The Third Reich was written by Roberto Bolaño in 1989 and found among his papers after his death in 2003 and serves as an early example of the literary genius coming into his own.
In this mesmerizing and engrossing tale, the German war games champion Udo Berger and his girlfriend Ingeborg visit the resort town of Costa Brava in Spain where Udo’s family vacationed in his youth. While Ingeborg is out making new friends and laying out on the beach, Udo is in his room obsessing over the war game Third Reich and writing papers on new strategies.
In a strange turn of events, a new friend from the trip goes missing and Udo refuses to leave the town until the body is found, despite the fact that the city is quickly being drained of vacationers (including Ingeborg) as the weather shifts. During this time, Udo meets a challenger who may actually pose a threat, both on his champion status and his life.
Although I’m not too knowledgeable about war games and battle geography, the lapses of misunderstanding were outweighed by the interesting characters, dialogue, and superb use of language. The atmosphere Bolaño conveys in his novel is honest and real, a true expression of experience. The way in which he describes his world – the world he’s built in his novel – is beautiful and relatable, simple yet profound, and touching.
“I scarcely move a muscle, though inside I’m falling apart.”
I found it fascinating to read a predecessor to some of Bolaño’s more recent and well-recognized works. Although somewhat less coherent and intriguing than some of his other stories, The Third Reich mirrored the eloquent, surreal, glamorous, and raw style that defines Bolaño’s work.
Although I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, I would not necessarily recommend this book to someone unfamiliar with Bolaño. Those who have read and enjoyed 2666, The Savage Detectives, or any of his other short stories would surely appreciate this book. For those unfamiliar with, but interested in his works, I’d advise starting with 2666.