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The Savage Detectives  By  cover art

The Savage Detectives

By: Roberto Bolaño
Narrated by: Eddie Lopez,Armando Durán
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Publisher's Summary

The late Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño has been called the García Marquez of his generation.

The Savage Detectives is a hilarious and sexy, meandering and melancholy, companionable and complicated road trip through Mexico City, Barcelona, Israel, Liberia, and finally the desert of northern Mexico. It is the first of Bolaño's two giant works, with 2666, to be translated into English and is already being hailed as a masterpiece.

©2007 Translation by Natasha Wimmer (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"Wildly enjoyable . . . Bolano beautifully manages to keep his comedy and his pathos in the same family." ( The New York Times Book Review)
" The Savage Detectives is deeply satisfying. . . . Bolano's book throws down a great, clunking, formal gauntlet to his readers' conventional expectations. . . . A very good novel." (Thomas McGonigle, Los Angeles Times)
"An instant cult hit among readers and practically a fetish object to critics." ( Time)

Featured Article: 10 of the Best Hispanic Authors to Listen to Right Now


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What listeners say about The Savage Detectives

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Bolaño Poetic Gyre

This is a book that is nearly impossible to review, absolutely impossible to summarize, and simultaneously amazing and frustrating. Bolaño created a novel and a narrative that (IMHO) attempted to capture the energy, the personalities, the youth and the mortar that held together Mexican and Latin American poets during the mid-1970s. It feels like he took every poetic image, idea, stray hair and paper from every Mexican poet during the past forty years and laid them all down on black velvet to be examined. He found poetry in the "visceral realists" excesses and his semi-autobiographical confessions. Bolaño jumps from chapter-to-chapter, from scene-to-scene, from sunset-to-sunset and keeps reinventing his PoMo novel as he writes it.

I have to be fair. It wasn't my favorite novel, but it seems the most likely (of all the novels I've read these last two or three years) to suddenly become animated. If any novel is going to jump off my lap, and wander off into the wilderness -- this is the one. It seems to be written not just in ink, but in blood, tears, seed, and fire.

It someways it reminds me of the beginning of Yeat's poem 'Second Coming':

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

With Roberto Bolaño the center of this gyre is Mexico City and with each page he writes (forward and back in time) Bolaño seems to be adding potential energy to the explosion that will loose his mad, Mexican poets, these thieves and dealers, these visceral realists, around the world. As I chew on this image, I think the idea of vortexes and gyres is equally applicable to ALL poets. It captures the way creativity often explodes, demands to be exposed, and drives before its flood chariots of innocence, creativity and youth.

21 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Started slow but ended great

I really did NOT like this book for the first 90 minutes or so - Part I. But then the narrator changed from the sex-crazed, 17 year-old, wanna-be Visceral Realist poet to an older man and the stories of people who knew Arturo and Ulisses, Visceral Realists. This was much better than the first part and drew me in regularly. The third part goes back to the 17 year-old again, but he and Aruturo and Ulisses are seeking Cesarea Tinajero, the original Visceral Realist. The book just grew and grew on me and in the end I really didn't want it to end.
I didn't notice any pronunciation errors - I thought the narration was excellent.

18 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Mispronunciation

The writing is wonderful and the book is certainly compelling, but this audiobook is very poorly produced. The reader's consistent and glaring mispronunciation of Spanish words -- names in particular -- is extremely distracting. Was there no research? I am very disappointed.

16 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars

Read Don't Listen

Some books are better read than listened to....and after listening to this extremely long book not once but twice, I have to say this is one of them. "The Savage Detectives" is a high-end tour-de-force, includes the testimony of so many characters and the thread of enough lives and stories that it warrants a careful reading vs. a thorough listening to or two, as in my case. After my first listening, much escaped me and 2/3 of the way through I had put so much time into the book I was determined to finish it but felt it was a slog. However, the book ends so beautifully, I was replenished and decided that now that I had half the threads, I would listen to it again. And that was worth doing too as I was then able to distinguish characters/voices and weave together the books threads all the better.

The book is exactly that -- very "writerly" so having the actors read what is supposed to be written testimony at times comes across as contrived, and the first narrator initially irritated me to no end because, despite the actor's surname (Lopez) he sounded like a WASP. Didn't bother me as much the second time around as I was used to it. The second narrator covers so many voices it's incredible, and his voice is much more authentic but again having the same actor cover gosh...at least 15 voices that are written in style of testimony is difficult.

