The Third Reich: Udo the German

Why is Bolaño so obsessed with Germany? Maybe this is naive (and US-centric) question, but throughout his work, Bolaño displays an interest in Europe as the center of culture, with the U.S. playing much more of a supportive role. We see this in 2666 wherein the three critics are European and travel to Mexico. Oscar Fate represents the only significant American character—and he is an outsider. In The Third Reich, Udo Berger plays the board game “The Third Reich” and as a model of World War II, the focus is not on the Pacific Theater or the US, but on Europe. One of the benefits of reading a lot of contemporary Latin American fiction is gaining a different perspective on the world—especially one that does not countenance the United States of America very much. Bolaño and Enrique Vila-Matas (among others) share a fascination with Paris. Bolaño moved from Chile to Mexico to the Costa Brava, Spain—the setting of The Third Reich.

The Third Reich is the story of a man who goes to Spain on vacation and can’t bring himself to leave. This is sort of what happened to Roberto Bolaño. So, it’s easy to see how the novel is a love letter to Spain, La Costa Brava, the Mediterranean Coast, and Blanes. Even though this is a novel about the interplay of games, I would argue that one of Bolaño’s main interests here is geography. Geography and history.

“History in general is a bloody thing, you have to admit.”—Udo

The game (The Third Reich) appears to be a more intricate and detailed version of Risk or Axis & Allies: Europe. But as a realistic reflection of World War II, a better parallel would probably be the game Europa. [Note the large gameboard, complex documentation, rulebooks, calculators, tweezers (!!), and hex units:]


At first glance, Bolaño doesn’t seem too interested in making the details of the game known. It’s not until late in the book that he reveals how the game is actually played (with dice) and at first, it seems more like a chess game (which requires no apparatus beyond the game pieces). But as the game between Udo and El Quemado evolves, we see more details emerge relating to how the game is actually played. Also, Bolaño initially ties up the “game” sections of the novel into standalone set pieces (which can be skipped over cleanly), but once the balance of power begins to shift from Udo to El Quemado (and Ingeborg and Hanna leave, and Udo is alone), the “game” sections become more intertwined into the main narrative.

Historically, obviously, Germany is a losing position. Yet, Udo is a national champion gamesman, from Germany, playing the German side. Until he actually loses to El Quemado, he remains convinced that he can always prevail with the German side. But he believes this is more of a strategic declaration than sympathy for the Nazis. Udo even says “I’m a kind of anti-Nazi.” It’s El Quemado whose ambiguous heritage represents the Other, the victim and enemy of the Germans. Udo is trying to re-write history in the name of geographical strategy.

Udo finds himself in a real-world game. The other game pieces are trapping him on multiple fronts and, like his match with El Quemado, the balance of power begins to shift and he finds his control over the situation slipping away. “The Wolf” and “The Lamb” seem less people than game pieces. When they corner the maid, Clarita, in Udo’s hotel room, Udo notes “she took possession of a strategic spot next to the bed.” Udo sees everything as a game, a contest, the people merely players.

Like many other novels, and many other games, there is a lot of setup without a lot of action. Like a lot of wars and a lot of summer vacations, there is monotony, a hurry-up-and-wait mentality. The allure of The Third Reich is all about setting and geography and atmosphere and scenarios. And yet, the characters, the world Bolaño creates here, comes to life as much as The Savage Detectives or 2666.


Week 6: Characters

by Brooks Williams

Guadalupe Roncal
A reporter covering the murders in Santa Teresa that Fate meets in the bar of the hotel where most of the other sportswriters are staying (Sonora Resort) (295-296). She says that investigating the murders is extremely dangerous. She fears for her life. Fate agrees to accompany her to visit the chief suspect in the murders. Rosa Amalfitano accompanies Guadalupe and Fate to the prison to meet the killer (344).

Rosa Amalfitano
Meets Fate at the Fernandez/Pickett fight (309). Fate rescues her from Charly Cruz’s house and brings her back to his hotel (323). Fate accompanies her to her house where he meets her father, Oscar Amalfitano (342-344). At the request of her father (343), Fate takes Rosa to the United States so that she can return to Spain (347).

