The Third Reich: Part I

Roberto Bolaño

By the time of his death in 2003, at age fifty, Roberto Bolaño was already a somewhat legendary figure. A Chilean who spent most of his life in poverty and exile, Bolaño helped found the Infrarealist poetry movement in Mexico City. Later, he settled in the town of Blanes, on Spain’s Costa Brava. In the mid-nineties—according to ­legend—Bolaño set poetry aside, hoping to support his wife and young child by writing fiction. Over the next ten years, he produced a string of books, including By Night in Chile and The Savage Detectives, that made him the most influential Latin American novelist of his generation. He died soon after finishing his most celebrated work, 2666.

This legend was complicated two years ago by the discovery of The Third Reich (El Tercer Reich), a full-length novel that Bolaño wrote in 1989. That the novel exists in typescript (and that Bolaño retyped the first sixty pages when he bought his first computer, in 1995) suggests that he wished to see it published during his lifetime. Why he never did is anyone’s guess. From the first sentence, The Third Reich bears his hallmarks. The irony, the atmosphere of erotic anxiety, the dream logic shading into nightmare, the feckless, unreliable narrator: all prefigure his later work. The young novelist must have been exhilarated, and possibly alarmed, to discover his talent so fully formed.

By special arrangement with the Bolaño estate, The Paris Review will publish The Third Reich in its entirety over the space of four issues (making it our first serialized novel since Harry Mathews’s The Sinking of the Odradek Stadium, forty years ago). A hardcover edition of this translation will be published at the end of the year by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

To read the rest of this piece, purchase the issue.