My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975) by Gabriel García Márquez is an ambitious novel, especially for any skilled and intelligent reader. In the 229-page novel, consisting of six chapters, there are exactly six paragraphs (no joke!).
Each chapter is one paragraph running on for approximately thirty to forty pages, with absolutely no line breaks at any time. At times, on average, a sentence runs for over a page in length.
The novel has about one period per page, no quotation marks, commas galore, making this novel by Márquez one hell of a read (far more exerting than his previously published novel One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1967). This novel is not for the timid who desire a simple, mindless read.
The story is primarily about citizens who tell a running narrative, often overlapping in points-of-view, about the General of the Universe, a murderous and afflicted dictator of an unnamed Caribbean nation. At one point he delivers a traitor on a silver platter to his high commanders at the dinner table and tells them to eat, and to enjoy. The General further believes that “the only document of identity for an overthrown president should be his death certificate” (p 15).
Another time he sends thousands of children, who were involved in a lottery scam that always chose the General as the winner, out to the sea to be drowned in order to hide his secret. The despotism becomes twisted and the General can no longer determine what is true and real and what has been imagined. He orders his men to create an eclipse for a lover, and it is done as he requested because he is so feared by all on earth.
“All the more pained,” the General reflects in one small section of a sentence, “as he deciphered more deeply the weave of the false truths with which they had diverted his attention for so many years in order to hide the brutal truth that my lifetime comrade was in the service of politicians of fortune whom for convenience sake he had taken from the darkest corners of the federalist war and had made them rich and had heaped fabulous privileges upon them…and they still wanted more, God damn it, they wanted the place of the elect of God that he had reserved for himself, they wanted to be me, motherfuckers” (p 102-103).
The novel can only go one place, and that is to the finale of the General’s “second” death, the first having been a double who died and all were convinced it was in fact the General until the General rose on the third day and restored order and executed those guilty of treason and for having desecrated the supposed General’s body.
And as you get to the final sentence (or at least the final section of the final sentence), you begin to understand the genius behind the author’s choice of extremely long sentences, as if the reader has been caught in an eternal whirlpool of no escape: “alien to the clamor of the frantic crowds who took to the streets singing hymns of joy at the jubilant news of his death and alien forevermore to the music of liberation and the rockets of jubilation and the bells of glory that announced to the world the good news that the uncountable time of eternity had come to an end” (p 229).
This is my seventh Gabriel García Márquez’s novel, and yes, I am a fan and will likely read most, if not all of his other works. Therefore, if you, dear reader, are a fan of Márquez, then I recommend this novel. Otherwise, stay far, far away if you are expecting one of those novels so often found in print these days and can be read with little to no real effort. For this novel, the reader of a dedicated nature is required to work, but the benefits are profound and extraordinary.
CG FEWSTON was born in Texas in 1979 and now lives in Hong Kong. He’s been a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, and a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy).
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father‘s Son, The New America: A Collection, Vanity of Vanities, A Time to Love in Tehran, and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can read more about the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 275,000+ followers