The General in His Labyrinth
is a biographical, historical and fiction novel, all combined into one. Its central character is the "General" - Simon Bolivar - one of the heros of Spanish America's struggle for independence. The novel traces his final journey as he tries to leave South America for an exile in Europe, after resigning his presidency in 1830. In narrating this story, the author Garcia-Marquez breaks away from the larger than life portrayals of the national hero and instead paints the picture of an ordinary man - old, sick tired, defeated and confused from the struggles he waged all his life. The key to this portrayal is the charatcter of Jose Palacio – the General’s aide-de-camp for six years, who recalls past events for the General, filling in not only history but also the personal context of General’s everyday life.
The novel starts on May 8, 1830 in Santa Fe de Bogota as the General prepares to leave for port of Cartagena de Indias, while the people he helped liberate scrawl graffiti against him and throw waste on him. Though he wants to move out as soon as possible, the Vice President elect, General Domingo fails to arrange for his passport in time. Thus he leaves the town without his passport, with a few officials still loyal to him including Jose Placios, a few clerks and dogs. As the journey progresses, the General starts to lose his identity and prestige in the labyrinth that is history, and the rest of the novel is a poignant portrayal of a man struggling with the downturn of his fortune. For example, even on the first night of his voyage, the people at Facataiva fail to recognize him while his aide-de-camp is constantly mistaken for the liberator. At the port of Mompox, police stop him, fail to recognize him, demand a passport, which he still does not have, and only after suffering the humiliating accusations of being an impostor of himself, he is finally recognized and escorted to the port. In Turbaco, he learns of petty political fights over the now vacant post of president and makes a very telling statement that his “dream began to fall apart on the very day it was realized”. Very soon, he suffers another loss in form of his close friend Field Marshall Sucre having been ambushed and assassinated in the power struggle. He is further tormented by the irony that his friend-turned-assassin General Santander will now return from his exile to be a presidential candidate while he will die an anonymous death in exile. The General rides a mule into the last towns on his journey towards death. He dies in poverty, a shadow of the man who liberated much of the continent, and the people burn his belongings in fear of catching his illness. Although all his life he professed that he does not pay “much attention to death, because that distracts one from the most important thing: what one does in life”, he ultimately dies in Santa Marta, never being actually able to leave the Americas. Apart from showing the personal and individual aspects of a historical figure and his disillusionment, the novel highlights the how the labyrinth of history is totally indifferent to people, even to those who are supposedly its creators.