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The historical fiction account of Simón Bolívar’s last seven months, “The General in his Labyrinth” written by Gabriel García Márquez was praised by the St. Petersburg Times as “the authors most readable book… His words are lush and readers will come away with a sense of Bolivars humid, weary world and its rich odor of decay”. Following the success of his novels: “One hundred years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera” García Márquez chose to write about Latin America’s “Great Liberator” (Simón Bolívar) after reading a partially completed draft by his friend since childhood, Álvaro Mutis. Inspired by his friends work and his own familiarity with the region, García Márquez received permission from Mutis and began to write his novel in to honor of Bolívar taking the setting of the river Magdalena and plot from Mutis’ unfinished novel.
Márquez spent two years researching the historical context of his novel, largely referring to the memoirs of Bolívar’s Irish aide-de-camp, Daniel Florencio O’Leary with the intent of recreating Bolívar’s complete person. García Márquez viewed most of the information about Bolívar as lacking complexity, creating very one-dimensional Liberator. As Márquez would later say concerning his research, “No one ever said in Bolívar’s biographies that he sang or that he was constipated … but historians don’t say these things because they think they are not important”. Fortunately, Márquez appreciated these unimportant details giving us a Bolívar that feels oddly human; Not some distant memory recorded on the pages of history.
The result of Márquez’s writings break with the traditional heroic portrayal of Simón Bolívar, El Liberatdor, instead Márquez depicts a pathetic protagonist, a broken man, physically ill and mentally exhausted.This portrayal of their well loved hero alarmed Latin Americans especially in regards to Márquez’s fictionalized elements. The detailed description of Bolívar’s more intimate moments, and the victory of despair and sickness over the themes of love, life and happiness were initially a point of outrage. This resulted in many prominent Latin Americans accusing Márquez of besmirching one of the region’s most important historical figure. Others revere Márquez’s portrayal of Simón Bolívar as a unique insight into his most intimate thoughts and feelings. Márquez took a risk, he removed the drapes that shrouded the life of Bolívar in heroism and sainthood, revealing a tragically flawed hero, who fought a losing battle against reaslim.
García Márquez sets his novel in the year 1830, in the aftermath of the Spanish American revolution where Spanish Americans took advantage of Spain’s weakness and following the examples of the French and American Revolutions, revolted. Bolívar was largely involved in the attempts to relieve South America from Spanish control and with the aid of the independence movements, he managed to co-liberate Venezuela, New Granada and present-day Ecuador and Peru eventually being installed as the president of Gran Colombia. However, Bolívar’s dream of uniting the Spanish American nations under one central government fell through. Shortly after these colonies became liberated, problems developed, civil wars ensued and those who had once supported Bolívar now became his bitter enemies. Distraught, Bolívar led off his address to the congress with, “Fellow citizens! I blush to say this: Independence is the only benefit we have acquired, to the detriment of all the rest.” Bolivar lost his support, fell ill and as opposition to his presidency increased, he resigned as president of Gran Colombia after 11 years of rule.
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