The Part about 2666

Roberto Bolano's 2666 is my favorite book.  It's everything I want from great literature.  It has great characters, great narrative, and a compelling central story, told interestingly.  It's split into five separate parts, each of which pivots around the same general details: the fictional author Benno von Archiboldi and the serial killings of young women in Santa Teresa, based on actual unsolved murders in Ciudad Juarez on the border between Mexico and the United States.

Part 1: The Part about the Critics
This opening act is the most accessible part of the narrative, tracing the careers and ambitions of a small group of European literary critics who have each become obsessed with Benno von Archimboldi. A romance brews between a few of them, further enhancing the broad appeal of this act.  They're drawn to Santa Teresa in the hopes of finally meeting the reclusive Archimboldi, and as such represent the soft introduction to the murders that become so integral later on.

Part 2: The Part about Amalfitano
We next concentrate on the first of a seemingly, increasingly random set of individuals.  Amalfitano is another academic, a professor teaching in Santa Teresa, whose story seems pretty insular.  Here's where the true cleverness of the book begins to reveal itself, however.  Amalfitano has a daughter, and he spends his act worrying about her.  This is before the reader truly appreciates the grim nature of Santa Teresa and the precarious position Amalfitano's daughter is really in.  It's an indication of Bolano's expansive vision.

Part 3: The Part about Fate
What seems all the more random is this act, which is about of all things a boxing match.  A journalist comes to Santa Teresa from the States in order to cover what's been billed as a momentous fight.  The journalist knows nothing about boxing, and as he attempts to gleam the relevant angle from the pool of his colleagues gathered for the occasion, he instead becomes embroiled in an unrelated investigation, which concerns the murders at the heart of the book.  Once again Bolano surprises the reader with his ability to explore his story from unexpected vantage points, disparate stories that converge in fascinating ways.

Part 4: The Part about the Crimes
As you might expect from the title for this act, this is the one that explores the murders directly.  It's a mix of investigation and fascination with the man who's been accused of the crimes, set apart in incredible fashion from regular crime fiction by Bolano's stark descriptions and continued ability to capture the human in the midst of what has become the inhuman.

Part 5: The Part about Archimboldi
Here at last in the conclusion is the story of the reclusive author who somehow ties everything together, a German named Hans Reiter whose attempts to overcome the horrors he experiences in his own life lead to those of another generation.

Further reading:

  • Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon
  • Ice Trilogy by Vladimir Sorokin
  • Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest)
  • Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
  • Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
  • Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
  • The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevski
  • The Green Lantern by Jerome Charyn
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • Your Face Tomorrow by Javier Marias
  • Zulu by Caryl Ferey
  • "Ikebukuro West Gate Park" by Ira Ishida (can be found in Digital Geishas and Talking Frogs)
  • "Red Cavalry," "Odessa Tales" by Isaac Babel

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