you‘ll like this poetic equivalent too. Anyone who can reduce the strain of Eliot‘s Prufrock to a mere three lines — ‘Life? Ah. what‘s the gist‘.’/ Desist: I‘d stick to mist./ Or dream of fishy tryst.'— gets my vote. Discuss. (Richard Goslan)
Philip Parr finds martyrs and murderers amongst this month's new publications. Uncle Joe Stalin may have wrecked a life or two but he certainly boosted a few flagging literary careers. Prior to having his conscience pricked by Stalin‘s atrocities. Osip Mandelstam‘s output had slowed to a trickle. But his creative surge whilst in a concentration camp secured his place in history and led Bruce Chatwin to label him ‘our century‘s literary martyr‘. Two collections of Mandelstam's work have just been published. The first. Stone (Collins Harvill £6.95). was his first book ofpoems. originally published in 1913 but just as vibrant. exciting and relevant today. The second is a virtually complete volume of The Collected Critical Prose and Letters (Collins Harvill £9.95). More searching. and occasionally intellectually overpowering. the letters give an insight into a man of mighty vision. Both books. although verging towards the highest of high brow. are utterly absorbing.
The same is true ofTime Among The Maya by Ronald Wright (Futura £5.99). Wright has all the panache of the great travel writers as he meanders through the slightly less dictatorial Central American regimes of Mexico and Guatemala. His enthusiasm for the subject (a civilisation which makes Ancient Greece look like a spring turkey) and his descriptions of the environment in which they are found fulfil the primary role of all travel books; you really want to jump on a plane and follow in his footsteps.
Whilst the last stirrings of Maya eloquence were being snuffed out by the ‘civilising’ forces of Spanish barbarism. Britain was also revelling in gore. The Newgate Calendar by George Theodore Wilkinson (Cardinal £4.99) has little doubt about its importance. On the sleeve notes it is announced that in 1828, most houses possessed two books — ‘this one and The Bible’. Regency folk obviously couldn’t get their fill of blood’n‘guts from Samson,
Goliath et al. so The Newgate Calendar obliged by chronicling several of the more notorious criminals who found their way to The Tyburn Scaffold. The justification for all of this voyeurism was that it would be a salutary warning of the wages of sin for potential delinquents. Of course. everyone actually bought it for the spice. It‘s still an interesting read today so long as you have the stomach to cope with the occasional live burning and hanging in chains when the mob caught the criminal before the more
Simon Bolivar is preparing, on 8 May 1830, to leave Bogota, on his last journey, after 'twenty years of fruitless wars and the disillusionment of power.‘ They were years spent liberating South America from the Spanish, sending viceroys stinking out of capitals, carrying “trunks full of gold, statues and uncut emeralds, sacred toucans and brilliant stained-glass butterflies. . . ' In ‘The General In His Labyrinth’, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s unfolding tale— much of it In flashback —oi political intrigue, Bolivar’s love affair with power Is spiced with details of his love for Manuela Saenz, a companion in arms who brings him chocolate and marzipan along with soundings of the populace on the precarious balance of his mind and career.
We meet Bolivar, ‘The General' of the title, as his political star, so long in the ascendant, is burning out rapidly. After losing a decisive election he sets out lorthe Caribbean coast from Colombia's sweltering Interior, following the course of the Magdalena river. He carries the remnants of his fortune with him, a fortune which had been one of the greatest In the Americas. This was the man who, at 47, had been President of Bolivia and
Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Colombia, and Dictator of Peru. Now there are only hints of his former glory — a red velvet shaving case, buttons made from the gold of the Inca King and God Atahualpa, Potosi silver on saddle and spurs.
His disintegration is painfully charted, with constipation, fever, insomnia, mental instability and impotence shadowing his political and military collapse. Despite a last attempt to recover some of his power- sympathisers are active In Venezuela - the Liberator is finished. Shortly before his death, Bolivar weighs only 88th, and will weigh ten less in the final days.
All hope of power extinguished,
Bolivar finally makes his way to a friend’s sugar plantation in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Marquez shows him travelling down the road to the house In a berlln carriage, smelling hot molasses In the breeze. And he shows his corpse, laid in an oxcart ten days later, wrapped in an old blanket, travelling the same road, in the opposite direction.
This Is not a book on which to base any real political iudgemenf of the man who led the wars against Spain. Marquez has given us the story of a man’s physical and political decline against the compelling backdrop of the continent he fought to unity and which, by his death, stood on the brink of lifetimes of civil war. This was a man who felt that ‘the devil controls the business of my life', and Marquez shows us why. ‘The General In His Labyrinth’ is a brilliant chronicle of Its hero's last ioumey, a painful portrayal of the debilitating effects of the loss of power, and is replete with the vivid Images which Marquez uniquely produces, of Colombia's suffocating heat, of purifying waters, open sewers, curative poppies, clouds of mosquitoes, topaz pins In silk ties, and of Bolivar himself- lover, soldier, philosopher, madman. (Cathy Boylan) The General In His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is published by Jonathan Cape, priced £13.99.
humane authorities. Most entertaining are the accounts of ‘sharpers’ who seemed to perform the 18th-century equivalent of Blankcty Blank guests— that is. they conned their way into the public eye and'then lived off the the rich pickings of fame without possessing any discernible talent. Ah. it‘only Tyburn was still active for the likes of Lorraine Chase.
There's more bloodletting in Malachy and His Family by Carlo Gebler (Abacus £4.50). Gebler is an Irishman ofHungarian origin and this is a novel of a Hungarian-Irish New Yorker. Confused? you will be. As a fictitious family history covering a century in a little over 200 pages the book is passable enough. But the ‘twist‘ at the denouement does little to justify the effort that has gone into its writing.
In the same vein but from a very different league is The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant Michel Tremblay (Serpent‘s Tail £7.99). This is the first ofa five—part. semi-autobiographical wander through the streets and houses of Tremblay‘s life. The characters are entrancing and believable. the detail precise. and the style superb. Tremblay loves to enter the heads of his subjects and saturate the reader with their ponderings and plans. Whether it‘s a child of four. a pregnant woman, or even a cat, Tremblay‘s assumption of the role is eminently plausible. How are we expected to wait for the remaining four instalments?
TUESDAY 15th JANUARY at 7.30pm
(AUTHOR OF OUINCUNX) WILL READ FROM HIS BRILLIANT
(JONA THAN CA PE, 21 1.99)
IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO ATTEND AND WISH TO RESERVE A SIGNED COPY PLEASE PHONE 031 225 3436
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The List 11 -24 January 1991 85