Author: Gabriel García Márquez
Translator: Gregory Rabassa (from Spanish)
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publishing Date: 2014
Number of Pages: 229
Genre: Magical Realism, Satire
As the citizens of an unnamed Caribbean nation creep through dusty corridors in search of their tyrannical leader, they cannot comprehend that the frail and withered man lying dead on the floor can be the self-styled General of the Universe. Their arrogant, maniacally violent leader, known for serving up traitors to dinner guests and drowning young children at seam can surely not die the humiliating death of a mere mortal?
Back then, I never thought that I would ever indulge in the works of literary greats such as Gabriel García Márquez; in fact, I have never even heard of him before. My first encounter of him was through doing must-read challenges wherein I have came across several of his works such as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. Because of my curiosity, I purchased these two books and indulged in them.
His works didn’t immediately make an impact on me, especially that they echo so many elements of Murakami’s works (they are both masters of magical realism). It didn’t help that One Hundred Years of Solitude was heavily laden with magical realism elements, something that had also kept me from Murakami’s works. However, as I dug deeper into the Nobel laureate’s body of work, I came to appreciate his works and made me want to read more. And that is how I came across my fourth García Márquez novel, The Autumn of the Patriarch.
“…and yet we didn’t believe it now that it was, and not because we really didn’t believe it but because we no longer wanted it to be true, we had ended up not understanding what would become of us without him, what would become of our lives after him…” ~ Gabriel García Márquez, The Autumn of the Patriarch
The Autumn of the Patriarch is a story about an anonymous aging tyrant simply referred to as the General of the Universe. Once a robust man whose voice resonated throughout all the corners of the nation, he found himself on the throes of death. While the General is incognito, his country is in utter shambles until the denizens made the initiative of hunting for their elusive leader. And what they found was something beyond their imagination.
Ever since the dawn of civilizations, autocrats have been known to walk the surface of the earth. The mere mention of their names evoke a sense of fear, of dread. They have influenced the flow and landscape of world history. The Philippines had one in Ferdinand Marcos but who would ever forget Germany’s Adolf Hitler. Just like the rest of the world, South America had their fair share of dictators as well such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Chile’s Augusto Pinochet.
In his own words, and in his own style, Gabriel García Márquez depicted autocrats, autocracy and the conquest for power in general. In a very magically realistic manner, he explored the world of deep politics. He described a tumultuous world that was ruled over by greed, corruption, and abuse of power. Filipinos, especially those who have experience the Martial Law, will definitely be able to relate to this masterpiece which was published at the height of the Marcos Dictatorship (1975).
García Márquez’ view of autocracy is embedded into his novel. Through anecdotes related to the life of the General, he ridiculed the absurd aspects and practices of autocrats such as the appointing young heirs of autocrats to high military ranks. I guess it is a basic in autocracy that who controls the military dictates power. Moreover, the overspending of the autocrat’s families and cronies were highlighted in the story (read my lips: Swiss bank accounts).
“…an old man with no destiny with our never knowing who he was, or what he was like, or even if he was only a figment of the imagination, a comic tyrant who never knew where the reverse side was and where the right of this life which we loved with an insatiable passion that you never dared even to imagine out of the fear of knowing what we knew only too well…” ~ Gabriel García Márquez, The Autumn of the Patriarch
There was also an important element of autocracy that was highlighted in the novel. As one reads deeper into the narrative, one can surmise the roles played by intelligence directors as devices for political repression and for the spread of fear and terror. The influences of these “advisors” play a very critical in the autocrat’s determination of plans of actions. Throughout history, numerous actions by dictators were based on the direction of these “advisors” who are well known to be corrupt.
It is no secret that part of autocracy is the political brainwashing of the denizens of a country. It may sound capricious but some of them are revered. You don’t have to look no further as North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un serves as an example. In a way, Garcia Marquez humanized these god-like autocrats. He showed his readers that they are just individuals who are unsafe from the elements that hound the ordinary people, that they will descend the same fate as those who are under them.
As interesting as the book may sound, there were some elements that impeded in my appreciation of the novel. To be honest, the book was truly a drag. It baffles me why Garcia Marquez even wrote the story the way he did. The long sentences and paragraphs dragged and made me restless. It was the one thing that really made me frown. Some sentences are literally four pages long! I mean, there are challenging reads but there are perplexing reads.
“…the bells of glory that announced to the world the good news that the uncountable time of eternity had come to an end…” ~ Gabriel García Márquez, The Autumn of the Patriarch
Nevertheless, The Autumn of the Patriarch is a vintage Gabriel García Márquez masterpiece. It is a thought-provoking satire on the vile impacts of autocracy. But he did more than that. In obscuring the identity of the dictator, he is sending across the message that anyone could be an autocrat and in having an anonymous place as the setting, he is showing that autocracy is not localized, rather it is universal. I did observe that some elements of autocracy presented in the novel mirror those of that were depicted in Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. However, both novels are individually unique.
These subtle but profound messages make the novel an even more relevant read, especially on these times when “leaders” have become wilier, hiding their intentions behind the veils of goodwill. Yes, the book was published in 1975 but its message still resonates until today. It is my fervent desire that we all learn from the remnants of history. Let there be no more autocrats. This is not a wish for myself, rather, it is my wish for future generations.
Recommended for readers who are very adept at concentrating, readers who like very long sentences, readers who are into magical realism, readers who enjoy a challenging read, and readers who are into South American literature and into the works of Gabriel García Márquez.
Not recommended for the impatient reader, and the reader who likes straightforward narratives.
About the Author
(Photo by Wikipedia) Gabriel Jose de la Concordia García Márquez was born on March 6, 1927 in Aracataca, Colombia.
The young Gabriel, or “Gabo/Gabito”, was largely influenced by his maternal grandparents with whom he grew up with. In 1936, he was taken by his father and in 1937, he was brought to Sucre where he started his formal education. He took his first years of high school at the Colegio Jesuita San Jose (now Instituto San Jose). It was there that his first literary compositions were published in the school magazine called Juventud. He finished his secondary education at the Liceo Nacional de Zipaquira.
Garcia Marquez studied law at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. When the school was closed due to the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, he transferred to the Universidad de Cartagena where he started working as a reporter for El Universal. He did not finish his studies because he pursued journalism. Although he never finished his higher studies, he received honorary doctorate in writing from some prominent universities.
It was in 1955 that he started publishing his novels, starting with the novella Leaf Storm. His first full novel was In Evil Hour (1962). Although he has already established quite the reputation as a writer, it wasn’t until One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) that he soared to fame. His other works include The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), and The General in his Labyrinth (1989). He has also published a couple of short story collections and non-fiction books.
In December 8, 1982, Gabriel Garcia Marquez received the Nobel Peace Prize in Literature “for his novels and short stories, in which fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts.” He passed away in April 17, 2014.