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by Roberto Bolaño

Library Journal This sprawling, digressive, Jamesian "loose, baggy monster" reads like five independent but interrelated novels, connected by a common link to an actual series of mostly unresolved murders of female factory workers in the area of Ciudad Juùrez (here called Santa Teresa), a topic also addressed in Margorie AgosIn's Secrets in the Sand. The first part follows four literary critics who wind up in Mexico in pursuit of the obscure (and imaginary) German writer Benno von Archimboldi, a scenario that recalls Bolano's The Savage Detectives. The second and third parts, respectively, focus on Professor Almafitano and African American reporter Quincy Williams (also called Oscar Fate), whose attempts to expose the murders are thwarted. The fourth, and by far the longest, section consists mostly of detached accounts of the hundreds of murders; culled from newspaper and police reports, they offer a relentless onslaught of the gruesome details and become increasingly tedious. The last section returns to Archimboldi. Boasting Bolano's trademark devices--ambiguity, open endings, characters that assume different names, and an enigmatic title, along with splashes of humor--this posthumously published work is consistently masterful until the last half of the final part, which shows some haste. The book is rightly praised as Bolano's masterpiece, but owing to its unorthodox length it will likely find greater favor among critics than among general readers. In fact, before he died, the author asked that it be published in five parts over just as many years; it's a pity his relatives refused to honor his request. [Also available in a three-volume slip-cased paperback edition.]--Lawrence Olszewski, OCLC Lib., Dublin, OH Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

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Book list *Starred Review* Literature is of life and death significance in the fiction and poetry of ex-pat Chilean writer Bolaño, who passed away at age 50 in 2003, soon after completing this gyring novel of magnitude and vision. A storyteller with a global perspective, adept at juggling a dizzying array of voices, plotlines, allusions, emotions, and revelations with deadpan humor and utter seriousness, Bolaño begins this epic with a tale of four critics in search of a missing novelist. A Frenchman, a Spaniard, a wheelchair-bound Italian, and an Englishwoman discover their shared ardor for the German writer Benno von Archimboldi at a literary conference and join forces in a quest to find him. Their zigzag search, conveyed in sentences that run for pages, leads to the Mexican city of Santa Teresa, where a professor named Amalfitano is slowly losing his mind. He's not alone in his distress: hundreds of women have been killed and mutilated in Santa Teresa. As Bolaño fictionalizes the unsolved murders of the women of Juárez in a harrowing litany, yoking the macabre with the ludicrous, his journalists are helpless witnesses, including an African American named Oscar Fate, who is supposed to be covering a boxing match, and a local, Guadalupe, who tells him, No one pays attention to these killings, but the secret of the world is hidden in them. As the full story of Archimboldi rises to the surface of this vortex of bizarre connections and churning evil and links the genocide of World War II with the Santa Teresa murders, Bolaño injects irony and tragedy into this volcanic symphony of dreams, memories, dispatches, movies, news, confessions, hallucinations, and musings. Who is remembered and who is erased? How is coherence sustained when chaos rages? How do we live within the maelstrom of mass murder? Madness is contagious,  thinks Amalfitano. Life is unbearably sad, says Guadalupe. And girls jump rope, singing a song about a woman being dismembered. In this gorgeously translated inferno of a masterpiece, Bolaño's scope is cosmic, his artistry incendiary, his compassion universal.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2009 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.