Some years ago I picked up One Hundred Years of Solitude in a charity shop on the grounds of “I should really read this” and fell utterly in love with it. While the obvious next place to go is Love in the Time of Cholera, a friend recommended this instead.
The General in His Labyrinth is neither as long nor as difficult as One Hundred Years of Solitude. There is very little in the way of magical realism, except in García Márquez’ descriptions of weather. It is no less lush and poetical in its prose, though.
This is an imaginative telling of Simón Bolívar’s final trip down the Magdalena River from Bogota to the Caribbean coast, with the intention of giving up politics and getting a ship back to Europe. (Allegedly, this trip is poorly documented so there is plenty of scope for fiction). It is obvious to everyone except Bolívar that he is dying. Additionally, nobody believes that he is really ready to step back and let others govern. When he wants to be recognised, he is not, and when he wants to be left in peace, the locals organise festivities in his honour.
The voyage is interspersed with recollections of various events in Bolívar’s life and the two sometimes blend together in a dreamlike state. It is in parts a comedy of errors but in others a touching portrayal. Despite being a hero of the author’s, Bolívar is portrayed as being very human with virtues and flaws (but always intent on the good of Latin America rather than his own personal gain). He feels as if he has failed because the continent has become a number of squabbling states rather than the United States of America he intended. (This book is a good reminder that Latin Americans have, um, opinions on the use of the term “American”).
I loved this as much as One Hundred Years. The prose is absolutely gorgeous; one day I would like to be able to read it in Spanish.