El Otoño Del Patriarca (The Autumn of the Patriarch)

Review of the book El Otoño Del Patriarca (The Autumn of the Patriarch) by Gabriel García Márquez. It’s lonely being a dictator.
2022-09-05 – ⁠2022-09-11 finished
⁠certainty: log ⁠importance: 1Source published on: 1975

El Otoño Del Patriarca tells the story of a Caribbean country’s dictator from different points of view.

I expect novels to tell me an engaging story, but I could hardly follow what was going on with this book, the style was overly descriptive, and most of the words seemed irrelevant to the plot. The writing style with barely any punctuation and with constant digressions read like a hive mind that can’t stop talking and can’t filter the unimportant. I found interesting and witty observations here and there, and I can see how some people may enjoy this poetic style, but it wasn’t for me and I stopped reading after about 7%.

To better illustrate what I mean, here is a quote. If you can’t read Spanish, count periods and commas:

[…] bobos de los sábados bajo las palmeras polvorientas y los faroles mustios de la Plaza de Armas, y otros músicos viejos reemplazaban en la banda a los músicos muertos. En los últimos años, cuando no se volvieron a oír ruidos humanos ni cantos de pájaros en el interior y se cerraron para siempre los portones blindados, sabíamos que había alguien en la casa civil porque de noche se veían luces que parecían de navegación a través de las ventanas del lado del mar, y quienes se atrevieron a acercarse oyeron desastres de pezuñas y suspiros de animal grande detrás de las paredes fortificadas, y una tarde de enero habíamos visto una vaca contemplando el crepúsculo desde el balcón presidencial, imagínese, una vaca en el balcón de la patria, qué cosa más inicua, qué país de mierda, pero se hicieron tantas conjeturas de cómo era posible que una vaca llegara hasta un balcón si todo el mundo sabía que las vacas no se trepaban por las escaleras, y menos si eran de piedra, y mucho menos si estaban alfombradas, que al final no supimos si en realidad la vimos o si era que pasamos una tarde por la Plaza de Armas y habíamos soñado caminando que habíamos visto una vaca en un balcón presidencial donde nada se había visto ni había de verse otra vez en muchos años hasta el amanecer del último viernes cuando empezaron a llegar los primeros gallinazos que se alzaron de donde estaban siempre adormilados en la cornisa del hospital de pobres, vinieron más de tierra adentro, vinieron en oleadas sucesivas desde el horizonte del mar de polvo donde estuvo el mar, volaron todo un día en círculos lentos sobre la casa del poder hasta que un rey con plumas de novia y golilla encarnada impartió una orden silenciosa y empezó aquel estropicio de vidrios, aquel viento de muerto grande, aquel entrar y salir de gallinazos por las ventanas como sólo era concebible en una casa sin autoridad, de modo que también nosotros nos atrevimos a entrar y encontramos en el santuario desierto los escombros de la grandeza, el cuerpo picoteado, las manos lisas de doncella con el anillo del poder en el hueso anular, y tenía todo el cuerpo retoñado de líquenes minúsculos y animales parasitarios de fondo de mar, sobre todo en las axilas y en las ingles, y tenía el […]

After reading a wall of poetic prose like this, which isn’t a complete sentence, I feel like I’m coming out of a dream, and I only have a fuzzy impression of what I just experienced.

My synopsis of the previous quote:

We [the citizens] knew that someone lived there [in the presidential palace] in recent years because we saw lights at night. Recently, after seeing animals take over the building, we went inside and found the corpse [of the patriarch.]

In the original quote, most of the space is dedicated to a cow, details about the palace’s surroundings, a bird flock, and the dead body of the patriarch, none of which seems material to the story.

The patriarch lying face down on his palace.
The patriarch lying face down on his palace.

I prefer it when authors give me just enough details to feel like I’m imagining something similar to what they had in mind, but this is too much, way, way too much.

I read that the author once described the book as “a poem on the solitude of power,” 1 which I wish I had read before: I’m not interested in how dictators feel, I have aversion to poetry, perhaps because it’s much more demanding on the imagination, perhaps because it feels as if someone is trying to manipulate my emotions, I don’t know.

How do I grow from this?

  • Spend at least five minutes reading about a book before I start reading it, especially if it’s fiction. It may lower the surprise factor but also save me time.

Connections

  • Science of Loneliness: is a feeling that pushes us to seek to connect with others, to feel part of a group. It’s heritable, it can be temporary or permanent, it makes you dumber, it makes your brain age faster, it worsens certain illnesses, and we have tools proven to reduce it (solitude of power.) 2
  • Semantics: What does connection, the opposite of loneliness, really mean? No matter how connected you feel to someone, their body and your body are separate. Is connection the state where you and another person share specific thoughts like caring for each other? Is connection essentially a strongly felt illusion?
  • Buddhism: According to Buddha, everything is interconnected; I inhale the air you exhale, and my atoms will become part of other people, plants, animals, and stars. You cannot be disconnected or isolated from other living beings. The effects of feeling loneliness are very real and serious, but it’s based on ignorance, like crying when you see your first sunset because you think the sun is gone forever.
  • Yoga: Fear of death is one of the five impediments (kleshas) to experiencing reality as it is 3. Is loneliness a special case of fear of death? Would you still feel lonely if you got rid of the fear of death? Hermits, some ascetics, and monks can live alone for years. Especially if you are also then able to reach samadhi and realize your true divine nature. Some meditators have told me that after years of meditation, they never feel lonely anymore.
  • Kurzgesagt’s Loneliness and Why You Are Lonely and How to Make Friends (loneliness.)

Footnotes


  1. Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, El olor de la guayaba. Conversaciones con Gabriel García Márquez, (Editorial La Oveja Negra, 1982). ↩︎

  2. How loneliness can make you sick ↩︎

  3. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, sutras II.3 and II.9 (early centuries CE). ↩︎