I the Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos

I the Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos

Paraguayan fiction

Translator – Helen Lane

Augusto Roa Bastos is maybe a forgotten figure these days of latin american fiction and a major figure in the Latin American boom .He learned to read via his uncles extensive library ,fought in the Chaco war and later was a journalist writing at night best known for two books this one and the son of man .This book is a perfect example of latin american dictator literature another example would be Mario Vargas Llosa feast of the goat .

The book is Historic set in from the early 1800’s to the middle of the century .We meet the man who takes control of the landlocked Paraguay ,although this is a novel there was a number of people who ruled Paraguay during the 19th century that he could be ,he ends up being called dr francia he end up with the title the supreme ,el supremo in spanish .This book isn’t the easiest read it is dense with lots of footnotes and a drifting story .on the backof the book it is compared to Tristram Shandy .the story starts simple enough a notice is posted on the cathedral in the town,stating something about the el supremo death and beheading anyway this is false so we start on the line of how this note got there but then this gets sideline somewhat as we find the inner running of the country an ever shifting exercise in control of power from those inside the country and those outside the country .So through this we see the supremo and his ever faithful, servant sectary and man who has to put up with this guys giant ego Policarpo .Thou the setting for the novel is two hundred years ago the actions of the supremo are classic actions of a dictator and can still be seen in todays totalitarian regimes like North Korea the cult of one person is fostered and the people round him have to deal with his every whim .This is told in many forms of literary devices narrative ,reports ,footnotes creating almost a collage effect of writing ,oh and just in case you wondered the are some magic realist touches in the form of a dog that talks, being one. But what would you expect this did come out of a book at the height of latin american boom .I was so pleased when I found a second-hand copy of this book as I have really been wanting to read it since I first heard about it a couple of years ago. The book is out of print in the uk at moment which seems shame but second-hand copies are very cheap round the web if you look hard enough .

Have you read this ?

Any other Latin American books that are overlook you think I should try ?

The way of the kings by Andre Malraux

The way of the kings by Andre Malraux

French fiction

Translator Howard Curtis


Andre Malraux is one of the major figures of  pre and post war French fiction .That said he wasn’t just a writer but also a  statesman as part of De Gaulle government as minister of information and cultural affairs .He also spent time in early in his life with his wife spent time Indo china  but he fell foul of the local authorities at the time and joined the republican forces during the Spanish civil war and for the French resistance during the second world war .

The book starts on a liner heading to Indo china two men meet a young man Claude this guy is youngster in some ways maybe an early gap year wanting adventure and in some ways an easy way to the top ,he meets an older chap a dutch man who is an explorer that is off to darkest Siam  enthralled by the old mans tales and also his many talks of women he has met as well ,so this man Perken persuades his young friend to join him although he doesn’t take much persuasion,I was reminded of Richard in Alex Garlands the beach another young man wanting the more adventurous side of Indo -china  .So on the face of it is it a book in the vein of Conrad Heart darkness .But also I suppose you can compare it too Francis ford Coppola Apocalypse now which in turn is an homage to Conrad’s book and the action in that is also set in Indo china .The recent  extended redux cut we see a french family living in the wild parts of Vietnam talk about Frances part in Indo china history .This part of the world even inspired this years Prix Goncourt winner whose book was a history of french involvement in indo china .

So the men set of you have a feeling that there is something going to go wrong with this trip from the start .But like in heart of darkness get drawn in by the beauty they see wonderful statues As the men come closer we sense a sense of manhood and comrades .

The obsession overwhelmed him once again ,like an attack of fever he could question about the fearsome game to which he was about to bind his life .

Claude first meets Perken

Maybe you feel this is in part from Malraux own experiences in the area he travelled with his wife in the mid twenties but he fell foul of the authorities .This book was written five years after that .THE first part of the book is told by Claude but as things get worse in the jungle it is Perken that takes over the narration .later in the book the men spilt lose there guides and bad injuries .I found this a pleasant read one evening the book would fall into what Meike from Peirene press calls a two-hour book to read instead of watching a film 170 pages long and the boys own feel in the early parts really got me into the book as some one who used to write his own jungle adventure stories as a young kid I enjoyed this book .The book is translated by the ever reliable Howard Curtis.

Have you read Malraux ?

Do you have a favourite jungle based story ?

February 2012


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