Why Bolaño shifts the narrative to Detroit and how it relates to Santa Teresa
It’s important for you to realize, then, that Oscar Fate is eventually going to find his way down to Santa Teresa and learn about the murders. If you had read Parts 1 and 2, you would already have a hunch that this is going to happen, and my questions are going to assume that you know that Fate is destined to come into contact with these murders. You might even want to skip ahead to Part 4 and read about a few of these murders before trying to work your way through Part 3.
The other thing that will be helpful for you to understand is that Santa Teresa is a booming factory town. At several points, the novel points out that there is zero unemployment in Santa Teresa, that women are free to earn their own livelihood—and yet, as Professor Kessler says, that it would still be “the best thing for every last one of the people there to head into the desert and cross the border” (267). This is Bolaño’s vision of what NAFTA and the rise of Third World manufacturing have led to, and you will absolutely want to think about what these murders are telling us about the global economy.
1. Curiously—given that this novel is primarily focused on Santa Teresa and the murders going on there—Part 3 begins with Oscar Fate traveling to Detroit to interview a founding member of the Black Panthers. For this response, I would like you to consider why Bolaño would shift his narrative to Detroit in this way. In what ways is Detroit similar to—or different from—Santa Teresa? How is Bolaño using Detroit to develop some of his larger ideas about the global economy?
[If you are really ambitious, you might also consider why Bolaño includes the Black Panthers here. What do the Black Panthers seems to symbolize for him? And how do they fit in—or not fit in—to the sort of world we see in Santa Teresa?]
2. As Fate is leaving Detroit, he stops by a local bookstore and buys Hugh Thomas’s book, The Slave Trade. Bolaño will splice several quotes from this book into Fate’s narrative, leaving us to wonder how they relate to the events taking place in Santa Teresa. In what way is the slave trade similar to what we see going on in Santa Teresa—both in terms of the murders of women, and in terms of the booming economy that we see here? What does this comparison between the slave trade and Santa Teresa tell us about why Fate thinks that the story of the murders is something that it is essential for African-Americans to know about (e.g., 294-5)?
3. When Fate stops at a diner in Arizona, he hears two men discussing the murders that are taking place in Santa Teresa. At one point, Professor Kessler claims that death and murder have always plagued society, but that it was generally invisible in the past because “most human beings existed on the fringes of society” (266). For this response, I would like you to close read Professor Kessler’s long speech on pp. 266-7. What is Kessler’s major point about death, violence, and the organization of society? And in what way might this relate to the murders that are taking place in Santa Teresa?