Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives

Through a dozen viewpoints, Roberto Bolano recounts the lives of two visceral surrealist poets—Arthuro Belano and Ulises Lima. From Mexico City to Paris to Barcelona, the poets live their chaotic lives and seek to initiate a new movement in Latin American poetry. They encounter Octavio Paz and other prominent poets, but most of the time they live as outcasts of the literary community. Through their adventures and exploits, we can glimpse into Roberto Bolano’s life and his struggle to usher a new direction in poetry. The Savage Detectives is a literary tour-de-force that lets us glimpse into the Latin American literary community.

Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five Book Review

    In 1968, after recovering from an almost fatal accident and after his wife had died, Billy Pilgrim went to New York City and disclosed on an all-night radio program about having been kidnapped to the planet Tralfamadore. So he says.

In 1967 on his daughter’s wedding night, a flying saucer kidnapped him and took him to the planet Tralfamadore. He was displayed in a zoo and mated with a movie star Montana Wildhack. So it goes.

Billy Pilgrim was born in 1922 in Ilium, New York. He graduated from Ilium High School and attended the Ilium School of Optometry. So it goes.

In 1944, he went to South Carolina for maneuvers. He was an assistant chaplain, “powerless to harm his enemies or help his friends” Later that year, he went to Luxembourg to replace a deceased assistant chaplain just in time for a German attack. He survived but was behind the German lines. He met Roland Weary and they were captured by the Germans and sent to the extermination camp for Russian prisoners of war. So it goes.

In early 1968, Billy and other optometrists chartered a plane to go from Ilium to Montreal for a convention and the plane crashed on top of Sugarbush Mountain, Vermont. Only Billy and the copilot survived. So it goes.

His wife, having heard about the crash, drove to Vermont but had an accident on the way to the hospital. She was able to reach the hospital but died shortly after she arrived. So it goes.

He came back from the war in 1945 and returned to the Ilium School of Optometry. In his senior year, he was engaged to the daughter of the founder and owner of the school and suffered a nervous breakdown. So it goes.

In May 1945, the Germans shipped him and about a hundred American prisoners of war to Dresden as laborers and they lived in Slaughterhouse Five, where butchers used to slaughter cattle. About a month later American warplanes bombed the city and turned the streets into “the surface of the moon.” So it goes.

Through the time-shifts, Kurt Vonnegut simulates Billy Pilgrim’s experience and his delirium and the reader begins to understand a soul changed by war. Humorous, satirical, sad, and powerful. Slaughterhouse Five is a tale of the men brutalizing men and of an individual helpless against the current of history. The narrator describes Billy’s reactions toward his experiences rather than his feelings toward them. In the end, though Billy becomes a rich and successful optometrist in Ilium, he could only “get unstuck in time” through the Tralfamadoreans kidnapping him. So it goes.

A Clockwork Orange: A Vision of the Future

On a nochy, Your Humble Narrator Alex, a malchick not poogly of Bog or millicents and govoreeting in nadsat speak, peets chai in Korova Milkbar and then like goolys around the streets with his droogs to crast deng and cars. The banda removes platties including neezhnies from a ded and horrorshow shalagas his rot. They like drat another shaika’s nadsats and shives them with ozhs until horrorshow krovvy drip drip drip.

But when Alex tolchocks a baboochka with kots and koshkas and she snuffs it, he is loveted and sent to the Staja. To oodakeet jail earlier, he agrees to the Reclamation Treatment. And he viddys sinny of nadsats tolchocking deds and baboochkas and Nazis oobivating Yahoodys and all that cal until he would bolnoy at thinking of tolchocking another veck. He even wants to sick when he slooshys Ludwig Von’s Symphony No 9 and Wolfgang Amadeus’s Symphony No 41.

At one level, A Clockwork Orange is about the horror of teenage violence but at another, the dystopian novel is about the terror of a government trying to reengineer socially acceptable individuals. Anthony Burgess in the last chapter seems to imply that when teenagers grow up, the energy that drove them toward violence would propel them to construct society.  Whether the reader believes such a thesis, the novel would give food for thought.

Prague Cemetery: Umberto Eco's Postmodern Narrative

Simonini is a forger who helps the secret services of Piedmont, France, Prussia and Russia implicate the Carbonari, the Republicans, the Freemasons, the Jesuits, and the Jews and his allegiance is only to the paycheck. He travels with Garibaldi as the general defeats the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and unifies Italy. He helps the French and Prussian spy on each other before the Franco-Prussian War. He forges the document that implicated Dreyfus in the famous affair. But his masterpiece is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, detailing the Jewish leaders’ plot in a Prague cemetery to take over the world by amassing wealth and destroying “Christian” principles.

He travels with Garibaldi as the general defeats the Kingdom of Two Sicilies and unifies Italy.

He forges the document that implicated Dreyfus in the famous affair.

Umberto Eco interleaves European history with Simonini’s exploits and integrates the Freemasons, the Jesuits, and the Jews in multiple conspiracies against each other. Political maneuverings that Machiavelli would applaud. But it is in manipulating the text into a multi-level narrative that Eco shows his genius.

But his masterpiece is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Umberto Eco interleaves European history with Simonini’s exploits.

At the first level are Simonini’s forged documents, including the letter Dreyfus wanted to send to the Germans and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which the protagonist knows to be fake and which we the readers believe to be so. At the second level are Simonini’s journal entries—including the fake Dalla Piccola’s writings—which our protagonist believes to be true (the diary describing how he had forged them) and which we the readers know is fiction (Eco’s novel) but aren’t sure whether our hero accurately recorded his exploits. At the third level are the Narrator’s comments throughout the novel to complement the diary and fill in the missing events, as a record of Simonini’s exploits. We the readers don’t know who the Narrator is and can only trust his/her account.  But in the section “Useless Learned Explanations” the Narrator outlines the novel and reveals that all the characters beside Simonini are real people. And he/she even provides notes that reveal Hitler read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. At first, we the readers might believe these to be the author’s notes, but then we realize the Narrator is commenting on these events (Simonini’s narrative) as a historian and the comments are part of the novel.

Political maneuverings that Machiavelli would applaud.

A truly postmodern narrative, in the spirit of Jorge Luis Borges’s Ficciones, where each layer of narrative comments on a lower one until the reader questions the boundary between fact and fiction.

A truly postmodern narrative.