First edition (Spanish)
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback)|
|ISBN||978-84-339-6867-8 (1st edition in Spanish)|
|LC Class||PQ8098.12.O38 A122 2004|
2666 is the last novel by Roberto Bolaño. It was released in 2004, a year after Bolaño's death. Its themes are manifold, and it revolves around an elusive German author and the unsolved and ongoing murders of women in Santa Teresa, a violent city inspired by Ciudad Juárez and its epidemic of female homicides. In addition to Santa Teresa, settings and themes include the Eastern Front in World War II, the academic world, mental illness, journalism, and the breakdown of relationships and careers. 2666 explores 20th-century degeneration through a wide array of characters, locations, time periods, and stories within stories.
Over 1100 pages long in its Spanish edition, and almost 900 in its English translation, it is divided into five parts. An English-language translation by Natasha Wimmer was published in the United States in 2008, by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and in the United Kingdom in 2009, by Picador.
Critical reception of the novel has, on the whole, been very positive. In Chile, it won the Altazor Award in 2005. The New York Times Book Review included it in the list of "10 Best Books of 2008"; Time named it Best Fiction Book of 2008; and the novel won the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. Wimmer's translation was nominated for the Best Translated Book Award. Critics have compared it to W. G. Sebald's works and praised the book's multiple story lines and scope.
Creation of the novel
While Bolaño was writing 2666, he was already sick and on the waiting list for a liver transplant. He had never visited Ciudad Juarez but received information and support from friends and colleagues such as Sergio González Rodríguez, author of the essay "Huesos en el desierto" (Bones in the Desert), concerning the place and its femicides. He discussed the novel with his friend Jorge Herralde, director of Barcelona-based publisher Anagrama, but he never showed the actual manuscript to anyone until he died: the manuscript is a first copy.
Originally planning it as a single book, Bolaño then considered publishing 2666 as five volumes to provide more income for his children; however, the heirs decided otherwise and the book was published in one lengthy volume. Bolaño had been well aware of the book's unfinished status, and said a month before his death that over a thousand pages still had to be revised.
The meaning of the title, 2666, is typically elusive; even Bolaño's friends did not know the reasons for it. Larry Rohter, writing for The New York Times, notes that Bolaño apparently ascribed an apocalyptic quality to the number. Henry Hitchings noted that "the novel's cryptic title is one of its many grim jokes" and may be a reference to the biblical Exodus from Egypt, supposedly 2,666 years after God created the earth. The number does not appear in the book, though it does in some of Bolaño's other books—in Amulet, a Mexico City road looks like "a cemetery in the year 2666", and The Savage Detectives contains another, approximate reference: "And Cesárea said something about days to come... and the teacher, to change the subject, asked her what times she meant and when they would be. And Cesárea named a date, sometime around the year 2600. Two thousand six hundred and something".
The novel is substantially concerned with violence and death. According to Levi Stahl, it "is another iteration of Bolaño's increasingly baroque, cryptic, and mystical personal vision of the world, revealed obliquely by his recurrent symbols, images, and tropes". Within the novel, "There is something secret, horrible, and cosmic afoot, centered around Santa Teresa (and possibly culminating in the mystical year of the book's title, a date that is referred to in passing in Amulet as well). We can at most glimpse it, in those uncanny moments when the world seems wrong."
The novel's five parts are linked by varying degrees of concern with unsolved murders of upwards of 300 young, poor, mostly uneducated Mexican women in the fictional border town of Santa Teresa (based on Ciudad Juárez but located in Sonora rather than Chihuahua) though it is the fourth part which focuses specifically on the murders.
The Part about the Critics
This part describes a group of four European literary critics, the French Jean-Claude Pelletier, the Italian Piero Morini, the Spaniard Manuel Espinoza and the English woman Liz Norton, who have forged their careers around the reclusive German novelist Benno von Archimboldi. Their search for Archimboldi himself and details of his life causes them to get to know his aging publisher Mrs. Bubis. Then in a seminary in Toulouse the four academics meet up with Rodolfo Alatorre, a Mexican who says a friend knew him in Mexico City a short while back and that from there the elusive German was said to be going to the Mexican border town of Santa Teresa in Sonora. Three of the academics go there in search of him but fail to find him. A major element of this part centers around romantic entanglements between the critics.
The Part about Amalfitano
This part concentrates on Óscar Amalfitano, a Chilean professor of philosophy who arrives at the University of Santa Teresa from Barcelona with his young adult daughter Rosa. As a single parent (since her mother Lola abandoned them both when Rosa was two) Amalfitano fears Rosa will become another victim of the femicides plaguing the city.
The Part about Fate
This part follows Oscar Fate, an American journalist from New York City who works for an African-American interest magazine in Harlem, New York City. He is sent to Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match despite not being a sports correspondent and knowing very little about boxing. A Mexican journalist, Chucho Flores, who is also covering the fight, tells him about the murders. He asks his newspaper if he can write an article about the murders but his proposal is rejected. He meets up with a female journalist, Guadalupe, who is covering the murders and who promises to get him an interview with one of the main suspects, Klaus Haas, a German who had become a citizen of the United States before moving to Santa Teresa. The day of the fight Chucho presents Oscar to Rosa Amalfitano. After a violent incident they end up at Óscar Amalfitano's house where the father pays Fate to take Rosa with him back to the United States by car. Before leaving, however, Rosa and Fate go to the prison with Guadalupe to interview the femicide suspect, Klaus Haas.
