The publication of Los Detectives Salvajes in 1998 was a catalyst in establishing Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño’s status as a seminal literary voice. It was a sensation in the Spanish-speaking world. It was only in 2007 when the novel was finally translated into and published in English as The Savage Detectives. It immediately gained worldwide recognition, from both literary critics and readers alike. While this recognition might be a little too late for Bolaño, who passed away in 2003, it was nonetheless integral in making him a global literary star. The Savage Detectives, with its labyrinthine narrative, was an unrelenting homage to Latin American literature. It comes as no surprise that the book is highly recommended and is listed on many must-read lists. It was through these must-read lists that I first encountered Bolaño and The Savage Detectives, a book that I adored for its innovative approach to storytelling. It also has a rich language, brimming with memorable lines which I am featuring in this Quotable Quotes post. Happy reading!

Do check out my complete review of this literary work by clicking here.


“Pyramids? Yes he said, deep underground there must be lots of pyramids. My father didn’t say anything. From the darkness of the backseat, I asked him why he thought that. He didn’t answer. Then we started to talk about other things but I kept wondering why he’d said that about the pyramids. I kept thinking about pyramids. I kept thinking about my father’s stony plot of land and much later, when I’d lost touch with him, each time I went back to that barren place I thought about the buried pyramids, about the one time I’d seen him riding over the tops of the pyramids, and I imagined him in the hut, when he was left alone and sat there smoking.”

~ Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

“In a brief moment of lucidity, I was sure that we’d all gone crazy. But then that moment of lucidity was displaced by a supersecond of superlucidity (if I can put it that way), in which I realized that this scene was the logical outcome of our ridiculous lives. It wasn’t a punishment but a new wrinkle. It gave us a glimpse of ourselves in our common humanity. It wasn’t proof of our idle guilt but a sign of our miraculous and pointless innocence. But that’s not it. That’s not it. We were still and they were in motion and the sand on the beach was moving, not because of the wind but because of what they were doing and what we were doing, which was nothing, which was watching, and all of that together was the wrinkle, the moment of superlucidity. Then, nothing.”

~ Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

There are books for when you’re bored. Plenty of them. There are books for when you’re calm. The best kind, in my opinion. There are also books for when you’re sad. And there are books for when you’re happy. There are books for when you’re thirsty for knowledge. And there are books for when you’re desperate.

~ Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

“For a while, Criticism travels side by side with the Work, then Criticism vanishes and it’s the Readers who keep pace. The journey may be long or short. Then the Readers die one by one and the Work continues on alone, although a new Criticism and new Readers gradually fall into step with it along its path. Then Criticism dies again and the Readers die again and the Work passes over a trail of bones on its journey toward solitude. To come near the work, to sail in her wake, is a sign of certain death, but new Criticism and new Readers approach her tirelessly and relentlessly and are devoured by time and speed. Finally the Work journeys irremediably alone in the Great Vastness. And one day the Work dies, as all things must die and come to an end: the Sun and the Earth and the Solar System and the Galaxy and the farthest reaches of man’s memory. Everything that begins as comedy ends in tragedy.”

~ Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

Not only to myself or before the mirror or at the hour of my death, which I hope will be long in coming, but in the presence of my children and my wife and in the face of the peaceful life I’m building, I must acknowledge: (1) That under Stalin I wouldn’t have wasted my youth in the gulag or ended up with a bullet in the back of my head. (2) That in the McCarthy era I wouldn’t have lost my job or had to pump gas at a gas station. (3) That under Hitler, however, I would have been one of those who chose the path of exile, and that under Franco I wouldn’t have composed sonnets to the caudillo or the Holy Virgin like so many lifelong democrats. One thing is as true as the other. My bravery has its limits, certainly, but so does what I’m willing to swallow. Everything that begins as comedy ends as tragicomedy.

~ Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

The heart of the matter is whether knowing evil (or sin or crime or whatever you want to call it) is random or purposeful. If it’s purposeful, we can fight it, it’s hard to defeat, but we have a chance, like two boxers in the same weight class, more or less. If it’s random, on the other hand, we’re fucked, and we’ll just have to hope that God, if He exists, has mercy on us. And that’s what it all comes down to.

~ Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

“Good. So I talked to them, told them, warned them, alerted them to the dangers they were facing. It was like talking to a wall. Furthermore: desperate readers are like the California gold mines. Sooner or later they’re exhausted! Why? It’s obvious! One can’t live one’s whole life in desperation. In the end the body rebels, the pain becomes unbearable, lucidity gushes out in great cold spurts. The desperate reader (and especially the desperate poetry reader, who is insufferable, believe me) ends up by turning away from books. Inevitably he ends up becoming just plain desperate. Or he’s cured! And then, as part of the regenerative process, he returns slowly—as if wrapped in swaddling clothes, as if under a rain of dissolved sedatives—he returns, as I was saying, to a literature written for cool, serene readers, with their heads set firmly on their shoulders. This is what’s called (by me, if nobody else) the passage from adolescence to adulthood.”

~ Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

“And no one moans: there is no anguish. Only our nocturnal silence when we crawl on all fours toward the fires that someone has lit for us at a mysterious hour and with incomprehensible finality. We’re guided by fate, though we’ve left nothing to chance. A writer must resemble a censor, our elders told us, and we’ve followed that marvelous thought to its penultimate consequence. A writer must resemble a newspaper columnist. A writer must resemble a dwarf and MUST survive. If we didn’t have to read too, our work would be a point suspended in nothingness, a mandala pared down to a minimum of meaning, our silence, our certainty of standing with one foot dangling on the far side of death. Fantasies. Fantasies. In some lost fold of the past, we wanted to be lions and we’re no more than castrated cats. Castrated cats wedded to cats with slit throats.

~ Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

Today I realized that what I wrote yesterday I really wrote today: everything from December 31 I wrote on January 1, i.e. today, and what I wrote on December 30 I wrote on the 31st, i.e. yesterday. What I write today I’m really writing tomorrow, which for me will be today and yesterday, and also, in some sense, tomorrow: an invisible day. But enough of that.

~ Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

“Of all the islands he’d visited, two stood out. The island of the past, he said, where the only time was past time and the inhabitants were bored and more or less happy, but where the weight of illusion was so great that the island sank a little deeper into the river every day. And the island of the future, where the only time was the future, and the inhabitants were planners and strivers, such strivers, said Ulises, that they were likely to end up devouring one another.”

~ Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

Do you know what the worst thing about literature is? What? I said. That you end up being friends with writers. And friendship, treasure though it may be, destroys your critical sense. Once, Monteforte Toledo dropped this riddle in my lap: a poet is lost in a city on the verge of collapse, with no money, or friends, or anyone to turn to. And of course, he neither wants nor plans to turn to anyone. For several days he roams the city and the country, eating nothing, or eating scraps. He’s even stopped writing. Or he writes in his head: in other words, he hallucinates. All signs point to an imminent death. His drastic disappearance foreshadows it. And yet the poet doesn’t die.”

~ Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

I’m an educated man: the prisons I know are subtle ones. And of course poetry and prison have always been neighbors. And yet it’s melancholia that’s the source of my attraction. Am I in the seventh dream or have I truly heard the cocks crow at the other end of the feria? It might be one thing or it might be another. But cocks crow at dawn, and it’s noon now, according to my watch. I wander through the feria and greet my colleagues who are wandering as dreamily as I am. Dreamily× dreamily = a prison in literary heaven. Wandering.

~ Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives