The Autumn of the Patriarch (in the Sweltering Summer Heat)

It eludes me how I managed to pick this title out of the hundreds on my shelf that are itching to be read. This is not exactly the perfect reading material after I just finished a Lynn Truss marathon of tirades on punctuation and British manners. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of those authors who can override grammar rules and still emerge with a book unlike any other. Only he can produce this type of book and get away with the difficult style that makes it a bit hellish for readers at first.

Honestly, I suffered through the single sentences that run at an average of around 10 pages. (I kid you not.) Around twice or three times, I felt like switching to a different title. But I sensed that finishing this book is also a bit of an intellectual challenge, and I cannot really pass up an opportunity like that. I doggedly struggled with his dog-whines and whimpers and his fig-sized testicles and his multiple lapels and his adulators. And I must say, in the end, I was richly rewarded with a reader’s satisfaction of having read the entire piece for all its difficult beauty.

So, what does a senile and insatiably perverted Caribbean tyrant have for its charm that made me swallow all my recently-earned punctuation pride from Lynn Truss? I stayed in long enough to finish until the very last page. But unlike other books I am accustomed to reading, this one took longer than usual. I still maintain my utmost literary obeisance to the one and only Milan Kundera, but I also have a considerable admiration to the genius of the one who penned The Autumn of the Patriarch. (This version I read was translated into English by Gregory Rabassa. I cannot understand how he managed to translate such endless string of words.)

Perhaps it was the onion-like layers of the General’s character etched in all six chapters. Perhaps it was the “insouciance of a prostitute” as said in one famous book review featured in the cover. The Autumn of the Patriarch was, despite its weird and difficulty, my form of escape (?) from the very torments that plague my poor soul at this point in time.

Averse as he is with punctuation that clips large and complex thoughts into bite-sized pieces, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez is a master in making memorable characters and settings that stick to you long after you have finished turning the last page of this paperback. it’s like te annoying but real stench of Manila’s heat in the form of sweat that has this persistent quality of clinging to your skin’s surface.

But unlike perspiration, Marquez’s lucidity in this book runs long after a much-needed shower.  You read it, it changes you, and you cannot completely forget until you immerse yourself in a new book with equal magnitude of brilliance.

An example of my favorite quote in the book is the culmination of the long and arduous life of solitary power that the tyrant had in the last few pages of the book:

“…it had been when he least wanted it, when after so many long years of sterile illusions he had begun to glimpse that one doesn’t live, God damn it, he lives through, he survives, one learns too late that even the broadest and most useful of lives only reach the point of learning how to live…”

(This was, in fact, a segment of one of his kilometer-long sentences that can travel from one continent to another.)

He covered themes that are as varied and cataclysmic as the modern world although it was in a very ancient Caribbean setting: politics, love (and a lack thereof), sexuality, religion, perverseness, money, power, and many others. The multiple layers of one life transcended a lifetime of constraints in the State which he governed in more than a hundred years. But he was no cardboard character. Far from it. Embedded in the embroiled turmoils of managing his city are the personal struggles of being alone, of being helpless, of approaching decrepit quality of old age, of being unable to trust anyone save for his own self (but even this self betrayed him as autumn had shed its final leaves in his mortal but long life).

And of course, in keeping with tyrants, there are those references to atrocities that haunted me long after I left the book on the shelf at the end of a hard day’s work.

I’m not as old as this tyrant.I also do not have his level of power. But somehow, I feel that tiredness from life, in general. If I am managing my own humble affairs and I get this exhausted, I cannot really imagine the magnitude of exhaustion that such a character would have. On a personal level, this book helped me step out of my own misery because I was reading a misery far beyond my reach although ironically familiar to a certain extent. I was miserable, but not this miserable.

It’s not a good idea to always read something this intense and depressing. But occasionally you bump into titles that have their own minds and lure you in its own world within the pages. These are the books that remind you what a brilliant writer can do, the mountains they can move with their swirls of ink on paper. And this is the type of reading material that talks about desolation but encourages aspiring writers not to give up amidst adversities. Who knows, your next creation may just be the next fine reading material? But even if it does not turn out as good a book as The Autumn of the Patriarch, you still get to pat yourself on the back for trying your best.

Recently, I saw from another website that the author, Marquez, is suffering from a severe form of senility. This senility was depicted so vividly in this novel. I wonder if the rumor of his old age sickness is true. If it is, how sad, because we are losing one of the world’s greatest minds. And this book just showed me a hint of the level of suffering that senility and loss of brain function can bring.

Senile or not in the present time, he is worthy of being admired- him and the haunting iguana eyes of the patriarch he conceived.



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