There is no way I can do this book justice, but I guess that goes for everything I’ve read by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The Autumn of the Patriarch has been on my Fail Pile for several years now. I tried reading it a few years ago, but I just couldn’t get through it. It just ran in my head in a monotone, and I couldn’t grasp even what was going on.
But that was before I read One Hundred Years of Solitude, my Very Favorite Book, and other Garcia Marquez I’ve been rationing after that one. The Autumn of the Patriarch inhabits the same kind of world as One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold in that it’s all-encompassing. Autumn of the Patriarch covers at least a hundred years, the lifespan of a dictator in South America. He is cruel and powerful and growing toward senility. There’s an excellent essay in the back of the paperback edition I read that summarizes the plot well and argues that Garcia Marquez sums it up a bit too briefly by blaming the dictator’s actions on an inability to love. I agree, though I disagree when the critic goes on to say that the reader hates the dictator. The situation is so complex that I can’t, though I flinched when he did horrible things like rig the lottery, then killed off the 2000 kids who made it seem legit to the public.
I’m not sure why I reacted so strongly to this novel, this time. When I tried to read it before, I slaved over it for at least a couple of weeks, but I don’t think I got through even half of it. This time, it took me two days, and it wasn’t difficult. Before, I was entirely distracted by the punctuation and lack of line breaks: there’s no paragraph separation, no quotation marks around dialog, and point of view shifts in the middle of sentences that are mostly run-ons and go on for pages and pages. I’m not surprised that I was distracted by that, but I don’t understand what’s so different now. I think the structure makes the story, which lasts only a moment and is basically a series of flashbacks, feel like that one moment. After the General (he is never named) is dead, some people break into his mansion, see how he left it, and tell the story of how it got that way and what happened over the course of his life. That’s basically the story.
But it’s also so much more! And it’s so complex! Now that I’ve gotten through it, I wouldn’t call it particularly difficult as long as a lack of linear story and punctuation aren’t deal-breakers for you. You’ll probably like it if you’re a fan of One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera.