(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Autumn of the Patriarch, published eight years after Gabriel García Márquez’s highly praised Cien años de soledad (1967; One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970), was a novel for which both general readers and critics had waited. It was, however, a project that García Márquez had put aside earlier to write One Hundred Years of Solitude because, as he has commented, he was writing it at first without any clear idea of what he was doing. García Márquez has said that he got the idea for writing the work two or three days after the fall of the dictator Marcos Pérez Jiménez, when the ruling junta met. He was in the anteroom of the presidential office with other journalists when an officer in battle fatigues came out walking backward with a machine gun in his hand and mud on his boots. It was at that moment, García Márquez reveals, that he had a sudden insight into the mystery of power.

Consequently, he wanted to write a “poem on the solitude of power,” in which a mythical Latin American dictator would be used as an embodiment of many such dictators, from “Papa Doc” Duvalier of Haiti to Juan Vicente Gómez of Venezuela. His first attempt at the structure of the book—a long monologue by the aged dictator as he is waiting to be executed—he abandoned for the existing polyphonic structure of a multitude of blending voices in six sections that make the book begin and end in a spiral fashion with the discovery of the patriarch’s body. The result is a difficult book to read, for each of the six episodes of which it is composed is a single paragraph. There are no other breaks in the novel, and many of the sentences go on for several pages in a run-on, seemingly rambling and disconnected fashion, much like some of the novels of William Faulkner or the stream-of-consciousness works of James Joyce. The stylistic experiment of the book goes even further than Faulkner or Joyce, however, for the point of view of the work shifts constantly, sometimes even within a single line, from first-person participant to third-person author to first-person-plural choral response. García Márquez has called The Autumn of the Patriarch the most experimental of his novels and the one that interests him most as a poetic adventure; it is, he says, a book that he wrote like a poem, word by word, sometimes spending weeks on a few lines.

The novel begins with the discovery of the...

(The entire section is 996 words.)