The General in His Labyrinth

The General in His Labyrinth


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General Simon Bolivar, one of the Western Hemisphere's supreme heroes, embarks on a seven-month voyage down the Magdalena River. Forced from power, made old and ill by the pressures of war, passion, victory, and betrayal, the General examines his life, confronting the phantoms of his past, reliving the campaigns that brought him renown, and remembering the women he loved for a night or a lifetime. On a journey that is at once a fantasy of triumphal progress and a nightmare of loss and delusions, we come to know the Liberator - the dazzling orchestrator of political and military intrigue, as well as the lover, the libertine, the fighter capable of heroism, mercy, and ruthlessness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400034703
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/07/2003
Series: Vintage International Series
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 167,122
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.64(d)

About the Author

García Márquez was born in Aracataca, Colombia, in 1928. He attended the University of Bogotá and went on to become a reporter for the Colombian newspaper El Espectador. He later served as a foreign correspondent in Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Caracas, and New York. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, he is the author of several novels and collections, including No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories, The Autumn of the Patriarch, Innocent Erendira and Other Stories, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, The General in His Labyrinth, Strange Pilgrims, and Love and Other Demons.


Mexico City, Mexico

Date of Birth:

March 6, 1928

Place of Birth:

Aracataca, Colombia


Universidad Nacional de Colombia, 1947-48, and Universidad de Cartagena, 1948-49

Read an Excerpt

José Palacios, his oldest servant, found him floating naked with his eyes open in the purifying waters of his bath and thought he had drowned. He knew this was one of the many ways the General meditated, but the ecstasy in which he lay drifting seemed that of a man no longer of this world. He did not dare come closer but called to him in a hushed voice, complying with the order to awaken him before five so they could leave at dawn. The General came out of his trance and saw in the half-light the clear blue eyes, the curly squirrel-colored hair, the impassive dignity of the steward who attended him every day and who held in his hand a cup of the curative infusion of poppies and gum arabic. The General's hands lacked strength when he grasped the handles of the tub, but he rose up from the medicinal waters in a dolphinlike rush that was surprising in so wasted a body.

"Let's go," he said, "as fast as we can. No one loves us here."

José Palacios had heard him say this so many times and on so many different occasions that he still did not believe it was true, even though the pack animals were ready in the stables and the members of the official delegation were beginning to assemble. In any event, he helped him to dry and draped the square poncho from the uplands over his naked body because the trembling of his hands made the cup rattle. Months before, while putting on a pair of chamois trousers he had not worn since his Babylonian nights in Lima, the General discovered he was losing height as well as weight. Even his nakedness was distinctive, for his body was pale and his face and hands seemed scorched by exposure to the weather. He had turned forty-six thispast July, but his rough Caribbean curls were already ashen, his bones were twisted by premature old age, and he had deteriorated so much he did not seem capable of lasting until the following July. Yet his resolute gestures appeared to be those of a man less damaged by life, and he strode without stopping in a circle around nothing. He drank the tea in five scorching swallows that almost blistered his tongue, avoiding his own watery trail along the frayed rush mats on the floor, and it was as if he had drunk the magic potion of resurrection. But he did not say a word until five o'clock had sounded in the bell tower of the nearby cathedral.

"Saturday, May 8, 1830, the Day of the Blessed Virgin, Mediatrix of all Grace," announced the steward. "It has been raining since three o'clock in the morning."

"Since three o'clock in the morning of the seventeenth century," said the General, his voice still shaken by the bitter breath of insomnia. And he added, in all seriousness: "I didn't hear the roosters."

"There are no roosters here," said José Palacios.

"There's nothing here," said the General. "It's the land of the infidel."

