Benji's Reviews > Il generale nel suo labirinto

Il generale nel suo labirinto by Gabriel García Márquez
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** spoiler alert ** Why do I dig this book when so many others don't? I'll say again, GGM is similar to Murakami in that each book is another installation in his theme-and-variation riffs that he keeps releasing (I mean to say, nearly all the books are the same story with minor changes--something that can be strong in the right hands). And his biggest bone of all is old age and death and dying. Therefore, with this book more keenly focused on that theme than all of them, then you can expect good things. And I think he succeeds marvelously. I'd give this a 4.5 if I were to be more specific. To me, this is a collection of one-liners that is unbeatable. Very richly felt irony and self-awareness. And the last lines of the book, evoking to what extent his life was a once-in-history event is staggering in its implication.

Sure, to a certain point the niche audience for this is bound to be much more intimate with the contents of the book than his other more generalized works. Even more so than with his other works, I'd say the book comes alive only if you've been to Colombia, and you get even more if you've been through the Andes. It brings into sharp relief the fact that this man attempted one impossible thing after another, and very nearly reached the most impossible of them all. When he mentions Bolivia, and you've never seen the Andes up close, sure that import is lost to you. That he went back and forth a half dozen times with his men, just with donkeys and wagons and still was able to fight and conquer, it's irresistible and GGM is able to contrast that vibrancy so strongly with his end, watching him barely able to get out of bed.

I don't particularly feel he had to sacrifice the veracity of it with the story-telling element. Both came out nicely. I think the other characters are pretty well realized and you can feel their own internal tension, these younger soldiers and the endless card games, torn between wanting to flee, to go fight, versus continuing to stay with him, especially since they knew to do either action would be to witness history--though for men of action, you can tell it grew tedious. For a short 250 pages, how many more insights could this writer fit into this book? I feel it has a nice balance of all these different elements--Bolivar is the focus but the book is about more than just him.

Something that was lost to me the first time was the role of Manuela, and the other women. I feel that through them, one can see Bolivar's wish to deny the great weight and pressure, to not be the man of the hour leading the courageous battle... but also his effect on them, carrying the fight after he's gone. In some scenes, he hides away with a woman for days at a time. To me, this is a desire to turn off the Liberator part of himself for some time. But then you see him at last pulled again towards his inescapable destiny.

Likewise, the book is a portrait of a mulatto (creole?) man that stumbled upon a great opportunity, then was the match that created a fire much bigger than himself, something which can be interpreted two ways: that of having made a machine that grows out of your control (the Frankenstein result), and also one of seen yourself having become immediately obsolete and pushed to the side as the children of the revolution take over (analogous to the parenting phenomenon, which Bolivar never knew other than being ''the creator of all the widows and orphans of Latin america''). Add to that, how this is no little thing but an entire continent where this is happening, and you can see he struggles to understand what he himself has started.

I guess with most polarizing books, there's no amount of explaining that we can do to win one side over the other. You either pick it up and the first pages carry you through, or you're left wanting more. For me, the need for a very orderly and onward-pushing story, one moving very regularly towards the end is not as necessary as the compassion shown by the author, as well as the dark humor and attention to detail. He could have easily made a trilogy, one book from each of his epochs, and I wish he had.

My favorite parts: his effusive praise of Barranca (''the most hospitable of cities''), the stilted official balls, the general's very clearly wanting to be left alone but also unable to relinquish his influence for good--again and again, you think he's close to death and then he rallies, lets out a war cry and goes off to fight somewhere else. Or else sends others to do so. The sections with Camille and his dejection, ''at least they love me in Jamaica'' is a nice one, as is his confusion at the letter ''we got him'', before realizing it referred to his two-time savior's husband.

Too, this is another book reflecting his fascination with steam engines on the river (see Love in the time of cholera). In my Italian edition, I was interested in his Ringraziamenti how he elucidated that passion, stemming from how when he was small he made the same voyage 11 times. And how ''every writer can't help but incorporate them''.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
April 24, 2011 – Shelved
April 24, 2011 – Shelved as: 2011
April 24, 2011 – Shelved as: important-in-my-life
April 24, 2011 – Shelved as: nonsequential-rereading
April 24, 2011 – Shelved as: read-again-and-again
April 24, 2011 – Shelved as: read-in-morocco
April 24, 2011 – Shelved as: italian
April 24, 2011 – Shelved as: strong-literary-value
April 24, 2011 – Shelved as: carpe-diem
April 24, 2011 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-2 of 2 (2 new)

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Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly flawless.

Daniel Clausen Even in my translated version, the sentences and paragraphs come out beautifully. Simple can be great sometimes when the honesty and beauty of the story come across so easily.

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