After reading ‘Looking for Alaska’ from John Green I was compelled with the protagonist of the novel. So it came as no surprise that I chose ‘The General in his labyrinth’ as my next book as it was quoted on various occasions by Alaska. Also I had never even flipped the pages of something written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and it was a great opportunity to not only get new insights of the story behind John Green’s character but also to enrich my culture with one of the masterpieces created by the pen of such a well-known author.
The plot is revolved around the last days of Simon Bolivar, liberator and leader of Gran Colombia. And although the tale of his last days on Earth is fictionally accounted in the book, the person was quite real and quite important. The novel traces the General’s final journey from Bogota to the Caribbean coastline of Colombia in his attempt to leave South America. The year is 1830 which adds to the exotic feeling of the atmosphere. Most books set and develop their stories in Europe or in North America and rarely have I personally come across a tale of the countries around Brazil. It was interesting to delve into such unfamiliar waters and to investigate a culture that is similar and at the same time differs greatly from what I am accustomed to. But the good thing about the process of learning is that the more you seem to know, the more there is yet to be found out.
The protagonist of the novel is not presented as the strong, influential and determined Simon Bolivar that history books portray but shines a light on a pathetic, prematurely aged man who is physically incapable of anything and mentally exhausted. The reader is confronted with a man who is barely the ghost of his past, enveloped in splendor and majesty, a man who can not even bask in his former glory, a man who is left helpless and alone in the sunset of his life. Struggling with his own mortality the General is stuck in the labyrinth of life, where no exit can be found.
Even in such a horrible state of body and mind, the General still stands out as an incredible man. Through a series of flashbacks the reader sees like a faded reflection the life of this extraordinary human who at the end of his road has come to be a wreck, forgotten and unloved by all. The true illness from which he dies is never precisely pinpointed in the novel (although tuberculosis is put as the cause of death in the official statement) it is led to believe that he slowly leans away from the absence of love. Despite his numerous lovers, his intimate companion Manuela Saenz and all the people who worshipped and adored him, the General finds himself abruptly alone before his final breath leaves his tortured body.
Time does not wait for anybody, the sand in the hourglass is falling and nothing can stop it before it runs out. The feeling of inevitability is strongly highlighted in the novel. A clock stuck at seven minutes past one, the exact time of the General’s death, appears repeatedly in the novel. The end of the book is known beforehand unlike the secret of the labyrinth. The constant return of the General to places he has visited before creates the feeling that what belongs in the past, belongs in the present. As if he is following a path already marked with his footsteps with no hope of trailing aside from it. He wanders lost and confused through the course of his life, finding no passage out from the labyrinth.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez proves himself a genius writer by describing moments of the life of a great man, left out from history books, in such a way that the reader becomes a part of the eluded story of Simon Bolivar. If you are looking for a good biographical novel, don’t hesitate to grab ‘The General in his labyrinth’ for it is a moving tale which will leave you pondering over the questions of existence long after the book is read and resting on the book shelf of your library.