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The historical fiction account of Simon Bolivar’s last seven months, “The General in his Labyrinth” written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was praised by the St. Petersburg Times as “the authors most readable book… His words are lush and readers will come away with a sense of Bolivars humid, weary world and its rich odor of decay”. Following the success of his novels: “One hundred years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera” Garcia Marquez chose to write about Latin America’s “Great Liberator” (Simon Bolivar) after reading a partially completed draft by his friend since childhood, Alvaro Mutis. Inspired by his friends work and his own familiarity with the region, Garcia Marquez received permission from Mutis and began to write his novel in to honor of Bolivar taking the setting of the river Magdalena and plot from Mutis’ unfinished novel.
Marquez spent two years researching the historical context of his novel, largely referring to the memoirs of Bolivar’s Irish aide-de-camp, Daniel Florencio O’Leary with the intent of recreating Bolivar’s complete person. Garcia Marquez viewed most of the information about Bolivar as lacking complexity, creating very one-dimensional Liberator. As Marquez would later say concerning his research, “No one ever said in Bolivar’s biographies that he sang or that he was constipated … but historians don’t say these things because they think they are not important”. Fortunately, Marquez appreciated these unimportant details giving us a Bolivar that feels oddly human; Not some distant memory recorded on the pages of history.
The result of Marquez’s writings break with the traditional heroic portrayal of Simon Bolivar, El Liberatdor, instead Marquez depicts a pathetic protagonist, a broken man, physically ill and mentally exhausted.This portrayal of their well loved hero alarmed Latin Americans especially in regards to Marquez’s fictionalized elements. The detailed description of Bolivar’s more intimate moments, and the victory of despair and sickness over the themes of love, life and happiness were initially a point of outrage. This resulted in many prominent Latin Americans accusing Marquez of besmirching one of the region’s most important historical figure. Others revere Marquez’s portrayal of Simon Bolivar as a unique insight into his most intimate thoughts and feelings. Marquez took a risk, he removed the drapes that shrouded the life of Bolivar in heroism and sainthood, revealing a tragically flawed hero, who fought a losing battle against reaslim.
Garcia Marquez sets his novel in the year 1830, in the aftermath of the Spanish American revolution where Spanish Americans took advantage of Spain’s weakness and following the examples of the French and American Revolutions, revolted. Bolivar was largely involved in the attempts to relieve South America from Spanish control and with the aid of the independence movements, he managed to co-liberate Venezuela, New Granada and present-day Ecuador and Peru eventually being installed as the president of Gran Colombia. However, Bolivar’s dream of uniting the Spanish American nations under one central government fell through. Shortly after these colonies became liberated, problems developed, civil wars ensued and those who had once supported Bolivar now became his bitter enemies. Distraught, Bolivar led off his address to the congress with, “Fellow citizens! I blush to say this: Independence is the only benefit we have acquired, to the detriment of all the rest.” Bolivar lost his support, fell ill and as opposition to his presidency increased, he resigned as president of Gran Colombia after 11 years of rule.
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