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The Part About the Crimes 1: How Factual Is All This?

I’m about 20 pages from finishing the half of Part 4 we’ve committed to for tomorrow.  For now let me suggest some places to go to see how closely the novel matches up with the facts of the Ciudad Juarez femicides, insofar as they have been determined.

Thanks to another blog, I have found a page compiled by the translator, Natasha Wimmer, entitled “Notes for an Annotated Edition of 2666

I only read the comments on the parts that we’ve already read, but I skimmed the rest, which includes a quote from the London Review of Books review of The Savage Detectives from one Benjamin O. Kunkel.

“Professor Kessler,” the fellow in the conversation at the diner in The Part About Fate (264-267), is a stand-in for Robert K. Ressler, the man who began the study of the psychology of serial killers in the late ’70s:

Wimmer says that Klaus Haas is fictional, but that he shares a few biographical details with the man arrested for the murders, the Egyptian-American chemist Abdel Latif Sharif, who had been convicted for sexual crimes including rape in the United States throughout the ’80s before arriving in Juarez in 1994.

For more on Sharif as well as much else besides, there is a very good article by Alma Guillermoprieto in The New Yorker from the era:  “A Hundred Women” (9/29/03)

Sharif died in jail of natural causes in 2006.

The earliest documentary that I know of on the topic:  Lourdes Portillo, Señorita Extraviada (2001)

I’ve taught it:  it has the expected rhetoric, and interviews a lot of the victims’ families, but it won’t tell you anything Bolaño doesn’t show you.

A book in English:

Sergio González Rodríguez, The Femicide Machine

(MIT Press/ Semiotexte)

González also wrote a book not translated into English, in 2006, Huesos en el desierto.  Bolaño met him after reading some of his news reports and obviously he is the basis for “Sergio González” in the novel.

Categorically, the most interesting of the victims is the American, Lucy Anne Sander, and the sheriff who goes after her, Harry Magaña.  I do not know if that is an invention of Bolaño’s:  the access we have to Magaña’s scene of death suggests that it is.

Other books:

Diana Washington Váldez, The Killing Fields: Harvest of Women (Peace at the Border, 2006)

Teresa Rodríguez, The Daughters of Juárez: A True Story of Serial Murder South of the Border (Atria Press, 2008)


July 25, 2012 - Posted by | 2666


  1. A couple more:

    Las Mujeres de Juárez by Los Tigres del Norte

    A New York Times article about artistic interpretations (and exploitations) of the killings. Note the correction, which corresponds to one of Bolaño’s themes in The Part About the Crimes.

    Comment by Josh K-sky | July 26, 2012

  2. Very helpful, Josh, thanks. Oh, only 90 who died with signs of ritual murder, not 400, then that’s all right, then. (I guess the version of that in 2666 is the series of deaths with the mutilation of the breasts.) A lot of stuff got published in 2006 because that’s an election year, and Mexican politics is in the habit of saving up all its public protests, manifestoes, etc. for that moment, which used to be the only one in which the PRI had to listen to the people.

    Comment by poc2666 | July 26, 2012

  3. I never even wondered whether the killings were modeled against real events. I figured they probably were but in reading the book it didn’t matter. What mattered are the few people with a real interest popping up just to go out again. We are sometimes too obsessed with the real. I mean: what is left out in this endless progression of factoids is the mass of time and events happening in between the factoids. It is this mass that makes people to forget of the horrible progression and it is this forgetting which is the real cruelty.

    Not so much even forgetting of the murders but forgetting about the context in which these murders take place – a context which is so dehumanized that focusing on the murders alone is in itself somewhat criminal.

    The whole modern fascination with psychopaths is somewhat sociopath. Their existence isn’t the mystery – are success in creating environmental conditions in which they can thrive is.

    Comment by Guido Nius | July 30, 2012

  4. (I didn’t respond to this earlier because I had a work crunch, Guido.) Sometimes I care how factual a novel’s context is, and sometimes I don’t. This time around I care because: professionally, I teach Latin American studies and people think I ought to know; ethically, one want to determine if one’s sense of outrage is being stirred up by a novelist “for no good reason” (alas, there’s a good reason); aesthetically, because the form of the novel is all in keeping with the kinds and quantities and unsolvedness of the murders, so one wants to know what sort of facts were on the ground that encouraged Bolaño to shape the novel one way and not another.

    In Book One, the well-meaning detective-critics never find Archimboldi; in Book Two, Amalfitano seems on the verge of suicide but doesn’t actually do it; in Book Three, Oscar and Rosa may have escaped the drug dealers, although by stopping at the prison maybe they won’t; if part of the facts on the ground about the femicides is their unsolvedness, then maybe that encouraged Bolaño to write an entire novel without resolutions.

    I certainly know where you’re coming from: sometimes the verisimilitude sensors are up and running at the wrong level and can spoil my fun. I spent half of that Summer of ’77 movie by Spike Lee a decade ago grousing that John Leguizamo couldn’t do a Bronx Italian-American accent to save his life, and nobody seemed to notice. On some level I knew it was irrelevant, but it drove me crazy anyway. Nothing in Santa Teresa of 2666 feels false/inaccurate in that sense, or on any important levels.

    The usual example brought out to talk about how stylization can produce a perfect mix of relevant factuality on some level with charmingly unrealistic characters and behaviors on other levels are Dickens novels that involve the denunciation of some specific Victorian ill –poorhouses or the law courts– through all those over-the-top characters. One could do worse than compare 2666 to Bleak House.

    Comment by poc2666 | August 1, 2012

  5. Now I feel bad as I didn’t want to imply an interest in the facts was misguided. I don’t think it’s necessary (and for me the account was genuine enough not to need being factual) but for sure it may be of specific interest as you indicate.

    Comment by Guido Nius | August 2, 2012

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