Chucho Flores
A reporter covering the Fernandez/Pickett fight. He and Fate go to a bar after the press event at the Fernández event and meet Charly Cruz and Rosa Méndez (278-279).  Was Rosa Amalfitano’s boyfriend (329-337).

Charly Cruz
Friend of Chucho Flores. Owns three video stores (279).  Tells Fate the story of Robert Rodrigez’s first film (280-281).  Fate meets up with him again at the Fernández/Pickett fight and they (Chucho Flores, Charly Cruz, Rosa Amalfitano, Rosa Méndez, Juan Corona go back to Charly Cruz’s place where he shows Fate the Robert Rodriguez film (320).

Rosa Méndez
She has dated both Charly Cruz and Chucho Flores. Fate finds her passed out on a bed in Charly Cruz’s house (232). She appears to be Rosa Amalfitano’s only female friend. She tells Rosa Amalfitano about sleeping with policemen (“…like being fucked by a mountain in a cave inside the mountain itself…”) and sleeping with narcos (“…like being fucked by the desert air…”) (328-329).

Minor Characters

Member of the Mohammedan Brotherhood (292). Meets with Fate to discuss the Mohammedan Brotherhood.

Member of the Mohammedan Brotherhood. Meets with Fate to show the charitable work of the Brotherhood (293).

Juan Corona
Meets Fate at the Fernández/Pickett fight (309). Appears to be dating Rosa Méndez. Gets punched out by Fate (324).

The Fourth Man
A mysterious individual that rode with Fate on the way to Charly Cruz’s house (319). He doesn’t speak. If I had to guess, I suspect he was part of some kind of plot of Charly Cruz’s to rob/kidnap/murder/etc. the group that Charly Cruz has invited to his house. That would explain the checking of the watch – waiting for accomplices maybe?

Osama Bin Laden
(1957 – ) – Leader of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, best known for the September 11 attacks on the United States and numerous other mass-casualty attacks against civilian targets.

Mohammed Atta
(1968 – 2001) – Member of al-Qaeda who participated in the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Denzel Washington
(1954 – ) – African American Actor. Portrayed Malcolm X in 1992’s Malcolm X. Won an Academy Award for Best Actor in 2001 for Training Day.

Barry Guardini – Fictional film director

Professor J. Plateau – Professor at the University of Ghent (Belgium). A defense of his “general Theory of the Visual Appearances which arise from the Contemplation of Coloured Objects” can be found here

Wolfgang Paalen
(1905 – 1959) – Austrian-Mexican surrealist painter. Created a technique called fumage in which the smoke from a candle or lap is used to create patterns on a canvas. Paalen would them paint over these patterns using oils.

David Lynch
(1946 – ) – American filmmaker, known for his surreal films. Works of note include Blue Velvet, Lost Highway and Mullholland Drive.

Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009) – African-American singer and dancer. Known as the King of Pop.

Week 6: Vocabulary

by Meaghan Doyle

I’ve also compiled an aggregated list of all the vocabulary words through week 6 (page 349).

agua fresca

a combination of either fruits, cereals, or seeds, and sugar and water, blended together to make a refreshing beverage


decrease in size or wasting away of a body part or tissue

au revoir

Goodbye till we meet again (french)


relating to or typical of rural life


an image or representation especially of a person


marked by the expression of great or excessive emotion or enthusiasm

faire l’amour

to make love, to have sex (french)


to make gestures especially when speaking


abnormal drowsiness


a sexual perversion characterized by pleasure in being subjected to pain or humiliation


thank you (french)


drug dealer


of or relating to dreams


a joyous song or hymn of praise, tribute


speaking or writing several languages : multilingual


writing intended to give an account of observed or documented events


marked by baseness or grossness : vile


done, made, or acquired by stealth


expressed or carried on without words or speech

voulez-vous coucher avec moi

Would you like to sleep with me (french)


a device that produces an illusion of action from a rapid succession of static pictures

Week 6: Locations

by Sara Corona Goldstein

Harlem, New York —Fate meets the Mohammedan Brotherhood here during a pro-Palestine demonstration just after 9/11. (p. 290)

