
Jeremy #1, #2, and #3 of READIN (more to come!)
Nicole #1, #2, #3 , and #4 of bibliographing
Sarah of A Rat in the Book Pile
Sarah of what we have here is a failure to communicate
Scott of seraillon
Séamus #1 and #2 of Vapour Trails
Selena of luxe hours

29 comentarios:

  1. Lordy. The things that get lost in translation. Glad to see your great post wasn't lost in the Sonoran desert after all!

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  2. Good grief I love this book! :)

    "often wildly exuberant storytelling" Yes indeed - the middle section is so much fun. Every little episode is a trick up Bolano's sleeve.

    I really hope to read it in the original Spanish someday - the things lost in translation, as seraillon says above. That "cream on the taco" line is hysterical!

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  3. Simonel. It's a very immediate and musical book for me. For a reread, it still gave a whole lot. Translating regionalisms faithfully must really require losing faith in translation.

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  4. I knew it while reading it - the German translation is perfect, very well done, nothing lost in translation.
    Part I made me laugh as well but part II slayed me in a somewhat different way from you.

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  5. I can't help thinking that reducing the 'cream on the taco' line to 'cut the crap' is unnecessarily dumbing the book down.

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  6. *Scott: Thanks for your kind words, but I'm really disappointed with how the post turned out given my awareness of the fact that I barely scratched the surface of the things that could have been said about the novel. Hopefully others will be more up to the task!

    *Sarah: That "don't put too much cream on your tacos" line is a crack-up in the original, so I'm glad to see it pick up a couple of more laughs from Bolaño fans here! More importantly, can I admit that it's been fun seeing how your appreciation of The Savage Detectives has grown over time? Such an exciting thing when that happens between a reader and a book! The middle section is such a storytelling extravaganza that it reminds me of things like Don Quixote, The Decameron and the 1,001 Nights in its joy of storytelling--a little bummed to find that others have been so put off by it, though.

    Rise: "Simonel," awesome! It's a very immediate and musical book for me as well as you might have gathered. In terms of the translation thing, I'd love to sit down with Wimmer's version at some point to leisurely see how she took on some of the translation challenges. From that perspective, I can't imagine too many more difficult recent modern prose works to have tackled.

    *Caroline: It's the German cover and not the translation that worries me more, ha ha, although I never really liked the design on the cover I own either for that matter. In any event, touché about the second section's different slaying effect on you!

    *Anthony: I don't want to bag on Wimmer because I've only seen a random collection of comparison quotes from her (highly-regarded) translation, but I basically agree with you. At the very least, I don't understand her translation decision here given that it unnecessarily neuters a joke that isn't too difficult to understand in English. Weird.

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  7. It's an odd cover and if you saw the covers of his other novels which are very well done you'd be even more puzzled. No idea why they thought they had to put guys wearing tap dance shoes on that cover.

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  8. Yep. Can't add too much to what you wrote. This book, it is amazing.

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  9. What do you mean by puzzle novel? Just that it's splintered like Hopscotch, or that there are actual puzzles to solve like in Pale Fire?

    I ask because I have solved one of the puzzles and want to know which ones I missed.

    I actually found Nazi Literature a lot funnier, but the jokes there were frankly cheaper and more reference-dependent. In Detectives the humor was purer. Although the chapter at the Madrid Book Fair was basically a scream from beginning to end.

    Wonderful to know about the suppressed slang and regionalisms. Too bad commercial publishers are so a'feared of footnotes.

    I guess I'll try to write something for Monday. These weekends deadlines are impossible!

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  10. Banjamin Kunkel in 2007 LRB review:

    "But in The Savage Detectives he doesn’t overdo the local colour, which his superb translator Natasha Wimmer in any case wisely ignores."

    To which I say: ??????

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  11. *Caroline: To put the situation in a more positive light, I guess maybe I should be glad to learn that New Directions isn't the only publishing house putting hideous covers on excellent novels these days...

    *E.L. Fay: Agreed!

    *Tom: I was speaking of puzzle novels loosely in the sense that it's up to the reader to assemble the fragmented pieces of "plot" in a more coherent manner than they might otherwise initially appear. As for actual puzzles to resolve, the only one I'm aware of is the big one at the very end--though it wouldn't surprise me to learn that Bolaño left us some others that I'm just not aware of. I should probably note that the identity of the people "recording" the testimonies seems more a mystery than a puzzle to me since I'm not sure we're left a definitive answer to that one. In any event, I look forward eagerly to hearing what you have in mind about that solved puzzle, whatever it may be! On Kunkel's contradictory comment, I'm not sure what to say not really having looked at how Wimmer translated the work except for the few quotes I cited from her. However, it's obvious in Bolaño's original from vocabulary alone that Amadeo Salvatierra is a Mexican, for example, and that Auxilio Lacouture is from one of the Southern Cone countries. I'd hope that Kunkel meant that Bolaño doesn't overdo local color in the same way that maybe García Márquez does in 100 Years of Solitude, but I don't imagine that's what he meant. The idea that a translator would fix something an author wrote by wisely ignoring it is rather appalling to me actually, but thanks for providing the link. Food for thought and all that.

