As many of us are buzzing over the recent New Directions release of Nazi Literature in the Americas, FSG’s paperback edition of The Savage Detectives is also in stores, dropping almost simultaneously as if a new Bolaño translation wasn’t quite enough. The paperback Savage Detectives is worth a look for the insightful and detailed introduction by translator Natasha Wimmer, which offers the standard biography and compact criticism as well as many of the wicked barbs Bolaño was known for. Isabelle Allende, Gabriel García Márquez, and Mario Vargas Llosa all get a dose of Bolaño’s acid tongue. Fun as this is to read (even if you love the Boom writers as much as I do), the most compelling aspect of the intro is found in a footnote.
Serving as a makeshift who’s-who guide to the characters in the book, and complete with a link to the surviving and active infrarealists, Wimmer offers quotes from that infamous group of disruptive poets the young Bolaño formed in Mexico City, and then, fictionally, chronicled in his novel. The infrareaists’ dismissal of established poets, and their habit of shouting out their own poems during readings by more famous writers, makes it easy to dismiss this group as a gang of literary thugs and over-zealous youths with pens, but Wimmer’s introduction allows readers to gain a sense of these poetry-mad kids as adults, not to mention flesh-and blood-human beings.
In regard to Bolaño’s success, the opinions of the infrarealists vary, as some recall that Roberto used to swear he’d never abandon poetry for the novel, which he continually called a second rate art form. Though he published many books of poetry, it seems his fame will endure thanks to his prose. It would be interesting to see if a book of his translated poems would net such a thorough and engaging introductory essay. And the intro is wonderful, though the only problem with it is that it made me impatient for 2666. Ms. Wimmer, please hurry.