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Alejo Carpentier: El siglo de las luces (Explosion in a Cathedral)

This novel is about the French Revolution and its representative in the Americas, Victor Hugues (a real person and governor of French Guiana). Hugues introduces some Cubans, including Estebán and his cousin Sofía, to the ideas of the French Revolution. Estebán accompanies Victor to France but soon becomes disillusioned with the Revolution while Victor immerses himself in it. Estebán, particularly on return to the Caribbean, moves more to an appreciation of nature and individuals while Victor becomes a tyrant in defense of the Revolution. Estebán meets Sofía again on his return to Cuba (she has been Victor’s lover and shares many of his ideals) but it is he who makes the sacrifice to save her. In the end the fight moves to Madrid, where Estebán and Sofía are, though not as lovers, and where the Spanish are now protesting against Napoleon. Once again history comes full circle.

Publishing history

First published in 1962 by Ediciones Revolución, Havana
First English translation 1963 by Little, Brown
Translated by John Sturrock