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  12. First, great post, and thank you for hosting.

    Second, Kunkel is a fool! Horrors! Ugh! It was depressing enough to realize how much Wimmer's (seemingly excellent) translation ignores in the way of regionalism, but that is just unforgivable.

    She does throw in, here and there, some Spanish slang in the original—simonel is one of the big ones—but it certainly does seem like too much of this was "smoothed over" and I would have loved footnotes or something to help resolve it.

    Still, since Spanish is a language I don't really know at all, and certainly can't read at all, I feel a certain lightness when reading it in translation—there's nothing else I can do! (C.f. the nothing-but-guilt I feel reading German or French in translation.)

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  13. This is not a book for definitive answers, but there are some very strong clues about that/those oral historian/s. So I am calling that a puzzle. Simonel is one of the clues for it, which is why Wimmer was able to save it, even if her editorial mandate was to clean out stuff like that.

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  14. Beautifully captured. It was a challenge to create so many characters and so many distinct voices and its a shame that the translation may have elided some of that work. However, the book is still wonderful translated!

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  15. *Nicole: Thanks, so glad you could join us, and you expressed how I feel about Kunkel in such a pithy manner to boot! Anyway, interesting to hear about the Spanish slang Wimmer leaves in here and there (I'd imagine she would have to in many instances). Also, I feel your pain/guilt about reading a language that you're somewhat familiar with in translation; I hope to read new French acquisitions only in French this year (well, if they're not doorstoppers), but my French is so inadequate these days that it takes me forever to look up all the essential vocabulary even in a shorter novel. Very depressing!

    *Tom: Simonel is a clue? Fascinating--must revisit the passage(s) in question! Also, I forgot to tell you earlier that those Madrid Book Fair sequences that you mentioned are some of my favorites in the entire book. Of course, I have many favorite sequences in the book but still...

    *Séamus: You're way too kind about the post, but thanks for humoring me! I've heard almost nothing but raves about Wimmer's translation, but it'd still be interesting to me to read a big chunk of the novel in translation to see how all these distinctive characters sound in English. Speaking of which, did you enjoy the structure of the middle part of the book the first time you read it or did it bother you at all? I'm curious because the two people that I know of from the group read who gave up on the book actively disliked the "random" testimonial presentation (I'm guessing they might have hated the movie Memento for its un-chronological time structure as well). Cheers!

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  16. Richard - I enjoyed the structure of the middle part more than the more straightforward bookends. It reminded me of a short film I had seen which was composed of faux camcorder interviews where the cameraperson seems to be searching for someone who left the city some time before. gradually we realise that the cameraperson and the person they are asking about are one and the same.
    I included Adjunct, an Undigest in my books of last year - the placement of lines in it was decided by a random number generator. I also enjoyed Memento.

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  17. Simonel is a clue for the detective searching, perhaps foolishly, for García Madero in Part II.

    Having read this book once, I am a fool to even be talking about this sort of thing. I am almost certainly seeing the bait but not the trap.

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  18. I am almost certainly seeing the bait but not the trap.

    Isn't this always the problem with folks like Bolaño? Ach, the life of a reader is a hard one.

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  19. *Séamus: Thanks for your response and that info about those other two works. As much as I love García Madero's diary entries myself, I have to say that I think the middle section of The Savage Detectives is where the REALLY good stuff is to be found--can't believe so many people find it so distressing!

    *Tom: Unlike others, I suffer "fools" gladly when it comes to hearing about risk-taking explanations that may shed some new light on one of my favorite novels. Excited to hear about your theory since the mystery interviewers would seem to have to include at the very least: 1) Belano; 2) an unnamed single interviewer; 3) an unnamed set of multiple interviewers. Off to read your first post in a minute!

    *Nicole: Hard life for readers? LOL. All I can say to that is that it's nice for me to be able to sit back and let you and Tom do all the heavy lifting for the group!

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  20. I was thinking that instead of an American translation there should exist a British English translation where the Chilango slang would be replaced by rhyming cockney slang - which is as imaginative and funny as the Mexico DF one. A glossary at the end of the book would be mandatory.

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  21. sorry to be late to the party! i was away from my copy and didn't want to post it without the excerpts from the text!

    i'm just now starting to read all of the starred post from the other participants. i have to admit, i hadn't expected so many people would dislike the book or give in after the first part. the humour at the beginning kept me going, but i loved the "puzzle" and time-hopping in the second section a lot.

    having only read three bolano novels so far, i think i had less to say on the book than many others, but i just couldn't stop comparing it to 2666 no matter how much i tried.

    thank you for hosting the read-along for this. i'm not sure i'd have gotten to read the book

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  22. *Claudia: Hey, thanks for the visit--you have such a great blog, but I haven't had a chance to introduce myself over there yet. Anyway, nice to meet you! Whether you're kidding or not about the Cockney versions of chilango slang, I agree that many English translations could profit from having American and British samples to choose from--was reading an Italian crime novel translated into British English last week and couldn't stop myself from laughing every time I heard a tough guy call another tough guy an arsehole. That sounds so comical to American ears. Cheers!

