Those who know me a little would know how Gabriel García Márquez’s works make me swoon. Ever since I read Love in the Time of Cholera, ever since I had read the first sentence in its entirety, I was a goner. I am hopelessly in love with him, and a dear friend T, who generally prefers non-fiction, when made to read only the first page of The General in his Labyrinth, accepted the need to read beautiful fiction like Gabo’s. There is an intense power in his storytelling.
The story is based on the last days of Simon Bolivar, a fictional account that delves into the last days of the general, on his journey to leave South America and travel to Europe. Known as El Libertador, Simon was instrumental in fighting for the independence of a number of key South American states from Spain. In fact, Bolivia is named after the illustrious person.
Although I have a certain fondness for war films, I haven’t read too many books on wars and military life in general. It took me some time to find my bearings among the likes of the generals, enemies, life in South America, and the warm, unbearable and often unforgiving weather. By the time I found my footing, I was lost in another world.
The book opens with a rather forlorn image of the general, floating naked in his bathtub, an image of a man broken by war, a weak body ravaged by illness, a soul hurt by those who wanted him to leave the country.
“He always considered death an unavoidable professional hazard. He had fought all his wars in the frontlines, without suffering a scratch, and he had moved through enemy fire with such thoughtless serenity that even his officers accepted the easy explanation that he believed himself invulnerable.”
The book offers such a human portrait of a feeble man who was once powerful, strong willed and determined, showcasing the twilight years of his life, heartbroken by rejection. This personality reminded me of a former colleague and friend, who almost always does what she thinks, is right, and rallies her team to work better, and efficiently. Such are hard taskmasters. We may be grumbling under our breath about something, but in the back of our mind we know, it’s the tough road but the right path.
Simon was a well read person, having read The Art of War and The Social Contract, among other works of Bonaparte and more. He was one who would not listen to doctors and stayed away from modern medicine and witchcraft alike – “Let me be, despair is the health of the damned.” When his entourage, him and his helper Jose Palacios, packed to leave for Europe, journeying across the continent, all his belongings fit into so little luggage that he said, “We never would have believed, my dear Jose, that so much glory could fit into a shoe.”
When reading this book, Bolivar’s personality as painted by Marquez captivated my attention. Be it his relationship with his soldiers, his subordinates, his friends, lovers and even his enemies, I realised how little I knew about him. He died an early death, almost at the age of forty-seven years, having succumbed to tuberculosis, before he set sail for Europe from Cartagena.
And while it is not just Simon who captivated my attention while reading the book, I intend to delve into more books on South America, be it fiction or non-fiction. After all, reading helps me travel with my mind’s eye.
This post is part of the eighth annual A to Z Challenge that takes place in the month of April. The theme for this month is ‘Between Pages’. It’s my second attempt at this. Feedback is most welcome, constructive criticism, even more. Share your experiences and let’s enjoy this month of fabulous blogging.