Benno von Archimboldi
Archimboldi is the pen name of German author Hans Reiter (1920-), one of the central characters in 2666. He is introduced in the first part of the novel, "The Part About the Critics", as a mysterious and elusive figure. After learning that Archimboldi has recently been sighted in Mexico, three literary critics, Jean-Claude Pelletier, Manuel Espinoza, and Liz Norton, travel to Santa Teresa (the fictional counterpart to real-life Ciudad Juárez) in pursuit of his trail. While they are unsuccessful, they learn that his real name is Hans Reiter.
From then on, Archimboldi effectively disappears until he resurfaces in the last part of the novel ("The Part About Archimboldi"), which tells the künstlerroman-like story of his childhood in Germany, his experiences fighting in World War II, his relationship with his wife, Ingeborg, and his development as a writer. The novel concludes as he leaves for Mexico, at the behest of his sister, in order to pursue his imprisoned nephew.
The fictional Archimboldi was born in Prussia in 1920 as Hans Reiter. His father was a one-legged soldier who fought in World War I, and his mother was "one-eyed" (blind in one eye). He was preoccupied with seaweed and diving as a child; for a long time, the only book he read and carried was Animals and Plants of the European Coastal Region. He considered the birth of his younger sister, Lotte, when he was ten, to be the "best thing that had ever happened to him."
After leaving school at 13, Reiter eventually went to work as a servant in the country house of the Baron von Zumpe, where his mother was also employed. There he befriended Hugo Halder, the baron's nephew, who introduced him to the wider world of literature. At the house, he also encountered for the first time the baron's daughter, the future Baroness von Zumpe (and later, Mrs. Bubis). After the baron closed the house, Reiter left to work in Berlin.
Reiter was drafted into the Nazi German army in 1939. He spent most of the war fighting in the eastern front. He was eventually captured and placed in an Allied POW camp. His literary career, for which he was to become famous, began in Cologne, Germany, where he settled after the war.
Reiter adopted a pen-name to avoid being connected with a murder he committed in a US POW camp. His surname, "Benno von Archimboldi," was modeled after Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo. This painter came to Reiter's attention through reading the notebooks of a Ukrainian man in whose house Reiter wintered during the Nazi offensive into Russia.
Archimboldi's long-time publisher was Mr. Bubis. Bubis was nearly alone in recognizing Archimboldi's talent. After Bubis died, the reins of his publishing house were turned over to his wife, Mrs. Bubis (the former Baroness von Zumpe), with whom Archimboldi had an occasionally amorous and lifetime friendship.
In 2666, the following fictional works are listed in chronological order of their publication:
- The Endless Rose (Attributed to "...a frenchman named J. M. G. Arcimboldi" in an earlier novel by Bolaño - The Savage Detectives (1998))
- The Leather Mask (part of a trilogy with D'Arsonval and The Garden)
- Rivers of Europe
- Bifurcaria Bifurcata
- Saint Thomas
- The Blind Woman
- The Black Sea (a play)
- The Lottery Man
- The Father
- The Return
The following works were presumably written after The Return, but in uncertain order:
- The Garden
- Mitzi's Treasure
- Railroad Perfection
- The Berlin Underworld (a collection of mostly war stories)
- Bitzius (a novel about the Swiss novelist Jeremias Gotthelf)
- The King of the Forest
- The Head (his latest novel as of the present in "The Part About the Critics")