Bronx, New York— Fate has an appointment with Khalil of the Mohammedan Brotherhood. (p. 292)

Mexico City —Guadalupe Roncal works for a newspaper here. (p. 296)

New York University —Fate went to college here. (p. 300)

Sioux City, Iowa —Chuck Campbell went to college here. (p. 300)

Arena del Norte boxing stadium — Fate goes here once in the morning, then again for the fight in the evening. He meets Rosa Amalfitano here. (p. 303, 305)

Veracruz, Mexico — Rosa Méndez asks if Fate has ever been here; “something bad must have happened” to her here. (p. 310)

El Rey del Taco – Fate, Rosa, Rosita, Chucho, Cruz, and Corona eat here after the fight. (p. 312)

Hermosillo—Garcia, one of Merolino’s sparring partners, spent eight years in prison here for killing his sister. (p. 319)

Charly Cruz’s house— Fate & co. end up here the night of the fight. (p. 319)

Fire, Walk With Me— a 24-hour cybercafe in Santa Teresa to which the clerk at Fate’s motel gives him directions. Fate does not go. (p. 339)

Santa Teresa prison — Rosa Amalfitano and Fate go with Guadalupe Roncal here to interview the chief suspect for the murders. (p. 345)

View 2666 Locations in a larger map

Week 6: Dream dreams the dreamer

by Maria Bustillos

Michael Mullen wrote an extraordinary reply to an earlier post, and I’d like to draw attention to it.

Seaman’s sermon I’ve mostly re-read already,  because it’s stunning and strange and raises so many questions that I can’t answer, and cuts so far down to the bone of what it is to be a sentient being. The passage about stars [p. 152] alone is so connected with other things that have been talked about already.

This leads to a discussion of metaphor that seems related to things Maria wrote earlier about Plato’s cave. “Metaphors are our ways of losing ourselves in semblances or treading water in a sea of seeming.” Stars are metaphoric reflections of the one real star, the sun of our solar system. And that star is real, why? Because if it weren’t we’d be dead? Because it can burn up astronauts in bad sci-fi movies, but isn’t that treading back toward metaphor? Because it’s the ideal from which other stars and their qualities are extrapolated?

The novel is full of dreams, and dreams within dreams, beneath a dreamlike surface, a swirling narrative. We’re trying to make sense of this all, and hoping to grasp the life jacket that won’t cause us to sink.

The stars that may be dead remind me very much of Amalfitano’s belief that places don’t exist when you leave them. That jet lag comes not from you being tired, but from the place you’ve arrived at working extra hard to constitute itself. As soon as you leave again, it slips back into semblance.

And with all of this sort of metaphysical questioning, I still believe that the novel is pointing toward the realities of injustice and exploitation, as you’ve all discussed above. You can’t go to Santa Teresa and expect not to be implicated in the crimes, or some attempt at their solution.


This approach to this book, through its poetics rather than through its politics, seems essential. If the novel were only a call to action, demanding that we “do something” about the crimes, it would surely be something quite different, would be a pamphlet in blazing red letters or a call-in radio show. Now that we’re reading something like a police procedural (in the next section,) I’m starting to appreciate the difficulties of the “pragmatic”approach to this subject a lot more. The clarion call alone would not be enough to change anyone’s mind; that kind of writing only separates us from the reality, sets us apart from it. We have to think about what it means to be human in a bigger sense in order to understand both the dream and the waking. If we could really understand it–maybe only then would we have a shot at changing how the world works.

All this by way of observing that throughout, both Oscars have been grappling with an attempt to make sense of, or to synthesize, the physical and the metaphysical—culminating at the end of this section in the successful rescue of Rosa Amalfitano. Could they have saved her if they’d been “men of action,” openly concerned with the outward manifestations of things in Santa Teresa?  Wouldn’t we have seen some kind of Sam Peckinpah bloodbath if they’d gone in all macho and confrontational?  The very dreaminess of their conduct seems to have disarmed the bad guys, both literally and figuratively.