For they were in Santa Fe de Bogotá, city of the Holy Faith, two thousand six hundred meters above the level of the distant sea, and the cavernous bedroom with its bare walls, exposed to the icy winds that filtered through ill-fitting windows, was not the most favorable for anyone's health. José Palacios placed the basin of lather on the marble top of the dressing table, along with the red velvet case that held the shaving implements, all of golden metal. He put the small candleholder with its candle on a ledge near the mirror so the General would have enough light, and he brought the brazier to warm his feet. Then he handed him the spectacles with squared lenses and thin silver frames that he always carried for him in his jacket pocket. The General put them on and began to shave, guiding the razor with as much skill in his left hand as in his right, for his ambidexterity was natural to him, and he showed astonishing control of the same wrist that minutes before could not hold a cup. He finished shaving by touch, still walking around the room, for he tried to see himself in the mirror as little as possible so he would not have to look into his own eyes. Then he plucked the hairs in his nose and ears, polished his perfect teeth with charcoal powder on a silver-handled silk brush, trimmed and buffed the nails on his fingers and toes, and at last took off the poncho and poured a large vial of cologne over his entire body, rubbing it in with both hands until the flask was empty. That dawn he officiated at the daily mass of his ablutions with more frenetic severity than usual, trying to purge his body and spirit of twenty years of fruitless wars and the disillusionments of power.

The last visitor he received the night before was Manuela Sáenz, the bold Quiteña who loved him but was not going to follow him to his death. As always she would remain behind, charged with keeping the General informed of everything that happened in his absence, since for some time he had trusted no one but her. He left in her care some articles whose only value was that they had belonged to him, as well as some of his most prized books and two chests containing his personal archives. The previous day, during their brief formal farewell, he had said to her: "I love you a great deal, but I will love you even more if you show more judgment now than ever before." She understood this as another of the many homages he had paid to her in their eight years of ardent love. Of all the people he knew, she was the only one who believed him: this time it was true that he was leaving. But she was also the only person who had at least one telling reason for expecting him to return.

They had not intended to see each other again before the journey. Nevertheless, the lady of the house wanted to present them with the gift of a final, secret farewell, and she had Manuela, dressed in a cavalry uniform, enter through the main stable doors in order to sidestep the prejudices of the overpious local community. Not because they were clandestine lovers, for they were lovers in the full light of day and with great public scandal, but to preserve at all costs the good name of the house. He was even more careful, for he ordered José Palacios not to close the door to the adjoining room that was a necessary passageway for the household servants and where the aides-de-camp on guard duty played cards until long after the visit was over.

Manuela read to him for two hours. She had been young until a short time before, when her flesh began to overtake her age. She smoked a sailor's pipe, used the verbena water favored by the military as her perfume, dressed in men's clothing, and spent time with soldiers, but her husky voice still suited the penumbra of love. She read by the scant light of the candle, sitting in an armchair that bore the last viceroy's coat of arms, and he listened to her in bed, lying on his back, dressed in the civilian clothes he wore at home and covered by the vicuna poncho. Only the rhythm of his breathing indicated that he was not asleep. The book, by the Peruvian Noé Calzadillas, was entitled A Reading of News and Gossip Circulating in Lima in the Year of Our Lord 1826, and she read with a theatrical emphasis that matched the author's style very well.

For the next hour her voice was all that could be heard in the sleeping house. But after the last watch a sudden chorus of men's laughter erupted, rousing all the dogs in the courtyard. He opened his eyes, more intrigued than disturbed, and she closed the book in her lap, marking the page with her thumb.

"Those are your friends," she said to him.

"I have no friends," he said. "And if I do have any left it won't be for long."

"Well, there they are outside, standing guard so you won't be killed," she said.

That was how the General learned what the whole city already knew: not one but several assassination plots against him were brewing, and his last supporters were in the house to try to thwart them. The entrance and the corridors around the interior garden were held by hussars and grenadiers, the Venezuelans who would accompany him to the port of Cartagena de Indias, where he was to board a sailing ship to Europe. Two of them had placed their sleeping mats across the main doorway to the bedroom, and the aides-de-camp would continue playing cards in the adjoining room after Manuela finished reading, but surrounded by so many soldiers of uncertain origin and diverse character, this was not the time for feeling safe about anything. He showed no reaction to the bad news, and with a wave of his hand he ordered Manuela to continue reading.

