In an earlier blog (10/4/13), I wrote that I’d come home from the neighborhood library box with the work of Gabriel García Marquez, The General In His Labyrinth. The book is a fictional account of the last days of Simón Bolívar, the man who liberated Latin America from Spanish rule — a soldier, statesman and dictator, for a time, of the federation that followed.
Marquez’s two most famous works, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, I’d read but never liked because his characters moaned like melodramatic thespians upon the stage of eternal grief. The General In His Labyrinth is no different. “Despair is the health of the damned,” his character confesses midpoint through the book. (The General In His Labyrinth by Gabriel García Marquez, Penguin Books 1991, pg. 193.)
If anything good can be said about this saga of Bolívar, age 47 and dying of consumption as he makes his way into exile along the Caribbean coast, it is that the plot is easy to follow. Each chapter mirrors the previous one with increasingly detailed descriptions of the protagonist’s suffering. In the end, the effect of the whole is like a relentless rendition of Ravel’s Boléro set to words. To get the drift, one need read only the following two sentences and ignore the remaining 267 pages.
From the day the General dictated his will, the doctor made exhaustive use of all the palliatives known to his science: mustard plasters on his feet, spinal massages, anodyne poultices over his entire body. He ameliorated the General’s congenital constipation with enemas of immediate but devastating effect. (Ibid, pg. 259)
Someone interested in anatomical decay, absent an inner life, should read this novel. Someone interested in character would be better served by Marvel comic book.
One critic describes Marquez’s novel as being about love. If that is his honest opinion, then I am left to wonder about the critic’s personal relationships. Yes, Bolívar reminisces about woman to whom he’s once made love but his pride is in having banished them. He had a wife who died young but all we know of her is that after she was buried, the General gave her not another thought. Such conduct is not the stuff of Romeo and Juliet. As to friends, the General had a few. One he put to death before a firing squad to appease his enemies. On the eve of his own death, Bolívar expresses a shadow of regret but recants, concluding that, after all, if the deed were to be done again, he’d do the same.
In sum, Marquez gives us a character of some recollection but no reflection. His mind is so small and his illness so great, I can only cheer when he finally expires. What’s sad about this book is that I suspect the author has done the real Bolívar an injustice.
(Courtesy of ramonurdanetavenezuela.blog.).