The Part about the Crimes
This part chronicles the murders of 112 women in Santa Teresa from 1993 to 1997 and the lives they lived. It also depicts the police force in their mostly fruitless attempts to solve the crimes, as well as giving clinical descriptions of the circumstances and probable causes of the various homicides. One of the policemen focused on is Juan de Dios Martínez, who is having a relationship with the older Elvira Campo (the head of a sanitarium) and who also has to investigate the case of a man, aptly nicknamed "The Penitent," who keeps urinating and defecating in churches. Klaus Haas (the German femicide suspect Fate was to interview in "the part about Fate") is another of the characters this part focuses on. Haas calls a press conference where he claims that Daniel Uribe, son of a rich local family, is responsible for the murders.
The Part about Archimboldi
This part reveals that the mysterious writer Archimboldi is really Hans Reiter, born in 1920 in Prussia. This section describes how a provincial German soldier on the Eastern Front became an author in contention for the Nobel Prize. Mrs. Bubis, whom we met in the first part, turns out to have been Baroness von Zumpe; her family were a major part of Archimboldi's childhood, since his mother cleaned their country home and young Hans spent a lot of time with the Baroness's cousin, Hugo Halder, from whom he learned about the artistic life. Reiter meets the Baroness again during the war while in Romania, and has an affair with her after the war (she is then married to Bubis, the publisher). At the end of this part Bolaño's narrator describes the life of Lotte, Archimboldi's sister, and it is revealed that the femicide suspect Klaus Haas is her son and thus Archimboldi's nephew.
The critical reception has been almost unanimously positive. 2666 was considered the best novel of 2005 within the literary world of both Spain and Latin America. Before the English-language edition was published in 2008, 2666 was praised by Oprah Winfrey in her O, The Oprah Magazine after she was given a copy of the translation before it was officially published. The book was listed in The New York Times Book Review "10 Best Books of 2008" by the paper's editors. with Jonathan Lethem writing:
- "2666 is as consummate a performance as any 900-page novel dare hope to be: Bolaño won the race to the finish line in writing what he plainly intended as a master statement. Indeed, he produced not only a supreme capstone to his own vaulting ambition, but a landmark in what's possible for the novel as a form in our increasingly, and terrifyingly, post-national world. The Savage Detectives looks positively hermetic beside it. (...) As in Arcimboldo's paintings, the individual elements of 2666 are easily catalogued, while the composite result, though unmistakable, remains ominously implicit, conveying a power unattainable by more direct strategies. (...) "
Amaia Gabantxo in the Times Literary Supplement wrote:
- "(A)n exceptionally exciting literary labyrinth.... What strikes one first about it is the stylistic richness: rich, elegant yet slangy language that is immediately recognizable as Bolaño's own mixture of Chilean, Mexican and European Spanish. Then there is 2666's resistance to categorization. At times it is reminiscent of James Ellroy: gritty and scurrilous. At other moments it seems as though the Alexandria Quartet had been transposed to Mexico and populated by ragged versions of Durrell's characters. There's also a similarity with W. G. Sebald's work.... There are no defining moments in 2666. Mysteries are never resolved. Anecdotes are all there is. Freak or banal events happen simultaneously, inform each other and poignantly keep the wheel turning. There is no logical end to a Bolano book."
- "This is no ordinary whodunit, but it is a murder mystery. Santa Teresa is not just a hell. It's a mirror also—"the sad American mirror of wealth and poverty and constant, useless metamorphosis."... He wrote 2666 in a race against death. His ambitions were appropriately outsized: to make some final reckoning, to take life's measure, to wrestle to the limits of the void. So his reach extends beyond northern Mexico in the 1990s to Weimar Berlin and Stalin's Moscow, to Dracula's castle and the bottom of the sea."
- "2666 is an epic of whispers and details, full of buried structures and intuitions that seem too evanescent, or too terrible, to put into words. It demands from the reader a kind of abject submission—to its willful strangeness, its insistent grimness, even its occasional tedium—that only the greatest books dare to ask for or deserve."
- "The multiple story lines of 2666 are borne along by narrators who seem also to represent various of its literary influences, from European avant-garde to critical theory to pulp fiction, and who converge on the [fictional] city of Santa Teresa as if propelled toward some final unifying epiphany. It seems appropriate that 2666's abrupt end leaves us just short of whatever that epiphany might have been.."
Online book review site The Complete Review gave it an "A+", a rating reserved for a small handful of books, saying:
- "Forty years after García Márquez shifted the foundations with One Hundred Years of Solitude, Bolaño has moved them again. 2666 is, simply put, epochal. No question, the first great book of the twenty-first century."
