You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Autumn of the Patriarch

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's The Autumn of the Patriarch is a poetic novel of the last days of a fading dictator's reign. The story is set in a strange yet familiar Latin American country, and is full of the fantastic elements that reader's of his work will recognize.

There is no real plot or conflict to the story; instead it is made up of several sections that reveal facts of the nameless patriarch's life. Each section is made of up a few long rambling sentences, wandering aimlessly in much the way the patriarch does through his compound. The first section tells about the death of the dictator's double. The patriarch vicariously watches his own funeral, seeing his people mourn his death.

Each section is told with a flood of images and facts, sometimes as memories. The effect is impressionistic. In one section the patriarch watches as his beloved mother dies. We learn that his mother was a poor wench and he had three different stories of his birth, with no known father. After the mother dies he goes to great lengths to have her declared a saint, finally expelling the clergy from the country when they do not comply. Among the nun marching away he finds his wife, whom he seduces while she is imprisoned. Her extravagant ways cause trouble, until she and their son are finally assassinated by a pack of wild dogs. Another assassin is brought in and given total control to find those behind the attack, and he describes a vast conspiracy. The assassin has his own parallel empire based on torture and terror inside the state; he is finally deposed by the people, but the patriarch escapes claiming ignorance.

The impression is of a tyrant who is trapped by his own power. The only TV and newspaper he sees provide the fake news his own people invent. The people in his cabinet he cannot trust as soon as he installs them. The girls he picks up off the street and seduces turn out to be whores procured by his military. The facade of his life is symbolized by the birds that his mother paints in order to sell as exotic fowl. While he has absolute power, he is in stasis. The country never improves or changes much. No matter the upheaval outside his walls, he wanders his compound, checking the cows, checking each door.

This is one of the more difficult books I've read. It is basically a long poem with several sections, each of which has images slammed together in a wandering sort of stream of consciousness. Sometimes this is difficult to follow, but when it works it creates a strong effect. This is less conventional that Garcia Marquez's other works I have read, which are generally straightforward in structure, if full of fantastic images and symbols. B

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