Week 6: Tidbits

page 298: Guadalupe Roncal mentions that she drinks a Sonoran drink called bacanora. This is essentially mezcal made from the agave plants in the state of Sonora. The distillation process is slightly different since the drink was exclusively made by bootleggers until 1992 when it was legalized in Mexico. The main difference involves the way the agave heads (or pinas) are roasted. Sounds much better than pulque!

page 303: Fate and the hotel clerk have an intense discussion about clouds. It just so happens that Fate knows the Greek root of the word cirrus? I thought briefly that this this hotel clerk reminded me of Tim Roth as the hotel clerk in Four Rooms.

page 307: Fate is watching the undercard: a fighter in white shorts versus a fighter wearing “black, purple, and red striped” shorts. This is when he hears his name being called, but can’t see who’s talking to him. Two pages earlier, Fate is at a restaurant that includes a foosball table at the back. One team of the players/figures on the foosball table wear white shorts and the other team wears black/red outfits. The black/red team has small devil horns on their foreheads. When Oscar first heard his name being called in the crowded arena, I was still thinking of Oscar-as-Jonah and that this voice calling him was maybe the devil, tempting him to stay in Santa Teresa. Fate is called over to Chucho and Rosa and Rosita and Charly Cruz and his meandering journey through the underbelly of Santa Teresa takes off from there. (As a side note, we all know that the color red is traditionally associated with representations of the devil, but did you know that so are stripes? Stripes are the devil’s cloth!)

page 317: It someone’s birthday and the Mexicans start to sing Las Mañanitas (Little Mornings), the traditional Mexican birthday song. Fate asks Rosa Amalfitano what’s the connection between King David and birthdays. She doesn’t know because she’s from Spain. The first line of the song is Estas son las mañanitas, que cantaba el Rey David (roughly: This is the morning song that King David used to sing). David was the psalmist and is known for those psalms as songs, so that part’s not that unusual (especially in a mostly Catholic country). But what’s interesting is that Las Mañanitas is also sung at novenas celebrating patron saints—and is traditionally sung to meet the Virgin of Guadalupe on the morning of her feast day:

page 333: Amalfitano mentions “Professor Plateau.” Some googling reveals him to be an interesting character, but I can’t gather much information together about him. Anyone have a historical sketch or more details about him? The “rapid succession of fixed images” described in relation to the zoetrope/moving image calls to mind the dreamer back on page 300 who’s “dreaming at great speed” and thus a connection between dreams and movies.

page 335: Rosa Amalfitano is in the coffee shop reading a book on Mexican painting in the twentieth century and begins to read a chapter on Paalen. This is Wolfgang Paalen, who was born in Austria and grew up in Germany, Italy, and Paris and later moved to Mexico (at the invitation of Frida Kahlo). He’s associated with the surrealists of the period (including Marcel Duchamp). I think a Paalen would make a fine cover image for 2666:

Week 6: Deaths

by Nicole Perrin

12 — p.292 — Fate is discussing September 11 with the Mohammedan Brotherhood; one member describes the death of Mohamed Atta (and the other hijackers) as part of a Klan conspiracy.

13 — p. 297 — Guadalupe Roncal tells Fate about her predecessor on the story of the femicides; “He was killed, of course. He got in too deep and they killed him. Not here, in Santa Teresa, but in Mexico City. The police said it was a robbery that went wrong.”

14 — p. 319 — Chucho Flores tells Fate about how Merolino’s sparring partner Garcia “went crazy and killed his sister” several years previous, then spent eight years in prison after claiming temporary insanity.

Week 6: More than Meets the Eye

by Maria Bustillos

Here’s a rundown of the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe, via Wikipedia.

According to official Catholic accounts of the Guadalupan apparitions, during a walk from his home village to Mexico City early on the morning of December 9, 1531, Juan Diego saw a vision of a young girl of fifteen to sixteen, surrounded by light. This event occurred on the slopes of the Hill of Tepeyac. Speaking in the local language of Nahuatl, the Lady asked for a church to be built at that site in her honor. From her words, Juan Diego recognized her as the Virgin Mary. When he told his story to the Spanish bishop, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, the bishop asked him to return and ask the lady for a miraculous sign to prove her claim. The Virgin then asked Juan Diego to gather some flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill, even though it was winter when no flowers bloomed. There, he found Castilian roses (which were of the Bishop’s native home, but not indigenous to Tepeyac). He gathered them, and the Virgin herself re-arranged them in his tilma, or peasant cloak. When Juan Diego presented the roses to Zumárraga, the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe miraculously appeared imprinted on the cloth of Diego’s tilma.

