From Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

“Unlike the majority of gringo publishers, White was not monolingual. And in contrast to the majority of gringos who speak Spanish and have spent some time in Latin America and think that gives them a kind of international third-world experience that confers on them the intellectual and moral qualifications for—I don’t quite know what—White really did understand the fucked-up mechanisms of Latin American literary history.”

Moby-Dick

I want to direct your attention to Infinite Zombies, where a group read of Moby-Dick is now in progress. Please do join in the fun and post comments with your ideas about the novel.  You can also follow along on Twitter with #mobydick. Thanks for organizing this, Daryl!

Week 5: Deaths

by Michael Cooler

In trying to make a numbered list of deaths in 2666, it quickly became apparent that it was not very apparent which deaths should “count” in a numbered list and which deaths should not.  For example, the first two on the list.  We chose to give numbers one and two to the two women kidnapped on their way out of the club in Santa Teresa where Espinoza and Rebeca later find themselves dancing in The Part About the Critics.  But should they be numbered? They don’t actually “die” in this part of the book, but their story still seems important and worth mentioning.  And what if these same two women turn up later in The Part About the Crimes, maybe with names and more of their story, and we’ve counted them twice? So, we’ve decided to do two separate lists of deaths in the novel, one for the women killed in The Part About the Crimes and one for the rest of the book. The list of people who die or are killed in the rest of the book will be more flexible, looser, not as precise. But hopefully the list for the women killed in The Part About the Crimes will be more precise, since they are all part of a very specific phenomenon in northern Mexico called the feminicidios, or the femicides (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Female_homicides_in_Ciudad_Ju%C3%A1rez). In the end we can tally the count from both lists or not, whatever seems most useful.

Death # — Page — Name — Age — Date of Discovery — Description — Extra Details

1, 2 — p.151 — Two girls were kidnapped on their way out of the club (at some point in the past) where Espinoza and Rebeca are dancing, their bodies dumped in the desert.
3 — p.202 — While Amalfitano dreams of Lola and dusty philosophy books, “the Santa Teresa police found the body of another teenage girl, half buried in a vacant lot in one of the neighborhoods on the edge of the city.”
4 — p.231 — Edna Miller — Mother of Quincy Williams, or Oscar Fate.  Oscar is 30 years old and thinks his mother is in hell.
5 — p.235 — Jimmy Lowell — 55 or 60 years old — Chief boxing correspondent for Black Dawn, the magazine where Oscar Fate works. He is stabbed to death by black men in Chicago.
6 — p.238 — Edna Miller’s neighbor — Dies presumably from the heart attack on p.231 following the death of Edna Miller. Her daughter Rosalind says with a smile “She was old.”
7 — p.247 — Marius Newell — Killed by a black man in Santa Cruz, supposedly because Newell owed money, but Barry Seaman (friend and fellow co-founder of the Black Panthers) suspects foul play.
8 — p.251 — Lin Piao — A Chinese Communist military leader, killed in a plane crash.
9, 10, 11 — p.266 — A knife sharpener kills his wife and elderly mother in 1871 during the Paris Commune, and is himself shot and killed by police. The story is big news while the thousands killed in the Commune are mostly ignored. The white-haired man in the restaurant says “The ones killed in the Commune weren’t part of society, the dark-skinned people who died on the ship weren’t part of society.” Likewise the women who will turn up dead in The Part About the Crimes are dark-skinned, often immigrants to Mexico themselves, and are arguably not part of society.

