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Gabriel García Márquez: El Otoño del Patriarca (The Autumn of the Patriarch)

García Márquez has always been interested in power and its use and abuse and this is the novel in which he focuses his gaze intently on the issue. The main character – the patriarch of the title – is nameless but could be any of the tyrants of Latin America – Trujillo, Somoza, Stroessner, take your pick, though García Márquez himself says that Juan Vicente Gómez of Venezuela was certainly a major inspiration.

This is not García Márquez’ easiest book to read. In all its 270 pages, there are probably fewer than twenty sentences as García Márquez chooses to tell his story in stream-of-consciousness style. The effect is not unlike being in a Beckettian nightmare where the effect is of being trapped in a labyrinth without any possibility of escape. And that is the effect García Márquez wishes to create for, though the unnamed dictator can bully and cajole and brutalize those around him, he is essentially alone and unloved and paranoid. García Márquez, with all his skill, really twists the knife in the dictator and his very essential weaknesses. You won’t find a finer novel on the abuse of power.

Publishing history

First published in Spanish 1975 by Plaza y Janés
First published in English 1976 by Harper & Row
Translated by Gregory Rabassa