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A Final, Epic Work From Roberto Bolano

Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

Roberto Bolano's 2666 is at once a novel and an international literary event. The United States took a while to clue into a writer who's been internationally hailed as one of the very best of our era, if not the second coming of Jorge Luis Borges. But America's paucity of publishers (and readers) willing to publish (and read) works in translation slowed down our appreciation of Bolano's sterling reputation in Latin America and across the world.

2666 was published in 2004, a year after Bolano died at the age of 50 of a rare liver disease. Born in Chile, but reared in Mexico, Bolano came of age at a time when inspirational political movements were taking place across Latin America.

The author journeyed across Europe as a laborer, kicked an addiction to heroin and was imprisoned — briefly — during the military dictatorship of Gen. Augustin Pinochet. Bolano's writings reflects both his complex cosmopolitanism and his fiery political ideals.

The English translation of 2666 was finally released at the end of 2008. The 900-page epic traverses multiple continents over eight decades, and its intricate plotlines converge upon a fictional Mexican city resembling, in its horror and decay, Ciudad Juarez, the slum city sprawling endlessly across the border from El Paso. That's the industrial backwater where hundreds of women, mostly factory workers, have been mysteriously and brutally raped and killed since the mid 1990s. It's into this dark landscape where evil roams unchecked that Bolano plunges, with linguistic precision, historical rigor and spellbinding passion.

Time magazine named 2666 the best book of 2008. "It is a police procedural straight from the precinct of hell," wrote reviewer Lev Grossman. "It is also as bravura a display of novelistic mastery, and as devastating a reading experience, as you are likely ever to encounter."

This discussion of Roberto Bolano's 2666 is led by Farrar, Straus and Giroux Senior Editor Lorin Stein. It was recorded in January 2009 at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

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Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.