Book by Chilean truck driver’s son takes on border violence

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Updated Dec 14, 2009

Amid ongoing examinations of life and violence along the U.S.-Mexican border and the shifting relationships among warring drug traffickers, regular folk and the symbiotic economies of both nations, a novel by the son of a Chilean truck driver that many are calling the best book of 2008 has ignited the imaginations and hearts of readers around the world. 2666, by Roberto Bolano, out in English for the first time this fall from FSG, centers around the fictional border town of Santa Teresa, in Mexico situated due south of Nogales, Ariz., and the serial killings of women that plagued (nonfictional) Ciudad-Juarez throughout the 1990s and beyond. Santa Teresa is a clear fictional stand-in for that besieged town.

Told in five parts that each are novel-length in and of themselves, the 900-plus page book plumbs the depths of evil in our recent past, from the crimes of the Nazis, which spawn the reclusive novelist Archimboldi, the subject of the fifth and final section of the book, and the offhand violence of the literary critics who study him in the first part. It’s the fourth part that deals directly with the border town and the murders. A word of warning: this book’s not for the faint of heart. The story, written often in the style of forensic reports, in its fourth part gave more than one reviewer (including this blogger) literal nightmares. The fourth “>Part About the Crimes” catalogs the fictional murders while also narrating their official investigation, or lack thereof, and the reporters who chase down the black heart of the story.

Bolano himself, ultimately, locates that heart in the confluence of the economic and cultural condition of northern Mexico, its proximity to the U.S. market enabling a chaotic confluence of narcotics traffickers, foreign factories employing mostly independent women, and an at best inept or at worst corrupt police force. Serial violence is the result. And interestingly, the background to several scenes throughout the book is made up of long lines of rigs, loaded and rolling along the dusty highways headed north to the border. I stopped counting references to trucks in the fourth part after I got to 30. For more commentary, here’s a more complete review in the Dallas Morning News.

After Bolano’s truck-driving father moved the family to Mexico in 1968, when Bolano was a teenager, young Roberto returned to Chile briefly only to be jailed by Pinochet’s police force. Escaping when a guard recognized him as a former classmate, he later lived in Mexico City for a time, and in his 20s went to Spain, where he died of liver failure in 2003. He was 50.