Reviewed by Renée Bosman, Reference Librarian for Government and Public Affairs and Reference Collection Coordinator
Not for the faint of heart, The Savage Detectives is a dreamlike and gritty tale of the fictional Visceral Realism poetry movement in 1970s Mexico City. The story follows the elusive ringleaders of this motley group of young writers – Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima – on their quixotic mission to find Cesárea Tinajero, the first true Visceral Realist. By turns ponderous and gripping, The Savage Detectives is an absorbing novel that is not to be missed, if only to experience Bolaño’s style and Wimmer’s superb translation.
Told through the voice of a seventeen-year-old law school dropout and newly-minted member of the group, Juan García Madero, the novel begins with an account of the events leading up New Year’s Eve 1975, when he, Arturo, and Ulises flee Mexico City under inauspicious circumstances. At this point the story changes abruptly to a series of narratives from over fifty characters, spanning more than twenty years and several continents. Ostensibly about what happens to Arturo and Ulises after that fateful New Year’s Eve, these pieces also function as haunting, intimate portraits of the narrators themselves. The shortest part of the novel then returns to New Year’s Day 1976, with García Madero’s diary entries chronicling their fateful trip into the Sonora Desert and to the conclusion of their literary quest.