Other mentions of death in pages 231-290:

p.245 — “Seaman said he didn’t like rap because the only out it offered was suicide. But not even meaningful suicide. I know, I know, he said. It’s hard to imagine meaningful suicide. It isn’t a common thing. Although I’ve seen or been near two meaningful suicides. At least I think I have. I could be wrong, he said.” Anyone have any thoughts on meaningful suicide?

p.251 — Barry Seaman recounts how his sister helps him write down recipes for a cookbook and then refers to her as his late sister.  Says of her (on p.250) “my sister, who was the world’s most good-hearted human being.”

p.253 — The starfish that Marius Newell finds on a beach in California dies.  He brings it home and cares for it and tries to steal a pump for the tank he keeps it in, but to no avail.  It ends up in the trash. But I get the feeling that this was one important starfish.

p.258 — A girl from a town in Arizona disappears (is not necessarily dead) in Santa Teresa, as told by the TV reporter Dick Medina. Fate is asleep while the segment runs, like Amalfitano who dreams while police discover bodies in Santa Teresa.

p.260 — Oscar Fate dreams of a man he’d interviewed once named Antonio Ulises Jones, who tells the tale of the diminishing number of communists in Brooklyn, saying “During the eighties, two of the four who were left died of cancer and one vanished without saying anything to anyone.”

p.263 — Oscar Fate mentions that Antonio Jones has “been dead for several years now.”  He guesses he might have died from old age. “One day, walking down some street in Brooklyn, Antonio Jones had felt tired, sat down on the sidewalk, and a second later stopped existing.”

p.265-267 — A white-haired man in the restaurant (Professor Kessler) is speaking to a young man, and the white-haired man says some very interesting things about death. “We didn’t want death in the home, or in our dreams and fantasies, and yet it was a fact that terrible crimes were committed, mutilations, all kinds of rape, even serial killings.” He goes on to say how twenty percent of the slaves died in ships en route to their destination, and how that didn’t much bother anyone. I think we could kind of say the same thing about the women being killed in Mexico. In some way we accept or ignore the horrible truth of the situation, because we don’t have an answer for it.  If only there were just one serial killer, and we could imagine an end to the murders coming with the serial killer being caught.  But if the murders are part of a larger system — an inescapable new system of globalization and fluid borders, where drugs and wealth and weapons change hands rapidly, where police and politicians and narcotraficantes are all implicated, and ourselves too — things get murky.  No easy answers. I think this is the abyss that Bolaño is asking us to stare into, or dive into.

p.271 — “A voice in Spanish began to tell the story of a singer from Gómez Palacio who had returned to his city in the state of Durango just to commit suicide.”

p.287 — Fate is talking to Chucho Flores and asks how many women have been killed. Chucho says “Lots, more than two hundred.”  Fate comments that it seems like one person could not have killed that many, and Chucho agrees, but it doesn’t appear that he has given it much thought. When I read this I think I’m struck by the fact that maybe I haven’t thought much about it either.  Of course, Santa Teresa (Ciudad Juárez) is a little ways from Oregon, but if the crimes were being committed in my hometown, would I think about them then? Or would I become a cinephile like Charly Cruz, or bury myself in a book? This reminds me of a feeling I had while watching a movie called City of God, about a slum in Rio de Janeiro. I couldn’t believe this was based on a real place, which felt so different from my known universe. Santa Teresa feels like this too.

p.289 — Hércules Carreño, who is a Mexican heavyweight boxer, is beat to hell in Los Angeles by a boxer named Arthur Ashley. He was a sensation in Mexico until he lost this fight, could no longer hold jobs due to the severity of his injuries, and was forgotten. “They say he started to beg on the streets and that one day he died under a bridge.”

Week 5: Some Tidbits

Page 267: In Arizona, Fate overhears a conversation between a young man and someone identified as “Professor Kessler.” The first time Kessler is mentioned in the novel is actually back in the Part About the Critics. Amalfitano takes Espinoza and Pelletier to a bar in Santa Teresa and the two critics overhear a conversation between several students. Page 138: “Someone, one of the boys, talked about a murder epidemic. Someone said something about the copycat effect. Someone spoke the name Albert Kessler.”

