The story begins in 1865 with the rape of an orphan girl in the Mexican state of Sonora. “In 1865 a thirteen-year-old orphan was raped by a Belgian soldier in an adobe house in Villaviciosa. The next day the soldier’s throat was cut and nine months later a girl was born, named María Expósito.” What follows is a series of rapes that plague generations of women, all of whom are named María Expósito and are decedents of the orphan girl.
This story takes place toward the end of Roberto Bolaño’s the Woes of the True Policeman. It’s a strange chapter and a serves only as a genealogical cord that connects the rest of the narrative. Such is the mind and style of the great Bolaño. We are given details that come out of nowhere and that only to lead us further into the labyrinthine narrative that always threatens to close in on us. The reader is in uncharted waters and in danger of ending up like most of the characters that inhabit Santa Teresa: mad.
Beneath the open sky of Santa Teresa killers are on the loose. The fifth and final section of the Woes of the True Policeman is titled “Killers of Sonora.” Readers of Bolaño’s masterpiece 2666 will recognize the character of Amalfitano and his daughter Rosa, but there is something wrong with the picture. “The Part About Amalfitano” in 2666 introduces us to the fifty-year old Chilean professor, but his story as told in Woes of the True Policeman is slightly different. His wife has a different name and dies, unlike the wife we met in 2666 who is unhinged and abandons Amalfitano and Rosa. The reclusive, Pynchon-like author Archimboldi is also different: his first name is altered, he is French and not German, and he is much less reclusive than his character in 2666.
Bolano’s work must be read as a whole, as part of a tapestry that is woven in blood and ink. The rapes of the Expósito woman in the late nineteenth century may give the reader a clue as to the origins of violence and general disregard for women in the state of Sonora. This is, as the reader recalls, long before Inspector Juan de Dios Martínez begins his investigation into the femicides in and around Santa Teresa as is recounted in “The Part About the Crimes” in 2666.
The Woes of the True Policeman is a bewildering work, filled with all of the usual tropes used by Bolaño. It’s a book (I hesitate to call it a novel, if not simply for the fact that this work defies categorization, like most of Bolaño’s work) that demands to be reread with care. One does not simply read Roberto Bolaño; one experiences him. One feels slightly unclean after having traveled through the brief chapter dealing with the Expósito women. But this is nothing new when one walks with Bolaño through the urban streets of Santa Teresa. These are the killing fields of Mexico, more dangerous than any street in Baghdad or Kabul.
There are five parts to the Woes of the True Policeman, just as there are five parts to 2666. There are five generations of Expósito woman. This may be insignificant, but when read as part of a continuous tapestry, one begins to see patterns, themes, all slightly hallucinatory and frightening. The careful reader of Bolaño is always in danger of becoming lost forever in his worlds. The Woes of the True Policeman was found on Bolaño’s computer after his death from liver disease in 2003. In the editorial note Carolina López, Bolaño’s widow, states that he was working on the book for the last twenty years of his life intermittently. What the reader holds in his or her hands constitutes only part of that work.
(Notes on my initial reaction to reading Bolaño’s Woes of the True Policeman)