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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 321

Alejo Carpentier's Explosion in a Cathedral (or The Century of Lights) is a historical novel set in the late eighteenth century, a period marked by widespread revolution and political turmoil.

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The novel tells the story of Carlos, Sofia, and their cousin Esteban, three Cuban Creole children left orphaned after Carlos and Sofia's father dies. Left unsupervised, the children live as they please. They even use crates to turn their home into a complex maze—a child's wonderland shielding them from the political chaos occurring in Havana.

However, their fun ends when the executor of Carlos and Sofia's father's will arrives. Haitian businessman Victor Hugues takes authority over the children and brings an end to their games. Victor is an educated man and a revolutionary, and he teaches the children about the ideologies that are suppressed by the Cuban government.

The arrival of Victor into their lives marks the beginning of the children's journey into adulthood—a journey marked by revolution, enlightenment, and loss. When Victor is threatened with arrest, Sofia suggests that he and his friend Ogé, also a fugitive, hide in the family's home in the countryside. Sofia and Esteban stay with the two men for a time and learn more about politics, liberalism, and civil rights.

Victor and Ogé are forced to flee Cuba, and Esteban and Sofia follow, eager to aid in their revolutionary cause. Their adventures take them around the world, to Haiti, France, and Spain, where they all take part in several revolutions. Victor dies fighting in Cayenne, while Esteban and Sofia die in Madrid fighting against Napoleon's invasion.

Carlos had stayed behind in Cuba to manage what was left of his father's estate. When he learns of Esteban's and Sofia's deaths, he carries on their memory by promoting their revolutionary ideas in Cuba. A wealthy man, Carlos uses his influence to ignite a revolution in Cuba and becomes a leader in the war of independence.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 876

A wealthy Cuban merchant dies in Havana, leaving behind an orphaned son and daughter, Carlos and Sofía, and a nephew, Esteban, also an orphan who grew up with Carlos and Sofía. In the absence of paternal authority, the three adolescents are free to pass the time as they wish. They eat and sleep at odd hours and transform the family mansion into a house of “perpetual games,” a disorderly labyrinth of unpacked shipping crates. Their harmonious existence in the midst of external chaos is brought to an abrupt end, however, when Victor Hugues, a cosmopolitan businessman from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, arrives one stormy Easter Sunday. Victor, executor of their father’s will, restores order to the house and assumes the role of surrogate father. He restores the old values of their deceased father and introduces both Esteban and Sofía into the world of adulthood. He also introduces the young people to the liberal ideas of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. When Victor, a Freemason, is threatened with arrest by the colonial authorities because of his subversive ideas, Sofía offers the family’s country home as a refuge to him and his friend, Ogé, a mulatto doctor from San Domingo. Sofía and Esteban accompany the two men to the estate. There they become fascinated by heated political discussions about revolution, class war, liberty, and equality.

Although Victor and Ogé use the same language in their discussions about the necessity for social change, Victor, though he upholds the egalitarian principles of the Declaration of the Rights of Man, is primarily concerned with business. For him, the advanced ideas of the New Age are important because they challenge the colonial monopoly of trade in the Americas. He is one of several...

(The entire section contains 1197 words.)

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