    *Selena: You're not really late at all--in fact, I think there may well be at least two more additional bloggers adding posts sometime this week, and I think the discussions may carry on for a while as well (at least I hope so). In any event, thanks for joining us! I think it's natural to compare The Savage Detectives to 2666, and one of the things I liked about your post was that you were one of the first people to do that with such emphasis so far. Rise and I discussed our love for these two books by e-mail a week or two back, and neither he nor I would be able to pick a favorite between the two novels. They're both great, just in different ways. Which is the third Bolaño book you've read so far? I don't remember reading about that. Cheers!

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  23. Hey Richard, thank you and nice making your virtual acquaintance too. I was half joking and it's funny you should mention an Italian detective story because it was such a book that gave me the rhyming cockney idea.

    In the Montalbano detective stories written by Andrea Camilleri and translated by Stephen Sartarelli there is one character (Catarella) that, being a Sicilian "provincial" whose native language is the Sicilian dialect, speaks a mangled Italian that even the other characters have trouble understanding. The misunderstandings are a never ending source of comedy.

    Well, Sartarelli solved that by having Catarella mispronounce english words and by speaking like an Italian immigrant with a Brooklyn accent. It works brilliantly. To the point I found myself looking for other books translated by this guy. It was a risky choice he made but something that seemed impossible to translate became at the very least conveyable by assuming it was a culturally transferable phenomenon rather than a language question.

    (and I only looked over my husband's shoulder when he was reading TSD so can't comment much other than that we both agreed we should pick up the spanish version to not miss out on the slang)

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  24. I can't stop using "Simonel" now thanks to you people. "Have you finished that report yet?" "Simonel, boss." But how clever, Amateur Reader (Tom) to find yet another clue in the use of that word, name. And isn't this whole novel "bait"?

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  25. I'm late to the party, because I have been trying to write a review. Phew! Where would you start?! But I did start, so maybe the question is how do you end?

    Thanks for hosting the read-along. It's a superb novel, but I definitely needed a kick start to get me going. I don't think there will be any such problem when I get hold of Nazi Literature in the Americas. 2666 is stunning, but hard. Savage Detectives I found more accessible.

    I like the comparison with Perec. That was a novel that I also hugely enjoyed.

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  26. Well, I think I must conclude my Bolano experience with The Savage Detectives by saying I enjoy you writing about him more than his writing itself. You make him come alive, you make him interesting (although I still don't think a lit mag called Lee Harvey Oswald is funny; to me, it's stupid!). I remember the heterosexual/homosexual reference to poetry and whatnot, that was good. In the end, either a lot went over my head, or I think it's just plain pointless. But, I do appreciate you teaching me about this author even if I can't appreciate him.

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  27. *Claudia: Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, but that story of yours is quite a coincidence because the novel I originally referred to was none other than Camilleri's The Terra Cotta Dog! Anyway, glad to hear that the risky translation gimmick worked for you (I set my copy aside temporarily and can't remember who translated it) and do hold out for The Savage Detectives in Spanish if you want to enjoy all Bolaño's slang (I'm sure that, through no fault of her own, Wimmer must have had to leave out a lot from her English translation). Cheers!

    *Scott: I actually had one more addition to the long line of Simonel line of posts and comments in mind, but that last Bolaño post of mine sort of upended the plans. Oh, well...

    *Sarah: Apologies to you as well for the delay in responding, but I'm glad you made it to the party after all! I agree that The Savage Detectives is more accessible than 2666, and I very much look forward to hearing what you make of Nazi Literature in the Americas once you get around to it. Another simply fantastic read in my book. Cheers!

    *Bellezza: Sorry you didn't feel the Bolaño love, but that's OK because I enjoy him enough for the both of us! Anyway, thanks for the kind words. As for the Lee Harvey Oswald thing, two of the things that amuse me about that beyond the title itself are that 1) "Stupid!" or not, that title is rather in-your-face for a Mexican lit mag; and 2) other characters in the novel actually agree with you that that's a horrible title. In other words, Bolaño has his humor cake and eats it, too! Cheers!

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  28. I had meant to join you but it was just TOO MUCH. Now I'll need to do it on my own someday... O_o

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    Respuestas
    1. Gnoegnoe, you missed an amazing book according to the consenus opinion--many of whom were actually rereading the novel that was just TOO MUCH for you. Of course, the two people who didn't finish it might not agree. :D

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