He always considered death an unavoidable professional hazard. He had fought all his wars in the front lines, without suffering a scratch, and he had moved through enemy fire with such thoughtless serenity that even his officers accepted the easy explanation that he believed himself invulnerable. He had emerged unharmed from every assassination plot against him, and on several occasions his life had been saved because he was not sleeping in his own bed. He did not use an escort, and he ate and drank with no concern for what was offered him, or where. Only Manuela knew that his disinterest was not lack of awareness or fatalism, but rather the melancholy certainty that he would die in his bed, poor and naked and without the consolation of public gratitude.

The only noteworthy change he made that night in the ritual of his insomnia was that he did not take a hot bath before getting into bed. José Palacios had prepared it early, with water steeped in medicinal leaves to heal the General's body and facilitate expectoration, and had kept it at a good temperature for whenever he might want it. But he did not want it. He took two laxative pills for his chronic constipation and settled down to doze to the soothing murmur of Lima's gallant gossip. Then, without warning or apparent cause, he was overcome by an attack of coughing that seemed to shake the very foundations of the house. The officers gambling in the adjacent room were stunned. One of them, the Irishman Belford Hinton Wilson, came to the door in case he was needed, and he saw the General lying face down on the bed, trying to vomit up his insides. Manuela was holding his head over the basin. Jose Palacios, the only man authorized to enter his bedroom without knocking, stood on the alert, next to the bed, until the crisis passed. Then, with his eyes full of tears, the General took a deep breath and pointed to the dressing table.

"Those graveyard flowers are to blame," he said.

As always, for he always found some unpredictable cause for his misfortunes. Manuela, who knew him better than anyone, made a sign to José Palacios to take away the vase with the morning's withered spikenards. The General stretched out again on the bed and closed his eyes, and she resumed reading in the same tone as before. Only when it seemed to her that he had fallen asleep did she place the book on the night table, kiss his forehead, seared with fever, and whisper to José Palacios that after six o'clock that morning she would be waiting for a last goodbye at Cuatro Esquinas, where the King's Highway to Honda began. She wrapped herself in a battle cloak and tiptoed out of the bedroom. Then the General opened his eyes and said to José Palacios in a thin voice:

''Tell Wilson to take her home.''

The order was carried out against Manuela's will, for she thought she could protect herself better than a squadron of lancers. José Palacios lit their way to the stables, around an interior garden with a stone fountain, where the first spikenards of the dawn were beginning to open. The rain had stopped and the wind no longer whistled through the trees, but there was not a single star in the frozen sky. Colonel Belford Wilson repeated the password as he walked in order to quiet the sentries lying on straw mats in the corridor. When he passed the window of the principal reception room, José Palacios saw the master of the house serving coffee to the group of friends, military and civilian, who had volunteered to stand watch until the moment of departure.

When he returned to the bedroom he found the General in the clutches of delirium. He heard him utter disconnected phrases that all fit together into one: "Nobody understood anything." His body burned in a bonfire of fever, and he was farting stony, foul-smelling gas. The next day not even the General would be able to tell if he had been talking in his sleep or raving while awake, and he would not remember anything he said. These were what he called "my crises of dementia." They no longer alarmed anyone, since he had suffered them for over four years without any doctor risking a scientific explanation, and the following day would find him risen from the ashes with his reason intact. José Palacios wrapped him in a blanket, left the candle burning on the marble top of the dressing table, and went out without closing the door so he could continue watching from the adjoining room. He knew he would recover sometime at daybreak and immerse himself in the icy waters of the bath in an effort to restore the strength that had been ravaged by the horror of his nightmares.

