The Bolívar Novel
In the decades that followed his Nobel Prize, García Márquez showed no sign of settling into high complacency, contenting himself with past achievements, or becoming a public mouthpiece. On the contrary, as an artist he continued to astound his readers by taking on subject matters as grand and risky as those depicted in his previous works. Every book he has published since Love in the Time of Cholera stakes out some new territory, opens our eyes to an array of experiences hitherto seldom treated either by himself or by other literary authors.
In 1989, García Márquez surprised everyone with The General in His Labyrinth, a novel that has as its protagonist none other than Simón Bolívar (17831830; pronounced See-MONE Boh-LEE-bahr), the supreme commander whose forces freed Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia from Spanish Imperial rule. Here, however, rather than the heroic soldier and statesman, what we see is the defeated politician, wasting away during his final months of life, outdone by allies and rivals, discredited among large segments of the New Granadian populace, and thoroughly dejected as he prepares to emigrate to Europe but ends up sailing to his unforeseen death near the coastal town of Santa Marta.
To pen such a book was an audacious step indeed. Throughout much of Hispanic America, but especially in García Márquez’s native land and its neighbors, the figure of Bolívar enjoys cult-like status. Children in school are taught to revere him quasi-religiously, while in adult public life the man inspires high-flown political rhetoric beyond measure. Parks and plazas, boulevards and buildings, schools and universities bear either his name or the honorific title El Libertador (as did a broad avenue near my home in 1950s Caracas). Postage stamps by the hundreds have commemorated him and his accomplishments. There is an entire country named after him; and the bolívar is the currency unit of the nation of Venezuela, where, in the early twenty-first century, President Hugo Chávez launched a project dubbed the Revolución Bolivariana.
In the academic and information sectors, generations of scholars and scribblers have produced books and articles about him. Over a hundred biogra