Sunday, January 24, 2010

Carpentier Strikes a Chord

Wow, that was definitely an interesting read. Although I enjoyed Leyendas de Guatemala, reading through it always felt like a chore. This was most certainly not the case with El reino de este mundo. While Carpentier does use a rich vocabulary that was somewhat daunting at times, as a whole, his prose was manageable and, more importantly, compelling. With every page I read, I found myself becoming more deeply connected to Carpentier's words, and the story that he was crafting.

Like many of my classmates have already commented, Carpentier's writing is definitely a clearer portrayal of what "realismo magĂ­co" is, especially in comparison to something like Leyendas de Guatemala. In the prologue to the narrative, Carpentier offers his take on "lo real marvilloso" and why it a phenomenon that is specific to the Americas. For instance "Lo real marvilloso se encuentra a cada paso en las vidas de hombres que inscribieron fechas en la historia del Continente..." Carpentier expresses a certain mysticism that is associated with the Americas and, more specifically, the exploration and development of the land. After reading Asturias and now reflecting on Carpentier's prologue, for no apparent reason, it suddenly started making sense to me why there is a mystique surrounding Central/South America and the Carribean. In the grand scheme of things, the countries that now constitute these geographical regions are young. Moreover, they are littered with lush rainforests, diverse flaura and fauna, interesting animals, volcanoes and relics of ancient advanced civilizations. Since the beginning of the conquest, writers have struggled to describe the wonder and awe that is the reality of the Americas.

Natural beauty aside, Central America and the Carribean have also been a setting for numerous extraordinary events. The Haitian revolution is an example of one such event. If one is seeking a detailed historical account of the Haitian revolution, then Carpentier's novel is definitely no a good choice. On the other hand, if one is seeking an enchanting and mystical version of the revolution, then Carpentier is the man you should talk to. There is little doubt that the backbone of Carpentier's tale is deeply rooted in actual history- characters, settings, major events that all actually occurred during the revolution. However, Carpentier chooses to bend and warp the truth in such a way that the reader feels like they are experiencing reality, except in some chemically altered state of mind. I think the best example of this "tactic" is the way in which Carpentier chooses to illustrate Mackandal. By all historical accounts, Mackandal was a man of flesh and bone like any other; however, his rebellion against the white oppressors at the time helped garner him a certain amount of notoriety. Carpentier decided to play on this idea by transforming the man that was Mackandal into a sort of demi-god that possesses powers of transformation. The portrayal of Mackandal as a "demi-god" type of character is only one small example of the numerous instances that Carpentier consciously chooses to "embellish" the truth in a magical and fascinating way. The interplay between reality and the supernatural courses through the veins of Carpentier's pages.

Overally, I greatly enjoyed reading the first half of the book. I definitely feel as though I may have pushed through the reading a bit quicker than I should have and didn't pick up on some of the finer details, but I think that's pretty much an inevitability at this point. Looking forward to the rest!


  1. I completely agree with what you said in your second paragraph about the phenomenon of the existence of "lo real maravilloso" in Latin America, because it is incomparable to the Europe, and what was familiar to the first explorers. It is interesting to see how the idea of "lo real maravilloso" differed from the description written by these first explorers because the words to describe it did not exist because Latin America was entirely different. But even still with this idea of "lo real maravilloso" the words continue to not exist.

  2. I see Carpentier's presentation of Mackandal just as you described it: his transformational "powers" are meant to mark him as an exceptional character and historical figure in Haiti and all of Latin America. I wonder if Carpentier was inspired by the way that the story of Mackandal is told in Haiti; as I imagine his story is presented with some elements of what we would call "magic".