Thursday, December 4, 2008

NYT 10 Best Books of the Year

As a bookseller, I'm sad to say that I've only read one of the titles: "2666" by Roberto Bolano.

Bolano's last novel, which he barely completed before he died in 2003, is a novel of enormous scope and length. The novel itself is 894 pages long (in the English translation, by Natasha Wimmer), and it covers many characters and locales. The central theme of the story revolves around the still (mostly) unsolved murders of young women factory workers in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. This was clearly something that disturbed Bolano, and his outright depictions of the gruesome violence in Part 4 (The Part about the Crimes) can justify my saying that.

The novel is broken into 5 different, albeit loosely connected, stories:

1. The Part about the Critics
2. The Part about Amalfitano
3. The Part about Fate
4. The Part about the Crimes
5. The Part about Archimboldi

Bolano actually left instructions for his heirs to release easy story as a standalone novel (or novella, considering some of the parts are short in length) each year for five consecutive years. Due to the importance of the work as a whole, those plans were scrapped, and they were all released in a single edition; one hardcover edition, or 3 paperback editions in a slipcase.

Beginning with Part 1, the story follows four intellectual elites and their passion for a reclusive German author by the name of Benno von Archimboldi. Their stories are simple, yet their love lives intertwine to make somewhat of a mess of everything in the end. Part 1 ends with them traveling to Ciudad Juarez in the hopes of finding Archimboldi.

Part 2 continues, essentially, where Part 1 left off. We meet a philosophy professor named Amalfitano, who is disillusioned by the city in which he lives and works, and he struggles with it all throughout his time in the novel. He also has a young daughter that meets up with an American reporter, named Fate, in Part 3.

Part 3 evolves around the investigative journalism of a guy named Fate. Coincidence in Bolano's choice of character name? He quickly finds out that his story is going to get him killed, and he has to flee, with Amalfitano's daughter in tow. Her life was more in danger than his, as I recall.

Part 4 is purely about the finding, and details thereof, the mutilated bodies of the women factory workers. Bolano, if you'll excuse the colloquialism, gets right in your face with these accounts. This part is over 300 pages long, and spares no detail as to the disgusting elements that can manifest in man. The victims range from 11 to 26 years old, and are almost always raped, tortured, and murdered. All these crimes, for the most part, go unpunished. Some people confess, but the police don't care. They understand that sometimes men can get mad at their women, and they have to let them know who is in charge. By far, this is the most disturbing section of the book.

Part 5 concludes with the biography of Benno von Archimboldi. It tells his story of how he was a soldier in the (Nazi) Germany army, and all the atrocities that he dealt with during that time. He becomes a writer, quickly putting out books at a rapid pace, all the while becoming more and more reclusive. In the end, he heads to Ciudad Juarez, for reasons I will not tell.

You can view the list of this and the other nine books here.

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