The latest title to appear in English from the late Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño presents itself as the diary of a young German tourist on the Costa Brava one summer in the 1980s. Udo Berger has taken a holiday against his better judgement: it’s not his day job at an electricity company that bothers him, but his reputation as a champion war gamer. To the dismay of his girlfriend, Ingeborg, who would rather lie on the beach and hit the clubs, Udo has brought along his ever-present boards and counters, not to mention a stack of reading for an article he plans to write on strategy in advance of an imminent conference in Paris – all of which means he must maintain contact with Conrad, his mentor back home in Stuttgart. At his best, Bolaño is a terrific writer, but it may deter sceptics that, despite most of the author’s books being short, his most touted novel, the fiendish 2666, is huge, and, for vast stretches, grim as hell. The fourth and longest of its five parts documents in forensically repetitive detail the rapes and murders of dozens of Mexican factory workers. Based on real-life killings that date back to 1993, the victims of which number hundreds, ‘The Part about the Crimes’ dares you not to care – a device that cuts horrifically to the quick of why most of the actual ‘femicides’ remain unsolved. No such ethical weight attaches to readerly boredom in The Third Reich, which was written in 1989, and discovered among Bolaño’s papers after his premature death in 2003.
more from Anthony Cummins at Literary Review here.