Roberto Bolaño


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2666 Summary

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2666 is a novel by Chilean author Roberto Bolaño, published in 2004, one year after its author’s death and released in the United States in an English-language translation in 2006. Centering around a reclusive German author and his role in investigating the ongoing unsolved murders in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, Mexico, it jumps around in location, narrative style, location, and characters over its five section. The narrative was heavily inspired by the city of Ciudad Juarez and its epidemic of unsolved murders. The book explores themes of mental illness, despair, misogyny, crime, and the degeneration of society in the 20th century. 2666 was highly acclaimed for its complex narrative and well-plotted mystery. It won Chile’s Altazor Award in 2005, and was named one of the best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review. In 2008, it won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and has been adapted into stage plays three times in 2007 and 2016, with performances in Barcelona, Chicago, and Paris.

2666 is divided into five parts, all dealing with the unsolved murders of over 300 largely young, poor Mexican women, although the story is told through different characters and settings. The first segment, “The Part About the Critics”, focuses on a quartet of European literary critics – French Jean-Claude Pelletier; Italian Pieor Morini; Spanish Manuel Espinoza; and the only woman in the group, British Liz Norton. They’ve all built their careers around the works of reclusive German author Benno von Archimboldi. They are traveling the world searching for him in an effort to find more details about his life. This leads them to his elderly publisher Mrs. Bubis, whom they try to probe for information. At a seminary in Toulouse, they meet up with Rodolfo Alatorre, a Mexican man who says he has a friend who met Archimboldi in Mexico City. The author was said to be heading to Santa Teresa. The academics head to Mexico, but fail to find him. Romantic complications involving Norton and her male companions complicate the trip.

The second part, “The Part About Amalfitano”, centers on Oscar Amalfitano, a Chilean professor of philosophy who has been teaching in Barcelona. Now he finds himself coming to the University of Santa Teresa to take a position, along with his young adult daughter Rosa. Amalfitano is a single parent, having raised Lola on his own since her mother Lola abandoned both of them when Rosa was only two. As Rosa explores her new location, reports of the brutal “femicides” spread around the city and Oscar becomes increasingly concerned that the murders will claim his daughter.

“The Part About Fate” turns the focus on Oscar Fate, an American journalist from New York who works for an African-American-centric magazine in Harlem. He’s sent to Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match despite having little experience with sports coverage. While at the match, he meets a Mexican journalist named Chucho Flores who tells him about the murders. Oscar asks his newspaper if he can do an article on the murders, but his editors have no interest. He meets with a female journalist named Guadalupe who is covering the murders, and she promises to get him an interview with the main suspect, Klaus Haas. Haas is a German immigrant who became an American before moving to Santa Teresa. Chucho introduces Oscar to Rosa, and after a close call with criminals in Santa Teresa, Oscar pays Chucho to take Rosa to the United States where she’d be safer. Before they go, Rosa and Oscar go to see Klaus in prison and interview him.

“The Part About the Crimes” focuses directly on the murders—specifically the murders of 112 women in Santa Teresa between 1993 and 1997. It spotlights the lives these women led before their deaths, the police’s mostly incompetent investigation, and detailed descriptions and likely causes of the various murders. The central character is Juan de Dios Martinez, a police detective having an affair with Elvira Campo, an older woman who runs a mental hospital. He’s investigating the case of a man who keeps urinating in churches, but is also investigating the case of Klaus Haas, the primary suspect. However, the story is complicated with Haas calls a press conference where he accuses Daniel Uribe, a powerful businessman’s son, of the murders.

The final segment of the book, “The Part About Archimboldi”, reveals that the mysterious writer Archimboldi is actually a man named Hans Reiter, born in Prussia in 1920. Originally a soldier from a small German village who served in the Second World War, he eventually became a prominent author up for the Nobel Prize. His publisher Mrs. Bubis is actually Baroness von Zumpe, a wealthy woman whose mother employed Archimboldi’s mother as a cleaner. Archimboldi spend a lot of time with the Baroness’s cousin, Hugo Halder, who taught him about writing craft. The two were reunited during the war in Romania, and they had an affair that started their lifelong partnership. The book ends by introducing the reader to Lotte, Archimboldi’s sister, who is actually the mother of Klaus Haas, making Archimboldi the chief suspect’s uncle.

Roberto Bolaño Avalos was a Chilean novelist, short story writer, poet, and essayist. Considered one of the most significant Latin American literary voices of his generation, he won the Romulo Gallegos Prize in 1999 for The Savage Detectives. In total he wrote ten novels and novellas (three published after his death), four short story collections, and two poetry collections.