The autumn of the patriarch

I read The autumn of the patriarch, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Very originally written, in very long phrases that contain hundreds of words, hardly having any connection sentences, The autumn of the patriarch is an expression, much like poetry, of a nameless dictator from the Americas, who lives and rules for a very very long time, comparable to an eternity.

We are shown what it means for a country to have an absolute ruler, who can dictate everything, starting from TV shows, the weather, who lives or dies, free sexual favors from whoever he feels like, free hundreds of offspring, the feel of unquestionable and unchallenged ultimate power.

Even if the ruler is on one side much less than educated – we can see that he cannot read nor write – on the other side he gets to make country-wide decisions without being questioned, and is seen by his people as the patriarch, the one who can lead them to a better life, even if grinding through his calls makes a lot of people suffer and die.

The patriarch is old, very old, and even if we do not know his age, we get the feeling that he is forever in office, even though we are reminded about his coming to power, however nobody knows how long ago it happened, neither anyone is alive that witnessed the events. The patriarch has the same weird habits, like counting the cows at the imperial palace, having people suffering of leprosy in his palace, checking by himself that all doors are closed, hiding his bee honey, even though him being the supreme leader nobody would steal from him. He can have all the luxury in the world yet he sleeps in a cold dark room, on the floor. We can see a glimpse of treachery paranoia, as he always feels someone is beside him in the room, even if he spends a lot of time and effort to lock all his doors and windows, to make sure he can sleep in safety. Sometimes the fear is not about a specific enemy in person, but maybe death itself.

We can see the patriarch even finds a clone, a man which resembles him physically very well, who is assassinated after many years in which he took his place in public places. The real dictator makes his reappearance after the scam funeral, just to see who his enemies are, and eliminate them. Such things make people think he is immortal and nobody even knows whether he is still alive or dead – television shows older photos and videos, during the years in which he has no mood to appear publicly, but still being alive and leading.

A central point in the novel is his mother, Benedicion Alvarado, which this time has a name. A former prostitute, now a simple woman who lives in the country-side, raising chickens and tending to simple house activities, his mother never realizes what is happening with her son, his power and his position. She still awaits him at home as she would have with a young boy. I can see a bit of mockery from the author regarding the mother pathology, showing that even the dictator has a mother, someone who can dictate to him.

More events that we can see in the book is the patriarch falling in love for a mysterious woman, which is depicted as the complete opposite of modern beauty: hairy, not feminine, boyish even. We see the patriarch falling for this woman who manages to become de facto ruler because of him allowing it, and the same patriarch devastated of pain when Letitia Nazareno is killed among with their child.

Other themes we can understand: enemy killing, hanging, population starvation, turning the dead mother into a saint, foreign politics, selling the sea around the country to the foreigners, physical suffering of the patriarch: born and living with testicle hernia.

We can see in the end that the autumn is not just about an endless regime, but also its real end, when the freeing death finally approaches the patriarch, which gives us the idea that in the end, nobody escapes from it.

The autumn of the patriarch is a strong expression of autocracy, a poem of power and the suffering caused, but also a glimpse into the solitude and unhappiness of power.