- "2666... is a summative work – a grand recapitulation of the author's main concerns and motifs. As before, Bolaño is preoccupied with parallel lives and secret histories. Largely written after 9/11, the novel manifests a new emphasis on the dangerousness of the modern world.... 2666 is an excruciatingly challenging novel, in which Bolaño redraws the boundaries of fiction. It is not unique in blurring the margins between realism and fantasy, between documentary and invention. But it is bold in a way that few works really are – it kicks away the divide between playfulness and seriousness. And it reminds us that literature at its best inhabits what Bolaño, with a customary wink at his own pomposity, called "the territory of risk" – it takes us to places we might not wish to go."
- This surreal novel can't be described; it has to be experienced in all its crazed glory. Suffice it to say it concerns what may be the most horrifying real-life mass-murder spree of all time: as many as 400 women killed in the vicinity of Juarez, Mexico. Given this as a backdrop, the late Bolaño paints a mural of a poverty-stricken society that appears to be eating itself alive. And who cares? Nobody, it seems.
In 2018, Fiction Advocate published a book-length analysis of 2666 entitled An Oasis of Horror in a Desert of Boredom by author and critic Jonathan Russell Clark. An excerpt of the book was published in The Believer in March 2018.
Awards and honors
It won the Chilean Altazor Award in 2005. The 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction was posthumously awarded to Roberto Bolaño for 2666. It was short-listed for the Best Translated Book Award. Time also awarded it the honour of Best Fiction Book of 2008.
In 2007, the novel was adapted as a stage play by Spanish director Àlex Rigola, and it premiered in Bolaño's adopted hometown of Blanes. The play was the main attraction of Barcelona's Festival Grec that year.
In 2016, it was adapted into a five-hour stage play at Chicago's Goodman Theater. The stage adaptation was praised for its ambition, but according to The New York Times, it fell "short as a work of dramatic art."
In 2016, it was adapted into an 11-hour play by Julien Gosselin and his troupe "Si vous pouviez lécher mon cœur". It was presented at the Festival d'Avignon and then in Paris at the Odéon theatre as part of Festival d'Automne.
- Tayler, Christopher (16 January 2009). "Does Roberto Bolaño's literary work live up to the hype?". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
- Ehrenreich, Ben (9 November 2008). "2666 by Roberto Bolaño, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
- Duna Gras; Leonie Meyer-Krentler; Siqui Sánchez (2010). "Introducción". El viaje imposible: En México con Roberto Bolaño. pp. 7–11.
- Rohter, Larry (9 August 2005). "A Writer Whose Posthumous Novel Crowns an Illustrious Career". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
- Hitchings, Henry (8 December 2008). "The mystery man: As the translation of Roberto Bolano's final novel is published, is the literary fuss about him really justified?". Financial Times. p. 17. Retrieved 6 January 2014.
- Mishan, Ligaya (8 January 2009). "National Reading "2666" Month: The Title (2)". The New Yorker. Retrieved 7 January 2015.
- Levi Stahl (10 November 2008). "2666". The Front Table. Seminary Coop Bookstores. Archived from the original on 4 January 2009. Retrieved 27 November 2008.
- "La obra de Bolaño '2666' llega a Estados Unidos con el apoyo de Oprah Winfrey" [Bolaño's work '2666 'comes to America with the support of Oprah Winfrey]. El Mundo (in Spanish). 18 November 2008.
- "The 10 Best Books of 2008". The New York Times. 3 December 2008.
- Jonathan Lethem (9 November 2008). "The Departed". The New York Times Book Review.
- Amaia Gabantxo (9 September 2005). Times Literary Supplement.
- Ben Ehrenreich (9 November 2008). "'2666' by Roberto Bolaño, translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer". Los Angeles Times.
- Adam Kirsch (3 November 2008). "Slouching Towards Santa Teresa". Slate
- Francisco Goldman (19 July 2007). "The Great Bolaño", New York Review of Books. Volume 54, Number 12.
- "2666 by Roberto Bolaño". The Complete Review. 2008. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Stephen King (18 December 2009). "My Top 10 Books of 2009". Entertainment Weekly.
- Clark, Jonathan Russell. "On Benno von Archimboldi". The Believer.
- Motoko Rich (12 March 2009). "Bolano and Filkins win awards from National Book Critics Circle". The New York Times ArtsBeat blog.
- Lev Grossman (3 November 2008). "Top 10 Fiction Books – 1. 2666, by Roberto Bolaño". Time.
- "2666 at Goodman Theater".
- Isherwood, Charles. "Review: Bolano's Mysterious "2666" Distilled to 5 Hours by the Goodman Theater"". The New York Times.
- 2666, at complete review. Aggregates links to most of the professional reviews.
- Roberto Bolaño's "2666", by Francisco Goldman
- "Natasha Wimmer on Roberto Bolaño's 2666"
- "On Bolaño’s 2666" by Eric Fershtman, Construction Magazine (24 February 2012)
- "Por una ética del desorden en América Latina (2666)" in Revista Nómadas
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