Idleness was painful after so many years of wars, bitter governments, and trivial loves.”

The General In His Labyrinth by Colombian writer and Nobel laureate, Gabriel García Márquez, fictionalises the final days of Simon Bolivar, the man regarded as the figure who liberated South America from Spanish imperial powers.

This work raises many compelling questions about the way we choose to narrate our histories.

As he makes his final journey down the Magdalena River, frail and disillusioned, Bolivar finds himself lamenting his lost dream of a united South American alliance, as well as reliving the triumphs and defeats that characterised his life as a revolutionary.

We continuously catch Bolivar in various moments of almost childlike vulnerability: chronically constipated, singing in the bath, fainting as he descends a flight of stairs.

This work raises many compelling questions about the way we choose to narrate our histories. In fact, Márquez came under fire in certain circles in his representation of the revered figure as frail, weak and tormented.

It is true that, throughout the book, we continuously catch Bolivar in various moments of almost childlike vulnerability: chronically constipated, singing in the bath, fainting as he descends a flight of stairs. But as Márquez is quoted as saying in Latin American Writers At Work (George Plimpton, 2003): “No one ever said in Bolivar’s biographies that he sang or that he was constipated… historians don’t say these things because they think they are not important.” 

Words: Catherine Karellis

Images source: La Fiesta Esta Viva