The Third Reich, by Roberto Bolaño
image via cleveland.com
I'm posting a book review a little earlier in the week than usual - for the reason noted at the bottom of the post.
Right off the bat, let me say that this book isn’t about Nazi Germany any more than Norman Mailer’s book, “Why Are We In Vietnam?” was about the Vietnam War. Instead it’s Bolaño’s indirect tribute to the mystery novel – but it's far more than that.
A German man, Udo Berger, is the national champion of a game called The Third Reich, a game in which two players match wits using the battlefields, weaponry, the generals, etc. of the European portion of World War II. He and his girlfriend, Ingeborg, decide to vacation in Spain, taking a room at a hotel Udo stayed at with his family when he was a child. He becomes reacquainted with the hotel owners, and a mysterious beach bum called El Quemado. In true geek fashion, Udo can’t stay away from his game, and he and El Quemado begin to play it. Ingeborg leaves him alone there and returns to Germany. The author slowly builds suspense over the game while something sinister begins to take shape. Charly, a person Udo and Ingeborg befriended in Spain, dies mysteriously, and Udo becomes enamored of Frau Else, one of the hotel owners.
I’d like to tell you more, but that’s it, really.
As the story progresses, Udo’s first person narrative becomes almost trancelike in its feel; in fact, Udo has dreams, random images, flitting from person to person, subject to subject, much in the order of Marquez’s magical realism works.
What is Bolaño trying to accomplish here? It’s an almost poetic rendering of modern games – board and computer – many of which are violent. Are these games harmless? he seems to want us to ask. No, not essentially, but the subliminal effects of such a focus on something of a violent nature are real. They’re ominous in that they can lull you into a false sense of security, even as they leave you with palpable feelings of fear and paranoia.
This of course can be projected into a broader context: We as a world society can’t play politics with the implements of war without doing at least psychic damage to all concerned.
image via thisislondon.co.uk
Tomorrow, another review of this book, taking a somewhat divergent perspective on it. And the fact that that's possible reflects well on the author's writing skills, his skills of suggestion.
My rating: 16 of 20 stars
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