It’s about a German named Udo who goes to Spain on vacation with his girlfriend, Ingeborg. He plays war games and writes articles about them. He’s planning on presenting a paper in Paris a few months later, so he brings The Third Reich with him on vacation and sets it up on a large table in his hotel room. His paper doesn’t get written. He’d stayed at the hotel with his parents about ten years ago, when he was fifteen. He had a crush on the owner, and he starts a relationship, of sorts, with her. He begins a game with a mysterious man who owns paddleboats for public rental, and it becomes serious because, as it turns out, El Quemado, as they call him, was involved in World War II and was horribly scarred, both physically and mentally. It’s a complex plot.
And it’s totally worth reading. It’s not as much of challenge as The Savage Detectives was, and I found myself in a hurry to finish it. It felt a little like Kafka‘s Amerika, which I hated with a special kind of hate reserved for the likes of Things Fall Apart and I can’t think of what else. Anyway. I just wanted Udo to smarten up and get the hell out of there before he got himself killed. He didn’t leave when I wanted him to (or when everyone in the book wanted him to), but he didn’t die, either. There was a weird kind of anti-climax at the end.
I’m certainly not saying that The Third Reich isn’t a really good book or that I didn’t like it – because I did. It was just an uncomfortable world to be in, and I wanted out. Which was probably what Bolaño was going for. Once I started this one, I broke down and bought a used copy of 2666 from Amazon, but I haven’t received it yet. I’m not sure I’m ready to tackle that one, anyway. I put The Savage Detectives up there with Rushdie on the difficulty scale – Bolaño in general, really. While I was happy to escape The Third Reich, it left me thinking. At first, I didn’t know whether I liked it or not, and I spent some time trying to figure out what actually happened to Udo, how he’d changed. I think I have it figured out, but the process hurt my head a little bit, which is a good thing.
So. Bolaño is good. The Third Reich is good. I can’t wait to read his other stuff, though I don’t think I can handle another one for a while.