The most prominent writer of the Generation of ’98, Pío Baroja has been accused of pessimism, even misanthropy, for his scathing portraits of modern society. His satires are rendered with great detail in the dozens of novels he produced during the early decades of the twentieth century. Like other Spanish novelists of his time, Baroja reacted strongly against the social and political complacency he saw around him in Spain and the evils that those attitudes inflicted on the poor in the country, especially those in his native Basque region.
It is not surprising, therefore, to learn that Paradox, King, the third novel in a trilogy that Baroja titled “The Fantastic Life,” has been called by one critic “a catalog of human flaws and life’s pitfalls.” The hero, a likable optimist who wants only to make life better for himself and his friends, continually stumbles into one depressing situation after another, and his efforts at remedying the ills of the people he encounters are met with only minimal success.
Fast paced and filled with action, Paradox, King holds readers’ attention by moving quickly from scene to scene, highlighting the bumblings of the title character in his efforts to establish a perfect society in the outer regions of Africa. The presence of talking animals and supernatural events give the work a quality of fantasy similar to that found in travel literature dating to the Middle Ages. Loosely plotted and episodic in nature, the novel shares many qualities with the picaresque tradition, although Baroja’s hero, Silvestre Paradox, is no rogue. The central motif of his journey to strange lands provides links with a number of important satires in the European canon, most notably François Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-1564) and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). There are similarities, too, between the hero and his sidekick, Avelino Diz, and that more famous traveling duo from Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605-1615).
The novel is a biting satire on the evils of modern society. Through his...
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