On his way into Santa Teresa, Oscar Fate sees two different omens. Page 270: “The horse was black and after a moment it moved and vanished into the dark.” Page 272: “They’re turkey buzzards, they’re always cold at this time of night.” In the book of Revelation, seven seals are opened by the Lion of Judah, each portending a deepening of the end times. The third seal is a black horse whose rider holds scales. This is the third horseman of the Apocalypse. The black horse brings drought and famine. This famine also indicates poverty—a poor people headed for death (the pale horse, the fourth horseman).

Ijustreadaboutthat has a great summary of this section of the novel. Highly recommended.

New Design

I’m switching wordpress templates.

I thought the other one was a bit old and boring.

I’m really excited about this 2666 Group Read and can’t wait to announce all of the things we have planned. Get ready!

The Millions List (revised)

So today The Millions revealed their top novel of the millennium (so far): The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

2666 comes in at #4 behind Edward P. Jones and Cloud Atlas. I love everything by David Mitchell, but there is no way in hell that The Known World and The Corrections are better than 2666. The readers’ poll also puts Junot Diaz’s odd vernacular at #1.

In response, I offer my own list. This is totally subjective and I have not read every novel published in the last 10 years, but that’s the point, right?
UPDATE: I decided to swap out Samaritan for Lush Life. I think I prefer the 2003 novel.

1. 2666 by Roberto Bolaño

2. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

3. The Echo Maker by Richard Powers

4. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

5. On Beauty by Zadie Smith

6. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

7. The Emperor’s Children by Claire Messud

8. Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

9. Europe Central by William T. Vollmann

10. The Human Stain by Phillip Roth

11. Look at Me by Jennifer Egan

12. Samaritan by Richard Price

13. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

14. Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald

15. Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson

16. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

17. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

18. The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers

19. What is the What by Dave Eggers

20. The Last Novel by David Markson

Harold y Blúm

If you want to see a really rousing reading of Bolaño’s poem Resurrección (en Español), go here: haroldyblum.wordpress.com/

A somewhat slower pace

Not a lot going on lately around these parts. Sorry!

I did learn that Bolaño’s story “Meeting with Enrique Lihn” will be featured in the Best American Magazine Writing 2009. Here is a link to Columbia University Press’s Fall 2009 catalog with the blurb about the anthology: http://tinyurl.com/qou8tf (PDF). The catalog copy just says a Bolaño short story, but what other one could it be, really?

Also, I am working on a longer post on The Part About the Crimes, but it might not be ready for a while.

2666 on the Stage

This is old news in Spain, but news to me. In November 2007, Teatre Lliure in Barcelona presented a five-hour theatrical adaptation of Roberto Bolaño’s masterwork, 2666.

This video shows a few brief clips of the production (complete with a blood-covered corpse in the desert). IYI, Liz Norton is played by Chantal Aimée and Rosa Amalfitano is played by Cristina Brondo. Directed by Alex Rigola, the play is described as “an inquiry about the stark human wickedness between humor and horror.” There is also an impressive PDF dossier (in English) that includes press clippings, reviews, photos, and interviews with the director.

how did this project come about?

I really wanted to tell a new, contemporary story, and my fascination for Bolaño’s work, and in particular for this novel, pushed me to do it, because it allows you to do a lot of stage-work. A  play has a life of its own, it’s not really the novel any more, the materials are very different.  The type of poetry you can produce in a novel is completely different from the poetry of the  stage. In an adaptation you start with one material, one set of contents and an underlying story, but the way of telling it is very different. I believe the project makes sense because the story is only relatively well-known. If it was a novel that absolutely everybody had read, then I would have to think again, but very few people have actually read it, amongst other things because its sheer size is off-putting.

Now I just need to build a time machine so that I can go back to 2007, fly to Barcelona, and learn Spanish enough to enjoy this.

The Tinajero poem on a pen

Bolanobolano reader Matt Reese had the nib of a fountain pen engraved with Cesárea Tinajero’s “poem” from The Savage Detectives.

Here is a good shot of the poem in the book and on the pen:

And here is a close-up of the pen.

Awesome, Matt! Thanks for sharing.




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