Thursday, August 20, 2009

The General in His Labyrinth

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of those authors that you might feel like you should try reading, especially if you have any connection or affinity for Latin America. Actually, Latin America has a rich literary heritage with quite a list of authors to check out. Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar, Ernesto Sabato, Pablo Neruda, Isabel Allende, Gabriela Mistral, and Mario Vargas Llosa are just a few of the names that I have an interest in and have either read or want to read.

Until this year my exposure to Garcia Marquez had been what I had heard in a class on modern Latin American literature and a film version of his La Cronica de una Muerte Anunciada. Of course I had always considered Cien AƱos de Soledad, but lacked the courage to start out with such a complicated book. For that reason, and because it was already on my bookshelf, I read “The General in His Labyrinth as my first GGM novel.

Not too surprisingly it is dark and pessimistic. Only a Latin American could take a figure as “larger than life” as Simon Bolivar and reduce him to a shell of a prematurely aging man who is doomed to die from page one. But that is not unusual in the Latin mindset or in the culture or history of the continent either. Bolivar’s journey to his death in such an aimless vacillating manner is actually a good commentary on the direction that Latin America has had ever since it was discovered by Western Culture.

As for the “Magic Realism” element of the story: as is apparently typical of GGM, it is there but it is so subtle as to almost be missed. If you ignore the recommendation of this post and actually decide to read the novel, see what you make of it. It has to do with a room that the General knows intimately in spite of the fact that he has never been there before—twice.

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