Parts of the book are quite beautiful, parts are tedious, the author treats his central poet characters as almost messianic which translates as a bit self-indulgent. There is a very gratuitous stinky vagina scene that's bothersome, but then some wonderful international scenes and the actual detection --there is that as the poets trace a phantom like female poet from a generation before these is extremely well-executed.

If you have time to listen to a very long book twice, give it a shot. Impossible to swallow in one listening. This is worth reading,but best suited for the printed page.

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Amazing experience

The story is told by large cast of characters who seem to be responding verbally to questions about two poets, a Mexican and a Chilean. But somehow, these two end up seeming mythical and insubstantial while the supporting characters become full blown companions through their unique voices telling stories combining the mundane and bizarre. A latticework of detail is provided (You always know the date and place of a narration.), but motivation almost always remains mysterious. By some inexplicable means, the narrative tension is sustained through many adventures in Mexico City and Europe.
The readers are absolutely great. I'm sure that their good pronunciation of Spanish words (as well as German and even Latin) and the excellent definition of the characters through their voices and accents made this novel a much greater pleasure to listen to than it would have been to read in print.

12 people found this helpful

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Great listen

If you could sum up The Savage Detectives in three words, what would they be?

I've read Bolano, but I think his novels work even better read out loud. The long lists of esoteric knowledge, the rambling thoughts and literary analysis, and the internal observations flow beautifully when read.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Stopped reading without guilt. Skip this book

No one in book club finished the book. Despite high reviews (NY Times, Washington Post) every one of the voracious readers in my book club stopped reading it - myself included. You know that guilt you sometimes feel when you don't finish something you started. I didn't feel that guilt. There are too many better books out there to read.

Why didn't I like it?

1) It was a wandering and rambling trail of thought without an apparent plot line in the spirit of "On the Road", "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and to a certain extent "Walden Pond".

2) I didn't care one bit for any of the characters. They could have dropped down the bottom of a well as far as I was concerned. It might even do them some good - teach those fancy, dreamy poets to live in the real world.

3) The book was also complicated by the Spanish words - It was harder for me to connect to the book and get the swing of it with all of the foreign names and words.

On the plus side - our book club's consensus is that the book wasn't 100% bad but we just didn't get it/ connect with it. I actually thought the racy sex scenes were the more intriguing part of the 2 hours that I listened to - the emotions of sexual wonder, desire, and exploration seems more real to me than discussions of young Mexican surrealist poets trying to establish a magazine.

3 people found this helpful

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Bolaño gets another great treatment

Bolaño writes a modern classic and gets a perfectly suited reading from two readers who truly make it work better than one should or would expect. More readers could have made the middle section pop a bit more but at the same time that can be very jarring and very risky. In the end, I am more than glad they went the route they did and picked these two talents to bring this to audio format.

2 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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Not an easy listen. Possibly a decent read... but not going back there.

Do you like tedious disconnected rambling? Do you like stories that some grandpa tells you when he doses half way through it? Well this is a book for you.

1. Chapter One summary: i read and wrote for 8 hours in a cafe in Mexico city. Looked for my poet friends didn’t find them got horny thoughts of maria but went to my girlfriends.

2. Chapter Two summary: speaker 1: and one time in band camp. Speaker 2: the soldiers were coming... speaker 3: when i was a young lad.

That’s where i am so far. With 18 hours to go i may just give up

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A Year Well-Spent

I listened to this for a year on various road trips, and unlike most books like it, I can say with confidence that it never wore old, became tired, or caused me any difficulty coming back after a month away. The book's style makes it perfect for this - Especially in Part II, it's more of a space to get lost in than a coherent narrative! The prose in this translation is gorgeous, and it's gorgeously performed by both readers. It was heartbreaking to reach the end today, like having to move homes or abandon a new friend! Highly recommended for readers who like dense modern fiction, Bolaño is well en par with the likes of DFW, Pynchon, and DeLillo (who gets a name check!) here, swimming in characters and perspectives and streams of consciousness to achieve an incredible maximalist masterpiece.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Moose Molloy
  • 10-05-09

