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Enrique Laguerre: El Laberinto (The Labyrinth)

Porfirio Uribe, a Puerto Rican, is returning home one evening to his boarding house in New York. As he enters the boarding house, he sees, in the darkness, that someone is coming down the stairs. Suddenly, two men step out of the shadows and fire at the man coming downstairs. He falls onto Porfirio and the two men run away. Porfirio realises that he has been hit, his temple grazed and a bullet in his foot. He soon realises that the man on the stairs, whose blood is on Porfirio, is dead. Other people arrive and accuse him of having killed the man, another tenant of the boarding house, called Adrián Martín, with whom Porfirio had had a row the previous night, because Martín had been typing loudly during the night. The police arrive and assume that as Puerto Ricans (pororicans, as they call them in the Spanish text) are involved, it must be about a woman. They first think it is about Doña Isabel, the landlady and a very respectable woman, and then about her daughter, Rosana, and take all of them off to the police station. Rosana is freed and is able to call Alfredo Laza, Porfirio’s mentor, and Porfirio is bailed.

Porfirio was the son of two trapeze artists. His father was Mexican and his mother from the fictitious island of the Republic of Santiago but, as we will learn, probably based on the Dominican Republic. When his parents were killed in a trapeze accident, he is taken in by his god-parents. Unfortunately, his godfather is a very jealous man and, when he sees his wife being too friendly with a male neighbour, he attacks and kills her. He will later kill himself in prison. Porfirio then manages to get enough money to buy a boat ticket to New York (but not enough money for the bus to San Juan). On the boat, he meets Alfredo Laza, who takes care of him and helps him get a job in New York. However, he gets into trouble, as he has worked for a racketeer in the numbers game. He is caught and spends some time in prison. When he gets out, he is determined to better himself and spends the next eight years working in the Post Office Dead Letter Office, while studying law. He has just finished his studies and is planning on leaving New York, a city which, for him, is like a labyrinth, and returning to Puerto Rico, where he wants to have a normal life, with wife and family, a respectable job and politically allied with the Majority Party. However, he is in love with Rosana and intends proposing to her. Unfortunately, she is not in love with him and seems to spend time with both Adrián Martín and Alfredo Laza. We soon learn that it is Laza she is in love with. This is upsetting not only to Porfirio but also to her mother. Doña Isabel had planned on being a nun but had met and married Rosana’s father, something she still bitterly regrets, and does not want her daughter to make the same mistake but to succeed where she failed, by becoming a nun. Rosana has no intention of doing so.

Porfirio had bought a ticket for Puerto Rico but has to postpone his departure. He spends his time yearning for Rosana and searching for the killers of Adrián Martín, with the help of Alfredo Laza and another friend. He is unsuccessful in both. Finally, he is exonerated and once Alfredo realises he is in love with Rosana and proposes to her, there is no further need for Porfirio to stay and he makes his plan to depart. His godfather had said to him, when his godmother had told him that his guardian angel would look after him, that he had no guardian angel and we see this to be case again. The boat is delayed slightly to allow two diplomats from the Republic of Santiago to board. The boat then departs but, once out at sea, it is attacked by a German submarine and sunk. Porfirio is hurt but not badly and is taken to a hospital in Virginia. While there he meets the two diplomats. They persuade him that a man of his qualifications and knowledge of the USA would be invaluable in Santiago and persuade him to come back with them.

But this is the Dominican Republic under Trujillo and though he is generally treated well, he has to deal with all sorts of conspiracies – his two friends from the boat turn out to be at loggerheads – and various people disappearing or suddenly”found to have committed suicide”. The calm life he was hoping for is not there. When he finds out that the death of Adrián Martín, who was from Santiago, may well be connected with people he knows there, he is not happy. However, he does seem to have good contacts and moves up the professional ladder and even gets to meet the President Augusto Luna del Valle. However, when he is asked to join a plot to overthrow the President, things can only get worse.

This is fascinating but somewhat messy novel, as we jump around from plot to plot, with a lot of conversation about the various events. As his godfather said, Uribe really does seem to be without a guardian angel, as things rarely go right for him and when they do seem to be going right, they suddenly go wrong. The murky internal politics of Santiago and the plot against the president (it is interesting to compare with La fiesta del chivo (The Feast of the Goat), about the actual plot against Trujillo, who was assassinated two years after this novel was published) seem to involve a lot of talk but not much action, till the end. The novel is about a man who get caught in a labyrinth from which he seems unable to extricate himself and, in his respect, it is an interesting work but there is too much discussion that is irrelevant to the main plots.

Publishing history

First published 1959 by Las Américas
First published in English 1960 by Las Américas
Translated by William Rose