It was the end of a clamorous day. A garrison of seven hundred eighty-nine hussars and grenadiers had rebelled on the pretext of demanding payment of wages they had not received for the past three months. But the real reason was this: most of them were from Venezuela, and many had fought wars for the liberation of four different nations, but in recent weeks they had been the victims of so much vituperation and provocation on the streets that they had cause to fear for their safety after the General left the country. The conflict was settled by payment of their travel expenses and a thousand gold pesos instead of the seventy thousand the insurgents had asked for, and at dusk they had marched away to their native land, followed by a pack of women with their baggage and all their children and domestic animals. The din of the bass drums and the military brass band could not drown out the tumultuous shouting of the mobs that set their dogs on them and hurled strings of firecrackers at their feet to make them break step, actions they had never taken against enemy troops. Eleven years earlier, after three long centuries of Spanish domination, the brutal Viceroy Don Juan Samano had fled through those same streets disguised as a pilgrim, but his trunks were full of gold statues and uncut emeralds, sacred toucans and brilliant stained-glass butterflies from Muzo, and there was no lack of people to weep for him from their balconies and throw flowers in his path and offer him heartfelt wishes for a calm sea and a prosperous voyage.

Copyright© 2003 by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“A fascinating tour de force and a moving tribute to an extraordinary man” —Margaret Atwood, The New York Times Book Review

“A distinguished book. . . . García Márquez splendidly presents his image of Latin America and of a great man redux.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A stunning portrait, convincing and poignant. . . . A tour de force.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Passage after passage shines with the brilliance of Mr. García Márquez. . . . He has invented some of the magic characters of our age. His general, however, is not only magic, but real.” —The Wall Street Journal

“As usual, García Márquez’s craftsmanship is nothing less than superb. His General’s story is tragic; his telling of it is luminous.” —The Dallas Morning News