This same alleged tilma is still on view in the Basilica of Guadalupe, and over five million people make a pilgrimage and/or attend the festival there every year.  It’s the most visited Catholic  shrine in the world, according to the Vatican (

One of the weirdest aspects of the cult of Guadalupe is the idea that images of people appear in her eyes. Most commonly, it seems, these images are thought to reflect the scene at the moment the image appeared on the tilma in 1531. Even ordinary people’s eyes exhibit such reflections, which are called Purkinje images. Difficult though it is for gringos to believe, Mexico is chockablock with people who literally believe this tilma to be a supernatural object, made from unearthly materials and pigments, literally not painted by human hands, its subject literally containing the reflections of 16th-century personages in her eyes. Attempts to force the object and the story to yield to scientific and/or historical inquiry have been many, and futile. That people see what they wish to see in the image of Guadalupe speaks directly to the mysterious, multifarious nature of Mexico itself.

Bolaño transposes this supernatural image, Mexico’s most durable and iconic image, onto the cement wall of Charly Cruz’s garage. It’s not at all surprising that such an image would appear in such a lowly place, by the bye. Those of us who live in L.A. or other places with a large Mexican population will be familiar with this image, which appears on everything from t-shirts to pencils to murals on a thousand restaurants here in Los Angeles alone. But the image has been distorted in Charly Cruz’s garage:  one eye is open, and one closed.  I don’t doubt that this is of major significance to our narrative, but I’m not convinced of any of my own ideas about it, which are as follows:

1. “One eye open and one closed” is a figure of speech in Spanish, indicating something along the lines of, “more aware than I appear to be.”

2. Or it’s a deliberately blasphemous image, in which the Virgin is winking at what is going on here.

3. Maybe the Virgin doesn’t like what she sees, and is closing at least one eye against it.

4. Given that Charly Cruz and his pals are up to a lot of questionable things, maybe he doesn’t want the Virgin seeing him, and that’s why he caused the picture to be painted this way. Or he’s painted it shut, in order to conceal his own reflection.

5. Since we are getting closer to the truth, but can’t see it completely yet, and since the Virgin is a redemptive figure, a figure symbolizing Mexico itself, maybe she’s just starting to open her eyes on our behalf, or Mexico is starting to open its eyes.

In any case, the whole passage is full of mirrors, and reflections, and eyes, and cinema—“optical illusions,” if you like.  Much of it is about mistrusting what we see with our own eyes.  Amalfitano points out to Charly Cruz that “images linger on the retina for a fraction of a second.”  We carry the impress of what we see with us; it’s recorded in our eyes, but our eyes can also deceive, and we can willfully blind ourselves, “refuse to believe our own eyes.”

Then we have the story of the “borrachito” or “little old drunk,” a description of a different kind of optical illusion, one in which a spinning disk convinces us that the laughing little old drunk is behind bars, although the bars of the prison are drawn on the opposite side of the disk; Amalfitano concludes that the little old drunk is laughing at our credulity, because he’s not really in jail at all. Or we could say, we don’t know what side the bars are on. Charly Cruz seems to be suggesting, I think, that Amalfitano himself is in jail. But Amalfitano isn’t going down so easily.  Maybe he is less clueless than he seemed at first.

And indeed, so he turns out to be. But I’m really worried about what happens to him after Fate and Rosa take off.

Week 6: Dreams

by Daryl L.L. Houston

299: Guadalupe Roncal describes the Santa Teresa prison as being like a bad dream.

300: Guadalupe Roncal says the suspect in the Santa Teresa murders has the face of a dreamer. “He has the face of a dreamer, but of a dreamer who’s dreaming at great speed. A dreamer whose dreams are far out ahead of our dreams.” Recall Espinoza’s dream back on 114, in which figures in the painting in his hotel room are moving almost imperceptibly, “as if they were living in a world different from ours, where speed was different.”

