On vacation with his girlfriend, Ingeborg, the German war games champion Udo Berger returns to a small town on the Costa Brava where he spent the summers of his childhood. Soon they meet another vacationing German couple, Charly and Hanna, who introduce them to a band of locals—the Wolf, the Lamb, and El Quemado—and to the darker side of life in a resort town.
Late one night, Charly disappears without a trace, and Udo’s well-ordered life is thrown into upheaval; while Ingeborg and Hanna return to their lives in Germany, he refuses to leave the hotel. Soon he and El Quemado are enmeshed in a round of Third Reich, Udo’s favorite World War II strategy game, and Udo discovers that the game’s consequences may be all too real.
Written in 1989 and found among Roberto Bolaño’s papers after his death, The Third Reich is a stunning exploration of memory and violence. Reading this quick, visceral novel, we see a world-class writer coming into his own—and exploring for the first time the themes that would define his masterpieces The Savage Detectives and 2666.
Roberto Bolaño was born in Santiago, Chile, in 1953. He grew up in Chile and Mexico City, where he was a founder of the Infrarealist poetry movement. He is the author of The Savage Detectives, which received the Herralde Prize and the Rómulo Gallegos Prize, and 2666, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Bolaño died in Blanes, Spain, at the age of fifty.
Natasha Wimmer has translated many works of fiction and nonfiction by Spanish language authors, including Mario Vargas Llosa, Laura Restrepo, and Rodrigo Fresán, as well as Roberto Bolaño.
1. What skills make Udo a highly successful gamer? Do these techniques enhance or hinder him in his career and relationships?
2. As Udo tells his story, how does his perception of himself change? How might the story have unfolded if it had been told from El Quemado’s point of view instead?
3. If you were Ingeborg, would you have been sympathetic to Udo? Do they make a good couple? What are the differences between Udo’s attraction for Ingeborg and his desire for Frau Else?
4. What role do the Wolf and the Lamb play in stoking Udo’s imagination? What do they get from associating with Udo, and vice versa? What common objectives do the three men share?
5. Is Charly and Hanna’s volatile relationship more stable than Udo and Ingeborg’s? What were your theories about Charly’s disappearance?
6. Is Frau Else being shrewd, coy, or just indecisive with Udo? Is he a worthy adversary for her husband?
7. Despite her low status, how does Clarita exert influence over men? Does she bring clarity (true to her name) to Udo’s predicament?
8. What does Udo learn from El Quemado about the power of memory and the experience of being a victim? How is El Quemado able to outmaneuver Udo even though he is new to playing Third Reich?
9. What makes World War II a powerful metaphor for the lives of the characters, as the German Udo vacations in a country once ruled by Franco? What does it mean to Udo to revisit historic military campaigns from this particular war? What makes him more obsessed with Third Reich than with other games?
10. Why does Frau Else’s husband try to protect Udo from El Quemado? What is his motivation for getting involved in the game? On some level, are his predictions about Nuremberg’s consequences (“The trial may be the most important part of the game”) proven to be true?
11. What do Udo’s dreams say about his deepest fears? How is he affected by his childhood memories of Costa Brava?
12. Udo insists that Third Reich is all about strategy, not about the morality of real-life warriors. Is he being honest about himself when he makes these claims? Ultimately, why is Udo doomed in his contest against El Quemado?
13. How did Udo’s final scene with El Quemado compare to your own ideas about the looming danger?
14. In the aftermath scene titled “Seeckt,” Conrad is told that his circle is like “a ghostly General Staff, forever performing military exercises on game boards . . . shadows playing with shadows.” How are the other characters affected by the ghosts of the sojourn in Costa Brava?
15. The Third Reich was written in 1989. How can we apply it to twenty-first-century power struggles around the world, and to the virtual battlefields of online gaming? What message does Udo have for us today?
Guide written by Amy Clements / The Wordshop, Inc.
Reinterpreting the legacy of the Latin American literary boom, Roberto Bolaño’s prizewinning fiction balances hilarity with provocative explorations of the human psyche. His most substantial works have only recently become available in English; his epic novel 2666 won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2008, five years after the author’s death at age fifty.