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The General in His Labyrinth 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
alaskayoung More than 1 year ago
Anyone else reading this because of Looking for Alaska? I read One Hundred Years of Solitude in high school and... honestly it's a powerful and meticulously detailed book. So I'm willing to give this on a try - thanks John Green!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im reading this because Looking for alaska cx oops
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Looking for Alaska is my favourite book ever. Amazing philosophy and brilliant story.
tobiejonzarelli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Pulitzer Prize winner Marquez gives us the last days of Simon Bolivar as his health deteriorates and his legendary liberation of South America from Spanish rule is left trampled and his dream of a unified country turns to ash. Yes, there is history here, but what is striking is the sculpture of a dying man putting the layers of his life into place as he tolerates a journey to exile amidst derision and humiliation, yet with a faithful entourage. We travel with Bolivar on a trip down the Magdalena River as life slips slowly through his hands yet continues rushing around him. He always participates! Even as his body is ravaged, fevers and hallucinations deny him sleep, and food is odious, he still schemes and plans for a unified country despite all the obstacles. Emaciated and weak he still carries on with the voyage of life, not always with grace, often with temper but always with passion. No, I can't really call this a historical novel, not a novel in the typical sense either, what comes to mind more than anything is that this is a portrait. It is a picture of a prematurely old man in all of his magnificence and humanity as he slides away from us. It is not often pretty, bodies in decline seldom are, but it is life and this story is told with a beauty of which Marquez' is master. A worthwhile read!
santhony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I recently read the author¿s acclaimed work ¿Love in the Time of Cholera¿ and enjoyed it very much. It spurred me to seek out more work by Marquez, hence this and several others that I recently purchased. My second foray into Marquez was ¿One Hundred Years of Solitude¿. I was very disappointed in that novel and concerned that I¿d perhaps already seen the best he had to offer. Luckily, I followed up with ¿Love and Other Demons¿, finding it to be well worthwhile the effort. While not up to the standards of that novel, I nevertheless enjoyed this work.Marquez¿s writing is certainly unique in its earthiness. He deals with such subjects as sex, bodily functions and graphic illness as if they are parts of everyday life ¿ because they are. It is refreshing. Marquez is also known as one of the leading practitioners of the literary device of ¿magical realism¿ in which events are introduced into the story which are quite fantastic (for example, a character being swept away into the sky as though taken to heaven, a rain event that lasts over four years followed by an absolute drought of ten years). This was a major device used in One Hundred Years of Solitude and perhaps contributed to my dissatisfaction with that work. This work, on the other hand, is virtually a non-fiction work, having as its subject the final days of Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of the Americas. The General, at a very unhealthy 46 years of age has withdrawn from political life and announced his pending exile to Europe as he begins his journey in Bogota, floats down the Magdalena River, spends some time in Cartagena fomenting intrigue before his journey (and life) ends in Soledad. Throughout the odyssey, we witness the deteriorating physical condition (apparently tuberculosis) of the General as we are treated to numerous flashbacks of his fascinating life and adventures. The General is depressed and emotionally volatile as he witnesses the collapse of his lifetime dream and goal, the independence and unification of northern South America into a global super power. Even as the General wastes away, he observes the almost pre-ordained collapse of the fragile union of states and the pending insurrections and civil wars breaking out within them. It is a mess and he is powerless to prevent the carnage, though his very nature leads him to make the attempt. The author¿s writing is indisputably beautiful and at times mesmerizing. Much like LitToC, this is a haunting and compelling story, filled with sadness and regret. It is an intriguing look into the mind of one of the most compelling and important figures in world history.
SheWoreRedShoes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The subject of this novel is the final journey of General Simón Bolívar, the great revolutionist known throughout South America as The Liberator, one of the most intriguing and influential persons of the modern era. The novel opens in 1830 Santa Fe de Bogotá, after Bolívar had refused calls to declare himself monarch and had renounced the presidency of the Republic of Colombia, and as he prepared for the Magdalena River voyage that was to be his last. With clarity and lucidity, an image of General Bolívar¿man of extraordinary ideals and actions¿emerges, ever intertwined with an image of a man¿an everyman¿plagued and forever defeated by his own mortality. The fullness of García Márquez¿s Bolívar is evident throughout the novel as the tragic and the comic, the vulgar and the tender, pleasures and despairs, loyalties and betrayals, and the rational and irrational appear side-by-side, page-after-page. In other words, the novel and its main character are fully embodied with the exuberance and the grief of the human condition.
wouterzzzzz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
At times this Marquez novel is a bit slow, but in general it simply is a very good book. We follow the general on his journey, and see how he has to cope with diseases and his personal struggles. Don't expect too much excitement, but if you like good story-telling, Marquez' books are perfect.
nandadevi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Marquez had a long standing ambition to write a historical novel about Simon Bolivar´s last days. But when he came to it, and when he was done with it, he talked about the ´horror of this book´. Why did he choose to write the story of a man´s life at that time when his political legacy is rotting just as fast as his body? And write about that rot with the same lyricism that he brings to his descriptions of the surrounding poverty and pestilential heat? Perhaps the subject was so irresistible to Marquez because it sometimes seems it is the perpetual story of Latin America. And so depressing - indeed horrible as Marquez describes it - because the reader already knows how the story ends.But for all of that, I enjoyed the novelty of this history (coming at it with no real knowledge of Latin American history), and the lively description of characters and events. Up to a point, that is when the narrative brings Bolivar to the sea. I had a sense then that Marquez had grown tired of his subject. He starts to anticipate - in textual references - the timing of Bolivar´s death. One wonders whether he is telling the reader, and himself, ´look, not much longer to go now´. But the description of Bolivar´s death itself was worth the effort to plough through the last sixty pages or so which are otherwise devoted to a commentary on political manoeuvring set against a backdrop of, well..., political manoeuvring. Even Marquez can´t do much with this material, except get the reader through it at a breathless pace which sits oddly against the languid, ambivilent journeying that preceeds it.It´s hard to know whether this book will please people who know Marquez already as a story-teller (I didn´t). But I enjoyed it as an introduction to both Marquez and Latin American history and will go on to read more of both, knowing that this work is perhaps not the best of either, but a pointer to richer things.
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