308: The song that plays over the loudspeakers after the boxing match has a tone whose defiant tone includes a hint of “corrosive humor, a humor that existed only in relation to itself and in dreams, no matter whether the dreams were long or short.”

313: Some of the teenage girls working at El Rey del Taco have tears in their eyes, “and they seemed unreal, faces glimpsed in a dream.”

342: When Fate takes Rosa back home after their misadventure, a look the father and daughter give one another strikes him as a look given “as if they were asleep and their dreams had converged on common ground, a place where sound was alien.”

347: Guadalupe Roncal stands next to Fate and Rosa with her eyes very wide, “as if her worst nightmares had come true.”

347: After fleeing with Rosa and crossing the border, Oscar observes a few people and thinks that the experience is like somebody else’s dream.

349: About to confront the murder suspect in jail, Fate wonders if he might be dreaming.

Week 6: pages 291-349

“So what are we going to do? What can we do?”—Rosa Amalfitano

Fate is often the answer to the question Why me? For the women of Santa Teresa (and Juarez), the question might be more “Why us?” but the answer is the same: it just is, it’s fate, what can you do? No one knows how to stop the killings—they barely even receive press coverage anymore—they have become part of the landscape. “A sketch of the industrial landscape in the third world,” Fate calls his proposed piece of reportage. “The problem is bad luck,” said Rosa. From the stands of the arena, Fate can her them singing “the battle hymn of a lost war sung in the dark.” The fate of the city and the fate of the women are intertwined. Maria Bustillos asked earlier about why Amalfitano allows Rosa to go out into the city alone at night. What motivates a woman living in Santa Teresa to keep living there and venture out alone at night? Part of it must be the surreal nature of murder and kidnapping. They are such grand, cinematic concepts that they seemingly don’t apply to real world people—until they do. The difference between living in the shadow of constant murder and death is a pale illusion, a dream of never awaking. “You have to listen to women. You should never ignore a woman’s fears.”

The issue of machismo also arises in this section—not just because it is based around the boxing match, but because Fate is in some ways an intruder. His masculinity operates on a different frequency. He is aware that he can be easily perceived as a big black American dude, a scary presence to the shorter, somewhat homogeneous Mexicans, but the only time he tries on that persona, it doesn’t work on the form of machismo he encounters. What he perceives as sexual jealousy on the part of Chucho Flores and Corona (towards Rosa Amalfitano) turns out to be indifference on Chucho’s part (“I’m not jealous, amigo”) and sheer violence on Corona’s part (a gun? a murder? what did Fate do besides barge in on your little cocaine session?). Bolano shows us how bizarre interactions between people can escalate into violence and then not fit neatly into explainable categories. If Corona does shoot Fate in that situation, how would you summarize it? A group of friends (former lovers?) were having a “party” at a house and the foreigner threatened a woman? Is it classified as a “domestic” situation? Of course, Chucho’s indifference in the house is contrasted by his violent jealousy earlier in the coffee shop when he calls Rosa a whore for kissing a classmate. Is his “indifference” in the house really just cowardice? Chucho comes off looking like the weakest sort of macho man. Are women in Santa Teresa being killed not because of predators but because of the weakness of men? As Amalfitano says, “They’re all mixed up in it.”

The instant that Rosa Amalfitano takes Fate’s hand and chooses him over the Mexicans, it saves Fate’s life. It is the end of his three days and nights in the belly of the whale. It is the sign that the two of them both have been granted a reprieve. So much of this section reminded me of Pulp Fiction (the boxing match, the girl doing drugs, the gun, the rush to leave the motel, etc.) that I thought that moment of Fate and Rosa finally connecting was the equivalent of Vincent Vega giving Mia Wallace an adrenaline shot to the heart.

Other topics we need to discuss: the end of the sacred (Daryl mentions it here), the end of the old-style movie theaters, the history of film in general, hexagons, the murals (Daryl has a great post on the Virgin here), TV shows.

“We all know things we think nobody else knows,” said Fate.

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