THE THIRD REICH, A NOVEL BY ROBERTO BOLAÑO (A REVIEW)
Mexico, Anagrama, february 2010.
This is a review of a novel written in Spanish, recently published by Anagrama in Latin America and Spain, entitled El Tercer Reich, about a German gamer and current Germany champion of The rise and decline of the Third Reich.
I published this same review in a previous thread, in the general forums. There has been some discussion there that has been very interesting, please visit it through the following link if you are interested.
Wargames, literature and Roberto Bolaño
I will try to write my review of the very recently published novel, El Tercer Reich, The Third Reich, here. I finished reading the book today at 4 o'clock in the morning. It was a very satisfying experience. The novel was written by Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003), one of the most important Latin America novelist of recent years, in the eighties, probably finished in 1989.
Pablo Garcia, from Chile, like Bolaño himself, has already pointed out some important aspects of the novel, in the above post. It really has a substantial AAR, with acronyms for different game functions, movements, strategies, counters, as well as different aspects of the battles. It feels like an inspired, glorified AAR sublimating into a fictional account of the decline and fall of the main character, Udo Berger, with an unexpected outcome of transformation and partial redeeming (I don't want to spoil the novel, feel free to stop reading if that is the case).
Many aspects of the wargame scene are depicted as well, names of article writers from The General and other magazines (Beyma, Anchors, Butcher, as well as others I can't confirm of their real existence as I am a complete neophyte on the wargame world), some mentions of other contemporary games (World in Flames, Fortress Europa, The Longest Day, etc.) as well as the clubs, tournaments and organizations. It really is embedded with the passion Bolaño had for wargames, his knowledge and respect for them.
It feels at times as a writer's novel, a novel where an artist, in this case a gamer, has a different, special way of relating with the world because of his artist condition. It could have been the novel of a writer, confronted in his writing with a daemon that he has to battle and defeat to survive. Instead, it is the novel of a gamer, who confronts a stranger to a game of The rise and decline of the Third Reich, where something dangerous and precious seems to be at stake. In one chapter, The Germany generals form World War II are compared to the German writers of the 20th Century. Each General has a Writer counterpart, as if a mirror was interposed between war and literature.
The condition of gamer in the society is also depicted. The gamer is a solitarie being, sometimes ridiculized for his activity, others only misunderstood. Udo Berger is not a loser, by any means, he is confident, charming, capable of seducing beautiful women and confront violence. But his passion, his obsession, is very deep and thus problematic in terms of his behavior. The novel takes place in a summer beach in Barcelona, where Udo is more interested in his game and in an article he is going to write for a specialized magazine than in enjoying the sun and going to the bars and discotheques. In a weird, unexplained and bizarre way, Udo starts to fall down into a spiral of a singular madness, risking everything in his life, his beautiful girlfiend, his job, friends and health, just because his impulse drives him that way. It is not an explicit, clinical madness, it is very sublte, only suggested in his perceptions, his dreams, memories and attitudes. This force seems to be driving him into a dangerous, sacrificial place.
It seems as if Udo Berger, a young man from Germany, was a metaphor of nazi Germany, slowly driving himself into madness, slowly losing the War to El Quemado, the stranger he met in his summer vacations, a victim of violence in some cruel regime in Latin America. History and gaming, the real and the imaginary is, thus, confused, and this apparently casual game competition in an hotel room becomes something more. I think Roberto Bolaño was obsessed with Germany in many ways. Many of his novels, including Nazi Literature in America (a fictional account of nazi writers that supposedly lived in Latin America, and a review of their works) and 2666 (A novel in which an almost unkown German writer drives some literature academics into a very obscure world, right unto crime and cruelty in the city of Ciudad Juárez in Mexico) deals with the German literature as well as German history, relating them in a very peculiar way.
I think the novel is delightful. It really brings out the wargame world to the open, signaling some of its peculiarities in a poetic, stylistic manner. Below the sublimating act of playing and the meditative state of strategizing and calculating underlies a sordid, atrocious force. The Third Reich as a game, as a simulation, and as an analogy of the Nazi regime is not innocent, it is not disconnected to the historical facts and the devastation it pertained. Udo Berger, even though he is somewhat an antinazi, is seen as an incarnation of the archetypical nazi by El Quemado. This aspect of the novel is very engrossing for me, as I also feel a little weird when playing wargames, even though they attract me strongly.
One could read this book with The rise and decline of the Third Reich displayed in front, moving the pieces as the novel indicates, and really enjoy how the plot and the game evolve together. It really is a must for wargamers, specially if they played games in the eighties, specially if they like World War II games, specially if they are turned on by powerful narratives. This may be the most important effort to translate the modern boardgame world to literature, and it really can be the touchstone for a newborn genre in literature that portrays, conveys and recreates the feelings and situations that occur in gaming.
I would like to translate some passages as a teaser, to make this review more vivid and accurate:
"At noon I joined Ingeborg at the beach. I was very excited, I must admit, as a result of the very productive hours I had passed in front of the board. That is why, contrary to my normal behavior, I made a detailed account of the my initial apperture, an account Ingeborg interrupted telling me we were been listened.
I objected that this was not unusual, as in the beach, almost shoulder to shoulder, people crammed up.
I then understood that Ingeborg was feeling ashamed of me, of the the words I was saying (infantry corps, armored corps, air combat factors, naval combat factors, preemptive invasion in Norway, possibilites to undertake an offensive action against the Soviet Union in the Winter of 1939, possibilities to completely defeat France in the Spring of 1940), and it was as if an abyss opened up below my feet." (p.45)
"My preferred Generals
I don't search in them perfection. ¿Perfection, in a gameboard, what else does it mean but death, void? In the names, in the flashing careers, in what will configurate the memory, I search the image of their hands in the fog, white and sure, I search for their eyes observing battles (even though photographs that shows this are almost non-existen), imperfect and singulars, delicate, distante, sullen, audacious, prudent, in each one of them courage and love can be found. In Manstein, in Guderain, in Rommel. Mi preferred Generals." (p.282).
- Last edited Thu Feb 18, 2010 7:59 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Feb 18, 2010 7:17 pm
I just got this as a audio book for a long trip by accident from the public library. I had no idea what it would be about (I figured from the title it would be some wartime thriller). Imagine my surprise when I heard about The General and detailed hex deployments for Third Reich!
I'm not done with it yet (I'll listen to the rest on my return long road trip) but it's been fun listening and I can certainly recommend it as well to those whose Spanish is up to the task (mine barely qualifies).
I will edit the Italian translation. I still don't have the book at hand, but I read some test pages. There is a detail I need to know, please. There is a meeting where rules and strategies are discussed in Paris, and where the author and other people from USA come. Can you please tell me if there has been such an event for real? Was it a "congress" or a "convention"? In Italy we mostly play at conventions, we do not make official speeches of contributions as in congresses.
Thanks so much!
We need this in English for the language-challenged among us...:meeple: