El general en su laberinto The General in His Labyrinth, Gabriel Garc a M rquezThe General in His Labyrinth original Spanish title El general en su laberinto is a 1989 dictator novel by Colombian writer and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garc a M rquez It is a fictionalized account of the last seven months of Sim n Bol var, liberator and leader of Gran Colombia The book traces Bol var s final journey from Bogot to the Caribbean coastline of Colombia in his attempt to leave South America for exile in Europe Breaking with the traditional heroic portrayal of Bol var El Libertador Spanish for liberator , Garc a M rquez depicts a pathetic protagonist, a prematurely aged man who is physically ill and mentally exhausted The story explores the labyrinth of Bol var s life through the narrative of his memories, in which despair, sickness, and death inevitably win out over love, health, and life 1991 1369 226 1369 237 1382 259 9649412603 1390 340 9789643807375 1392 1369 339 1390 280 9789647196543 1392 1390 380 9789648673852 1389 1392 319 9789643742140 1394 400 9789648329674 1395 435 9786009746675 1369 Book Jacket Status Jacketed Gabriel Garc A M Rquez S Most Political Novel Is The Tragic Story Of General Sim N Bol Var, The Man Who Tried To Unite A ContinentBol Var, Known In Six Latin American Countries As The Liberator, Is One Of The Most Revered Heroes Of The Western Hemisphere In Garc A M Rquez S Brilliant Reimagining He Is Magnificently Flawed As Well The Novel Follows Bol Var As He Takes His Final Journey In Down The Magdalena River Toward The Sea, Revisiting The Scenes Of His Former Glory And Lamenting His Lost Dream Of An Alliance Of American Nations Forced From Power, Dogged By Assassins, And Prematurely Aged And Wasted By A Fatal Illness, The General Is Still A Remarkably Vital And Mercurial Man He Seems To Remain Alive By The Sheer Force Of Will That Led Him To So Many Victories In The Battlefields And Love Affairs Of His Past As He Wanders In The Labyrinth Of His Failing Powers And Still Powerful Memories He Defies His Impending Death Until The Last The General In His Labyrinth Is An Unforgettable Portrait Of A Visionary From One Of The Greatest Writers Of Our Time Idleness was painful after so many years of wars, bitter governments, and trivial loves.The profundity of Sim n Bol var s vision became the bane of his life He was destined to be the man who led the Latin American people to freedom from the imperial rule of Spain Having broken the shackles of slavery he took over the uncontested leadership of the vast continent as the President with the singular aim of unifying the freed countries of the Americas into the greatest republic the world has ever known, a dream that was never to come true In this historical novel, Marquez leads the reader to travel in the heavy footsteps of the despondent and disillusioned General on his final voyage along the Magdalena river to tell the unmagical story of shattered dreams, broken allegiances, dead glories made all the intolerable by the General s terminal illness.This is a portrait of the man, Sim n Jos Antonio de la Sant sima Trinidad Bol var y Palacios, not a politico military biography of the great General who came to be known as the Liberator, and to whom generations of Latin Americans have sung songs of praise and gratitude, and in our times have named their countries after him, finding in his person a newfound confidence to defy another empire in the north that sees them as our backyard But here Marquez, without ever stating it, is poised to dispel the myths, spun, on one hand, by the great mass that loved and admired him and, on the other, by his enemies and detractors among his own people who had once broken the bread of victory alongside him in the wars of liberation.Bol var s rise and fall is told in flashbacks within the frame story of his last river journey, which he undertook when he renounced power after an assassination attempt, to highlight major events that shaped him to become the man we have come to know An able soldier and a great military strategist always in a state of flux, he could enact whole battlefields on his mind s screen with all the moves and strategies to be employed for various contingencies, is now relegated to his sagging hammock in which, lying at night like a deadweight, he mumbles incomprehensible twaddle in the state of recurrent delirium, such that his faithful servant, Jos Palacios, cannot tell whether his master s thoughts are trapped in the throes of a nightmare or entangled in the state of waking He was shaken by the overwhelming revelation that the headlong race between his misfortunes and his dreams was at that moment reaching the finish line The rest was darkness, Damn it, he sighed How will I ever get out of this labyrinthHe is stricken but not defeated Life had already given him sufficient reasons for knowing that no defeat was the final one. He cooks up imaginary battles to wrest Riohacha from the insurgents who are destroying the unity of the continent, but suddenly finding his army on the defensive, crashes into his chair One day he announces his immediate intention to pack up and set sail for Europe to die there yet the next morning he takes baffling detours and lingers on for weeks in a place, waiting for some portent to tell him which way to go In a Marquezian slant the rigours of madness become a saving virtue it is precisely his illusions which are keeping him sane But he could not renounce his infinite capacity for illusion at the very moment he needed it most he saw fireflies where there were none. During the last months of his life he became an ungainly mass of calcified bones and poisoned flesh held together by the pale leather of his cracking skin, whose purpose of mind no one understood, whose purpose of mind he himself did not understand.Marquez evokes the starkly beautiful terrain of the ian wild tropics with imagery that permeates the ancient landscape of his One Hundred Years of Solitude. It seems the General must have stopped at Macondo on his voyage along the Magdalena Marquez does not mention the town perhaps because it s fictional or does not fall along the coast, and this story is supposed to be an historically accurate depiction, which it is, save for some auxiliary details which are used to enhance Bol var s character and to embolden his human dilemmas, enacted for the reader through the eyes of a man to whom the world had appeared a miasmic swamp of dead bodies and dead hopes. In that, Marquez has weaved an astounding horror story.True to the maxim that there is humour in human tragedy, Marquez embellishes this sad story with the strokes of a tragicomedy in the General s fatalistic and self loathing utterances that confound and dishearten his loving supporters, but the General cares naught I will illustrate it with two small examples.A German adventurer came down to the continent to capture an oddity he d heard described a man with rooster claws, to put in a cage and display in European circuses He told of his wish to the General when they met during the voyage along the river The General had found another opportunity to direct his mordant sarcasm at himself I assure you you ll earn money showing me in a cage as the biggest damn fool in history On the General s orders, his orderlies had taken on board an emaciated and limping dog found along the banks suffering from a horrible case of mange The General bestowed special affections on the awful looking creature, fed him by his own hand, played with him, and spent time with him than he would with his young lover After a few days on board The General was taking the air in the stern when Jos Palacios pulled the dog over to him What name shall we give him he asked.The General did not even have to think about it Bol var, he said. June 2015 . I always feel a twinge of pity when someone tells me, I don t read for pleasure any or I only read non fiction Most of the pity is sympathy for the fact that, in today s busy world, we just don t have the time Whenever someone expresses awe at the number of books I read in a year and asks me how I do it, I say, truthfully, that I make the time to read, just as I make the time to write these reviews So I realize that the act of reading is itself a commitment, an investment of time and energy, and it s a shame we don t have opportunities for it.Still.The rest of the pity goes towards the smaller worlds in which people who don t read fiction must live Non fiction is great I love a good biography, history, or science text But let s be honest here I would never, ever pick up a non fiction book about the history of South America It s just not a topic that it would occur to me to read about, let alone something I m interested in reading about as non fiction Even if someone gave me such a book as a gift, I d probably struggle through it I d likely find it dry, confusing, difficult to relate to The sad truth is that I learned absolutely nothing about South American history in school While we focused on the founding of Canada and the various World Wars, South America itself was a big question mark on the map, dangling off the end of Mexico.Hand me a novel set in nineteenth century South America, though, and then we re on solid ground Therein lies the power of fiction it can be a tool of education as well as entertainment It can create empathy for characters whose lives are incredibly different from our own And it also exposes us to facts and ideas that we would never be interested in reading as non fiction items I don t want to read a biography of S mon Bolivar I did read a fictional account of his last days as he journeyed into exile.So with The General in His Labyrinth, Gabriel Garc a M rquez contributes to the closing of another massive gap in my knowledge of world history Through this sliver of story I have glimpsed the genesis of the countries of South America and the remarkable role Bolivar played in their founding I ve also enjoyed a slow and meditative look at the mind and last days of a man of many deeds and many contradictions.Garc a M rquez refers to Bolivar throughout as only the General He could just as easily have chosen President or Liberator , so in choosing the first mode of address, he emphasizes Bolivar s military past This is a man who is not a politician so much as a warrior and a strategist His vision is that of the conqueror and the liberator peace, for Bolivar, was not ever really on the table This theme reverberates through the novel, which does not follow a straightforward chronological path in both the past and the present, chaos seems to stalk the General at every turn.His past is a patchwork of unrest and rebellion Even after wresting control of South America from its absentee Spanish overlords, the General finds that pacifying his own people is itself a task of a lifetime His dream of a unified South America recedes ever into the distance, and though every government affords him the highest honours, he is regularly the subject of assassination attempts This mirrors the present, which has an illusion of restfulness and closure, at least within the General s inner circle Without, Garc a M rquez depicts almost comical efforts to keep the General within a cocoon of misinformation guards and servants conspire to keep him ignorant of the social unrest and protests that dog him from the start of the journey to its end At every town, those in charge meet the General with open arms.Of course, what makes this journey so special is the finality of it the General is dying Tuberculosis has ravaged his body to the point where many doubt he will survive to see Europe and exile This spectre of mortality looms over every event of the book, as Garc a M rquez constantly reminds us through his regular descriptions of the various ways the General s body betrays him For a man who stood against Spain and ruled multiple countries, the end is just as ordinary as a peasant on the streets The General s body slowly deteriorates, and with it so too does his sense of agency He clings, almost desperately, to the privilege of shaving himself in the morning, despite failing eyesight and a shaking hand.With the end of the General, so too there is the sense of an ending to the situation in South America As long as the General travels down the river, it feels like all of South America is paused Things are happening, yes, but they are distant and indistinct events related back by hearsay and rumour Nevertheless, this constant murmur creates a tension that will only dissolve upon the General s death only then can everything rush into motion, old alliances discarded and new ones brokered along lines that have been visible for months.Garc a M rquez s style is relaxing Much like Jhumpa Lahiri in The Lowland , his reliance on artful descriptions over dialogue draws the reader into the ebb and flow of the narrative It s very easy to curl up with this book next to a fire and with a cup of tea and lose oneself in the General s final journey into the annals of history This isn t a story in the traditional sense where things happen, one after the other, where a protagonist and antagonist do battle to resolve a conflict Instead, it is an account, a detailed look at the last days of someone who made such a big impact on the world Garc a M rquez spends little time attempting to rationalize the General s actions or intent or even trying to get inside the General s head As the General s manservant, Jose Palacios, would say only my master knows what my master is thinking And so, this is a restful book It s a book that invites contemplation and consideration, though it requires neither It s a book that offers few answers, preferring instead to offer up images and ideas, leaving you to come up with the questions yourself It educates, but indirectly, and as discreetly as possible It s the perfect blend of history and literature. When I heard that Gabriel Garcia Marquez had died, I walked over to my shelf of South American literature and picked up The General in His Labyrinth The story is about the last days of Simon Bolivar, the Liberator, as he took a 14 day cruise down the Rio Magdalena to the Caribbean, from whence he would ship out for Europe But this was not to be Not only was the Liberator dying, but he had the misfortune of seeing the proud republics he had founded falling prey to disunity and squabbling In answer to the pleas of his friends to continue in the leadership, he backs off It was the end General Simon Jose Antonio de la Santisima Trinidad Bolivar y Palacios was leaving forever He had wrested from Spanish domination an empire five times vast than all of Europe, he had led twenty years of wars to keep it free and united, and he had governed it with a firm hand until the week before, but when it was time to leave he did not even take away with him the consolation that anyone believed in his departure The only man with enough lucidity to know he really was going, and where he was going to, was the English diplomat, who wrote in an official report to his government The time he has left will hardly be enough for him to reach his grave And so it was When Bolivar and his retinue reach the shores of the Caribbean, he temporizes about leaving while dealing with rumors of the dissolution of Colombia and Venezuela He is half tempted to go back to war to restore Riohacha Except he is desperately ill, and his moment of glory is past Even as death approaches, he is a remarkable man and his letters fly all around South America and the Caribbean trying futilely to hold all the pieces together one last time.It was a kind of double sadness anticipating the death of this incredible conqueror, in the shadow of the death of Garcia Marquez, who wrote this book in 1989, a quarter of a century ago The General in His Labyrinth is, like others of his works that I have read, a simple story, bathed in the magic of the tropics, and told with a kind of sublime generosity toward his characters There is not a shred of irony or post modernism to destroy the effect Garcia Marquez joins other great storytellers like Isaac Bashevis Singer and Nikolai Leskov in his respect for the primacy of the tale itself.He will be missed. The General in His Labyrinth recounts the final voyage of a fascinating historical figure, Sim n Bol var, who secured South America s independence from Spain and was president of several nations, but who failed in his grand ambition to unite the continent The character of Bol var is one of flaws and contradictions a great yet humble man, ambitious in his aims, though not desirous of personal glory He died in relatively modest conditions, having rejected political power and exhausted his vast fortune It was perhaps his virtues as much as his faults that hindered unification, and instead left behind a foundation of uncertainty and instability for these nations to build upon I wish I d had a greater prior familiarity with the figures, places and events of this novel unfortunately so much of the historical detail was lost on me But the novel is also about personal decline, about success and failure as seen in the frame of the finality of death All this conveyed, of course, though Garc a M rquez s masterful prose, which moves with such gentle, understated ease between the present and the remembered past, constantly shifting between the internal and external, yet arriving at each consecutive point in the narrative in a way that feels entirely natural and consequential. Follows the last few weeks and days of the life of Simon Bolivar as he surrenders political power and travels down the Magdalena River to the coast on his last journey While he travels there are reflections on his past, his role in the wars of independence against Spain and his political ambitions This is an interesting historical novel in shades of Wolf Hall here that the author was trying to remodel the popular image of the man Bolivar has been seen as a founding father for many of the former Spanish colonies but here we see his dream of a unified republic containing the modern states of Venezuela, Columbia and Ecuador dying as he too fades out of life as the river flows home to the sea The failure of his political ambitions will allow him to be recast as a safe patriotic icon and the man seems to struggle against this, the fate of a person to be recast as an icon as soon as he is barely cold in his grave, as he is racked with ill health on his final journey. , regionalism , hard living harder fighting The heat grew intolerable during the day and the raucous screams of the monkeys and birds became maddening, but the nights were silent and cool On the broad beaches the alligators lay motionless for hours on end, their jaws open to catch butterflies olor de guayabas He stayed in the hammock, prostrate with torturous shooting pains and fragrant farts, feeling his soul slip away in abrasive waters he humanized the legend, and demythologized the man nobility, tragedy, grandeur meandering like the Magdalena, smoky with the heat of the tropics, light with the breeze of the Caribbean Boy, I trudged my way through this fictionalized account of Sim n Bol var s final voyage along the Magdalena River The prose is sharp and beautiful when it needs to be this is, after all, Garc a Marquez , but the story held no interest In fact, I m tempted to ask in response what story People and places from the General s life are constantly evoked, but on this point I have two major critiques first, the flashbacks are far too paltry a page or two at most to really generate any parallel much less, compelling storyline The persons mentioned in these flashbacks reappear throughout the journey, but it feels like a revolving door of dry, one dimensional historical figures to whom the reader well, me at least is unable to form any meaningful relationship Second, as a consequence of the first point, too much is expected of the reader in terms of, well, South American history, but really Colombian history as well I found myself thinking, why was this book translated into English Finally, I found the General to be a rather uninteresting character Garc a M rquez often mentions the various inconsistencies in his life and loves, but that s a cheap way to add character depth God, I was so glad when, at the end, the General finally died If you re going to tell the stories that History forgot, a far interesting tale would have been the imagined life of Jos Palacios, a former slave and the General s most loyal servant.
- 248 pages
- El general en su laberinto
- Gabriel García Márquez
- 02 January 2019 Gabriel García Márquez