Customer Reviews: The Autumn of the Patriarch
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on June 29, 2002
This is not a novel with a story, though it is a monstrous tale. It is a fantastic description of the rotten guts of tyranny. Enormous, steaming sentences, reeking with exotic images and jaguar tracks contain a sorrowful epic of the surreal politics of hot, underdeveloped places that know more corruption than justice. Weaving in and out, from one person's thoughts to another's, from one time to a second, with almost no dialogue, no conversation, no quotation marks, but moving from the mind of a general to dictator to "the people" to the female love interest and back again, Garcia Marquez spins a horrific story that is unlikely to be similar to anything you have read before. Maybe you will be satisfied to read this as a `one-off' kind of book that demands your total attention, all your powers of imagination and your determination. It is not a simple novel. I realized that Milorad Pavic, the Serbian author of fantastic tales, owes much to Garcia Marquez, sometimes even images (eggs of a certain day, news-spreading parrots).
The "Patriarch" is the ur-dictator, the tyrant personified, an old man who never steps down, who rules behind a double whose death thus gives rise to a legend of immortality. The dictator's underlings invent Potemkin everything; his palace is full of cripples, blind people, lepers, and domestic animals; he is a monster who, like all the tyrants he represents, cannot love, but only cultivate power. There is his mother, who failed to be a saint, the dynamited clergyman, the roasted general, the nun-mistress, the murdered children, the wife eaten by dogs. Was there anything he did not violate or corrupt ? Garcia Marquez gives one of the best-written pictures of the corruption of absolute power. The dictator is unnamed, perhaps a composite of Colombians, perhaps more. We find Stalin in him, Hitler, Mao, Idi Amin, and Saddam Hussain. And the reaction of the crowd, the mass, is the same every time. "The only thing that gave us security on earth," they say, "was the certainty that he was there....dedicated to the messianic happiness of thinking for us, knowing that we knew that he would not take any decision for us that did not have our measure..." In the end, they mourned him---as Russians did mourn Stalin---despite the massacres, the coups and brutal suppressions, the repression of religion, the selling off of every resource the country had---because they had wound up not knowing what would become of them without him.
Brilliant imagery, product of a fantastic imagination, that pours out on the pages, seemingly with endless abundance, can only dazzle a reader. It's a stunning novel whose moral may be that "a lie is more comfortable than doubt, more useful than love, more lasting than truth.." The person who understands and exploits this is the most dangerous type of human being. Unfortunately they exist in all countries and have appeared throughout history. THE AUTUMN OF THE PATRIARCH is not really a South American, magico-realist novel, though it is that. It is a painting of the human tragedy.
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on February 27, 2003
It's inevitable that this book should be somewhat off-putting compared to One Hundred Years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera--Autumn of the Patriarch isn't really meant to be a 'pleasant' read. It is a grim portrait of the title character, and other characters come and go without having inner lives of their own; they have relevance only insofar as they intersect with his life. It is without a doubt one of the least novelistic novels you will ever read--indeed, in many ways it's more like a prolonged character study than a novel.
Some people complain about the style in which the book is written--no paragraph breaks, few chapter breaks, long run-on sentences (the final chapter--fifty pages or so--is one massive sentence), perspective shifts mid-sentence and even mid-clause--but the truth of the matter is that, although this can become a little bit wearing at times, it is by no means 'difficult.' Not in the sense that Ulysses, Gravity's Rainbow, and Absalom, Absalom! are difficult. It can occasionally be disorienting, but in general it's always pretty easy to tell what's going on, and the style results in a surreal, dreamlike atmosphere that, I think, is perfect for describing the General's long, nightmarish reign. Sure, it could have been written in a more conventional style, and it could well have still been a good book, but Garcia Marquez's decision to push narrative boundaries provides just the right feel. After all, the General is a composite of many Meso and South American tyrants, and to couch his reign in more concrete, everyday terms would have taken away some of his universality (his selling of the Caribbean is a clear demonstration of this, as well as one of the most striking literary metaphors you'll ever encounter). He isn't really a human being; he's an implacable, negative force. For all his flailing around, occasionally making half-hearted and futile efforts to change, his life ultimately has no other meaning.
Autumn of the Patriarch certainly isn't the best of Garcia Marquez's movels to start with (that would be One Hundred Years of Solitude, of course), but it's an important part of his oeuvre, even if it's not as 'fun.' I recommend it to literate people everywhere.
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on November 20, 1999
In his second novel, Gabriel García Márquez reinvents himself in the wonderful work of "Autumn of the Patriarch". The work took him 8 years to write, however the result was well worth the work. By using a stream of consiousness technique and constantly altering between first and third persons, García Márquez exhibits his techincal mastery. He transplants the reader into the mind and world of a dictator in an unnamed Latin American country. García Márquez really captures the mind and spirit of this solitary power. An important reading for understanding power in Latin America. Similar books include "Senor Presidente" by Miguel Angel Asturias and "Reasons of State" by Alejo Carpentier. This novel is particularly relevant with the circumstances surrounding ex-Chilean Dictator, Augusto Pinochet.
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on August 27, 1998
Beware, those of you who have not read a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book yet! The style and literary techniques employed by the venerable author here are not, at first, user-friendly. In place of a sequence of actions, a run-on assault of descriptions tell the tale of a seemingly immortal yet completely despicable Caribbean tyrant. Sentences last for pages, each chapter is but one paragraph, the narrative perspective changes in mid-sentence, etc: This anti-traditional approach proves to be extremely rewarding, I felt the ending was even better than the build-up. Worthy of a score of Doctorate theses--but none by my hand. Upon finishing this book you will be awakened to a unique artistic literary style by one of the century's greatest authors--then go out and buy yourself some more Marquez novels. The more straightforward "General in his Labyrinth" and the illustrious "100 Years of Solitude" I also highly recommend.
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on August 25, 2005
This is a good book, don't get me wrong. And I will only speak for the English/translated version. It's a classic in fact, not just going by the author who is a brilliant man. A classic in terms of experimental writing. A first: something so original you will always remember forcing yourself through this difficult to read material. There are times where I read the same page three times, just to get the story line right. From that perspective it's timeless just as the book itself. But after a while you get the feeling as if Gabriel is toying with you. Torn between loving the old man, hating his guts, cursing his second wife, saluting his victory over himself. Anyone with any ambitions for power should read this. It's Machiavellian theme, its hidden storyline, its wonderful depictions of real and everyday life... so real, too real perhaps. But not for your everyday, easy reading pleasures. You really need to take time off to enjoy this. Sorry,
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on August 23, 2006
While it lacks the startling originality and narrative sweep of "One Hundred Years of Solitude," this novel is Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's masterpiece of prose. The story is good and the many surreal touches are magnificent and deployed to great political effect (the selling of the sea, for example, is an unforgettable image of impoverished nations selling their natural resources to wealthy nations and only suffering from the transaction), but the real story here is Gabo's prose: he channels William Faulkner to create a style that's as sinuous and labyrinthine--and beautiful--as anything yet accomplished in our Western Hemisphere.
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on December 1, 2003
This is perhaps the most difficult book I have ever read in my life. Could be the hardest I will ever read. It is a discriptive Stream of Consciousness novel. What does that mean? Stream of Consciousness means that it is written as a man experiences things. It can be erratic and all over the place, like our minds. And sentences will and do go on for pages upon pages. One of the hardest things to get into. But if you do it, the rewards are great.
This book is about a cruel dictator of a small Carribean island. He is at the end of his life and is trapped in his own personal coutry ruled over by a cruel dictator. He is in his own personal hell. It is a very intense story, some of the things he does and has done can utterly disgust you, but you know that there is a small chance this man could find redemption. And on and on through the story, you begin to feel sorry for this cruel, horrible man.
The description of this novel is great. I would reccomend this book only after you have read perhaps more than two of his books (unlike me) and perhaps other "difficult" books. The book is only a little over 200 pages, but could take longer than reading The Odyssesy.
All in all, another masterpiece by Mr. Garcia. I think he should get special recognition for this work. Both the story and the style are perfected. Good job!
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on November 3, 2005
I can't say that "Autumn of the Patriarch" fits into the mould of novel writing. It is, however, an examination of a despot and the wreck of his poisoned kingdom. Filled with black humour and grotesque images, it pulls the reader forward in spite of the endless sentences. One can almost see the squalor and smell the rubbish in the city. I would hesitate to compare it to anything else that Marquez has written because it is so different but what it does have is Marquez profound insight into the ways and failings of mortals.
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on June 14, 2001
Marquez is one of the greatest writers on the planet, and he was greatly inspired by that old master of "stream of consciousness," William Faulkner. This book is not only a good example of Faulkner's influence but also an absolutely delicious hybrid of those two literary geniuses. The result is brilliant. The imagery is hypnotic. If you're a fan of Marquez, don't leave this one out! And if you're new to Faulkner, read this first, then read Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying," then go from there.
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on February 22, 2003
I personally think that "One Hundred Years of Solitude" is overrated; I am not particularly enamored with the whole genre of magical realism. Nevertheless, Marquez uses that style to perfection in "Autumn of the Patriarch," creating a nightmarish world in which a sadistic, perhaps mentally deranged tyrant rules over a small Caribbean country. I liked the surrealist style in this book because there really is something surreal about totalitarianism. The aura of omniscience that lends legitimacy to most dictatorships is based on nothing but lies. From Joseph Stalin to Idi Amin to Kim Jong Il, tyrants throughout history have cultivated images of invincibility, machismo, wisdom, and righteousness to justify their authority. I consider such monstrous perversions of the truth perfectly reprehensible, especially considering that they are usually used to legitimize the most heinous crimes. In this book, Marquez cuts to core of totalitarinism, revealing that underneath all the grandeur lies nothing but a sick, despicable old man. The imagery in this book is grotesque to say the least, but for that reason it remains embedded in your memory. In one unforgettable scene, the dictator's lookalike is killed. The nation, unaware that the leader even has a double, thinks that he himself is dead. There is widespread jubilee on the streets. The leader reappears in public, portraying the whole event as a resurrection from the dead. He naturally slaughters those who cheered at the false news that he had died. There are many other scenes just as memorable that would take too long to relate. I guess I should conclude with the warning that this book is structured unlike any book that I have encountered. There are no paragraph breaks, the dialogue is not italicized, and the sentences consistently run for several pages. This is not so daunting as it sounds, though. The book actually does not read that difficult once you get going. It is not an easy read, no doubt, but the reward definitely exceeds the effort required.
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