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Translate This Book!

Ever wonder what English is missing? Called "a fascinating Life Perecread" by The New Yorker, Translate This Book! brings together over 40 of the top translators, publishers, and authors to tell us what books need to be published in English. Get it on Kindle.

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First 2666 Review

Adam Kirsch in Slate has the first review I’ve seen for 2666. I imagine this kind of opening will become pretty standard fare in the 2666 coverage:

By this standard, there is no doubt that Roberto Bolaño is a great writer. 2666,
the enormous novel he had almost completed when he died at 50 in 2003,
has the confident strangeness of a masterpiece: In almost every
particular, it fails, or refuses, to conform to our expectations of
what a novel should be. For one thing, though it is being published as
a single work (in a Bible-sized single-volume edition and as a
three-paperback set), 2666 is made up of five sections that
are so independent Bolaño originally planned to release them as
separate books. These parts relate to one another, not as installments
or sequels but, rather, as five planets orbiting the same sun. With
their very different stories and settings, they seem to describe a
single plummeting arc—the trajectory of a universe on the verge of
apocalypse.

I don’t want to say too much about my evaluation of the book since I’ll be publishing my own review in The Quarterly Conversation in December, but I do find it interesting that Kirsch claims these 5 sections are so independent of one another. They’re not really. Yes, each has its own plot, and maybe even something of its own logic, but these section are no more independent of one another than, say, the various sections of Underworld were independent of each other.

Kirsch does have this exactly right, though:

Imagine reading case reports like these, one after another, for almost
300 pages, and you will get a sense of the bludgeoning effect of "The
Part About the Crimes." The violence becomes simultaneously banal and
unbearable in its sheer reiteration; at times, it requires a real
effort to keep turning the pages. Yet in this way, Bolaño succeeds in
restoring to physical violence something of its genuine evil, in a time
when readers in the First World are used to experiencing it only as CSI-style entertainment.

It looks like Slate didn’t allot this review a single word more than what’s normal, and that’s a shame. It’ll be a surprise if any reviewer manages to discuss 2666 without invoking its unusual heft and quasi-legendary status (already), but I doubt that this will translate into much more space than is usually given to books. This isn’t a matter of Bolano-Bolano-Bolano-fever . . . any book of this size and being granted this kind of pre-publication esteem deserves space. You just can’t adequately address such a book in less than a couple thousand words.

In any event, those of you who want to try it out for yourselves can do so next Tuesday. If you do choose to take on 2666, I recommend going in with some context. Here’s our previous coverage of Bolano, for those who want a little primer material:

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More from Conversational Reading:

  1. 2666 The Literary Saloon and others report that there’s now an Amazon pub date for Bolaño’s opus, in English. I’m a little divided as to whether...
  2. 2666–The Big Book of BEA? Chad Post is declaring 2666 the "big book" of BEA Jeff’s comments about how they marketed The Savage Detectives and what they’re doing for 2666...
  3. 2666 Apparently, Natasha Wimmer has been awarded a grant of $20,000 to translate robert Bolano’s novel 2666. That’s fair, since it’s about 2,666 pages long. Aside...
  4. 2666: First Impressions Now that I’ve knocked off a good inch of 2666, I feel like it’s time to say a little about my reactions to it. At...
  5. 3x Bolaño in The Nation Roberto Bolaño gets triple coverge in The Nation, including, impressively, a review of one of his titles not yet available in English. Happy as I...

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3 comments to First 2666 Review

  • Tim Jacobs

    My review of 2666 is slated to appear in the National Post (Toronto) some time this month. Let me just say that my review is hardly as absurdly flattering as Kirsch’s.

  • Cesar Bruto

    I wish the Spanish version of 2666 was as beautiful as the FSG box set. My Anagrama copy is so flimsy. I am almost tempted to buy the boxset and keep it in my living room as a talisman.

  • Hmm. The first review I saw of 2666 was in Esquire last month. Well, it’s the Nov. issue, but I posted about it on Oct. 15. Last I checked, there was a link to the review on esquire.com. As expected, it’s pretty standard fare.

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