The Third Reich showcases an early achievement by this stunningly gifted writer. Written in 1989 and found among Bolaño’s papers after his death, this is the story of a German war-games champion named Udo who meets his match while vacationing on Spain’s Costa Brava. Returning to the Hotel Del Mar, where he spent the summers of his childhood, Udo is accompanied by his beloved Ingeborg. It’s the couple’s first holiday together, but his greater obsession is Third Reich, his favorite World War II strategy game. At a bar one night, Udo is introduced to a severely disfigured local known as El Quemado, who later becomes his Third Reich opponent. But El Quemado seems to think that the game is a very real projection of his life—and a means to push Udo to the brink of insanity. When Charly, another German vacationer, vanishes without a trace, Udo suspects that El Quemado is involved. Ingeborg eventually returns to Germany alone while Udo extends his stay; he’s drawn to the Del Mar’s beautiful proprietor, Frau Else, whose dying husband may hold the key to El Quemado’s mysterious quest. As the Allies close in on Udo, he realizes that he’s poised to lose much more than a game.
The questions and discussion topics that follow are designed to enhance your reading of Roberto Bolaño’s The Third Reich. We hope they will enrich your experience as you explore this literary treasure.
“As a sharply observed chronicle of a man out of place in his own life and mind, it has a timelessness reminiscent of the best work of Christopher Isherwood. And that’s nicely enhanced by Vance’s cool, British-toned reading.” —The Providence Sunday Journal
“Novelists tend to be remembered for their most remarkable characters, and in Udo Berger, Bolaño has created someone complex, sometimes frustrating and absolutely unforgettable . . . Compassionate, disturbing and deeply felt, [The Third Reich is] as much of a gift as anything the late author has given us.” —Michael Schaub, NPR
“Bolaño was a writer with tricks up his sleeve, and he distributed his wiles across many genres: novellas, poetry, short stories, essays and the epic 1,100-page 2666. So what’s The Third Reich like? Capering, weird, rascally and short. Imagine a cross between Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, the CLUE board game and a wargames fanzine. It’s a scathing novel with a lot of exuberance to it, not unlike the man who wrote it . . . The Third Reich is giddily funny, but it is also prickly and bizarre enough to count among Bolaño’s first-rate efforts.” —The Economist
“[Bolaño] makes you feel changed for having read him; he adjusts your angle of view on the world.” —Ben Richards, The Guardian on Roberto Bolaño
“When I read Bolaño I think: Everything is possible again.” —Nicole Krauss on Roberto Bolaño
“Not since Gabriel García Márquez . . . has a Latin American redrawn the map of world literature so emphatically as Roberto Bolaño does . . . It’s no exaggeration to call him a genius.” —Ilan Stavans, The Washington Post Book World on Roberto Bolaño
“[Bolaño’s] work . . . is as vital, thrilling and life-enhancing as anything in modern fiction.” —Christopher Goodwin, The Sunday Times (London) on Roberto Bolaño
“Novelists have been smashing high and low together for a century, but Bolaño does it with the force of a supercollider.” —Daniel Zalewski, The New Yorker on Roberto Bolaño
“[Bolaño] has the natural storyteller’s gift–but more important, he has the power to lend an extraordinary glamour to the activities of making love and making poetry.” —Edmund White on Roberto Bolaño
“A successor to Borges, García Márquez, and Julio Cortázar.” —Siddhartha Deb, Harper’s Magazine on Roberto Bolaño
“The most influential and admired novelist of his generation.” —Susan Sontag on Roberto Bolaño
The Third Reich was published on November 22, 2011.The The Third Reich Audiobook is 1421 hours and 40 minutes. Speechify has the Unabridged edition version of the audiobook.
Both the publication language and the narration language are in English.
The Third Reich includes the following subjects: Historical / World War II. The BISAC Subject Code is Fiction, Literary.
The author of The Third Reich is Roberto Bolaño.
The narrator for the The Third Reich Audiobook is Simon Vance.