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.
Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2011: Udo Berger is the German national champion of The Third Reich, a tactical WWII-themed board game seemingly designed to reveal the worst in self-absorbed obsessives like Udo. Even while on vacation at the lush Spanish resort of Costa Brava, Udo is unable to tear himself away from a game he's begun with a beach worker. He ignores his girlfriend as she goes off to enjoy the company of Charly and Hanna, another German couple that can be counted among the many people Udo cannot stand. When Charly goes missing, Udo shows little interest, choosing instead to plot the conquering movements of his army tokens as they march across a hexagonally divided map of Europe.
It may not be the best introduction for new readers of the late Chilean author Roberto Bolano, but fans of his biggest works, such as his international breakout The Savage Detectives or the posthumous five-volume epic 2666, will see familiar elements and themes in The Third Reich. Bolano draws a fine line between memory and reality, but blurs them in the final pages, as the novel slowly drifts from realism to a nightmarish fever dream--leaving readers with an ending that is ambiguous yet haunting. --Kevin Nguyen