Discover a whole new world of fiction

After a relatively accessible and direct opening section, the plot abandons itself to a succession of non-chronological witness statements which eventually interact to produce a gripping, disconcerting novel. For anyone tired of the heavy hand of Anglo-saxon conformity this book will be most welcome, as long as you can see the humour in it - if you don't laugh somewhere early on, give it up. But it's also a 'serious' work of fiction in every sense.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Welsh Mafia
  • 08-14-10

Ulises' Homeric Epic

A brilliant introduction or primer for South American literature, infused with Spanish sensitivities and pre-occupations. This book drifts on and on, beautifully written easy to follow but ultimately difficult to fathom, leaving the reader to wonder where they have sailed to and what is the meaning and message of it all....if in fact the purpose of the Visceral Realists is that there is no message and meaning, since there is no poetry. Much as Murakami has done for modern Japanese writing, so too Bolano seems to have taken an important step in bringing the world of Chile, Colombia and Mexico City into the cosmopolitan mainstream literati cosmos. The world so familiar and yet so fresh shouts and whispers out from the page and left me wanting more - forward and back to explore the early works and look forward to picking up 2666 later this summer. As with all new challenges, hard work to work hard through this novel, but new, exciting and very rewarding to get to know Bolano.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Curates egg
  • 06-15-10

Or on the other hand.....

Being Latin American and award winning ought not to be a passport to universal acclaim.
Despite being extremely well narrated, this remains a deeply boring tale about unattractive characters. 'Real' they may be....even 'visceral'...that doesn't make them beings that you want populating your imagination.
Lots of four letter words and strong sexual references make this not the audio to have on in the kitchen while the family has dinner!
My advice? If you want to move out of the Anglo Saxon arena try Carlos Ruiz Zafon. As for me ? I think it?s back to Miss Marple for an hour or two to wash my mind out!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Malcolm
  • 10-26-20

Savagely Brilliant

This novel, particularly in its audiobook form, is spellbinding and alive with life itself. The narrator brings the interwoven narratives to life with a crackling voice that was better than my own internal reading voice. It's a visceral and sensual story packed with politics, people, poetry and sex. Listen to it and fall in love with Roberto Bolano's visions of a Latin America very few of us know but a humanity we all recognise.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-07-19

Waste of time.

Had to give up half way through, there's a chapter where every second sentence is someone German dude saying "my good friend ulises", and I couldnt bring myself to listen any longer. do yourself a favour and don't get this.

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • Clare
  • 09-12-13

Not for me

Would you try another book written by Roberto Bolaño or narrated by Eddie Lopez and Armando Durán ?

perhaps I should persist but I'm not going to not a book for me, it might be the names (unfamiliar to my western ear) but I found this very difficult to follow

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • nasim
  • 04-07-13

just like Borges

An avid reader, Bolaño often expressed his love for Borges and Cortázar's work, and once concluded an overview of contemporary Argentinian literature by saying that "one should read Borges more.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Bluesview
  • 09-10-11

The Savage Detectives - a journey

This is very different, very sexual in parts but not gratuitously so. The book slowly becomes addictive and I found no trouble listening to long tracts at a time. It is not written in a form I have come across before: the story evolving from the narratives of the various characters but each character is convincing and it did not occur to me that Bolano obviously created each separate character. The female parts are read by the 'male' narrators, which through me when I first realised it was happening but I got used to it and quite enjoyed this aspect of the narration. The narrators are excellent and, of course, there is not the requirement to figure out the pronunciation of the Spanish, where it occurs. It is a wonderful book, yes it is long but as it progresses one is the more pleased for the length and sad when it reaches its conclusion. Everything is convincing. Read it - it will stay with you.

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  • Stan
  • 02-18-21

Sprawling novel well worth it.

The Savage Detectives is a complex sprawling novel in three parts.

The first part introduced us to the self-styled “visceral realist” poets.

The second and most substantial part of the book is a series of interviews with people whose lives have intersected with one or another of the poets. For me, this is the most interesting.

The author’s ability to create so many individual and identifiable characters by the use of particular phrases and ways of speaking gave me a sense of how inter-connected yet spread this poetic world was. Some of those characters returned in a subsequent interview, and I was so pleased to recognise them and learn what else they had to say.

The third part returns to the diary-driven narrative of the first part, and in concluding, establishes a sense of why the poets largely disappeared.