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It’s been ten years since Udo Berger, a semipro player of war games, last visited the Del Mar Hotel on Spain’s Costa Brava. Now, on holiday with his adored girlfriend, Ingeborg, young Udo finds the hotel surrounded by sinister characters who have no place in his boyhood memories. There are Charly and Hanna, a couple from Oberhausen given to violent drunken sprees and passionate reconciliations. There are two amateur local tour guides, known only as the Wolf and the Lamb, who “live off of other people’s holidays.” And then there is El Quemado—the Burn Victim—a disfigured young man with skin “like grilled meat or the crumpled metal of a downed plane.”
Udo planned to spend his vacation developing a new strategy for the war game known as The Third Reich, but there are distractions. First Charly beats up Hanna and says he saw a German woman having sex on the beach—and intimates that this woman bore a resemblance to Ingeborg. Then Charly disappears in a windsurfing accident, and Hanna leaves for Germany in Charly’s car. Ingeborg, too, returns home, to Stuttgart, the romantic idyll shattered.
Despite Ingeborg’s entreaties, Udo resolves to stay in Spain until Charly’s body is discovered. Alone, Udo embarks on an illicit romance with Frau Else, the enigmatic proprietress of the hotel, whose ailing husband emerges only at night.
To pass his evenings, Udo begins a game of The Third Reich with El Quemado. At first, champion and novice seem hopelessly mismatched, as El Quemado—playing the side of the Allies—forgets to occupy Bessarabia and ties up the British infantry in France. But the beach-dweller turns out to be a quick study, and he may have more resources at his disposal than Udo suspects.
By special arrangement with the Bolaño estate, The Paris Review is publishing The Third Reich in its entirety over the space of four issues. 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.
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