Friday, October 19, 2018

Alejo Carpentier, The Chase (1956)

Boy, THIS one certainly went faster. Yes, it's less than half as long as The Lost Steps, but even adjusting for that. So here's the deal: there's a college student who dropped out to join a revolutionary group committing acts of terrorism against the authorities is on the run from said authorities. He takes refuge in a concert hall where a symphony is performing Beethoven's Eroica. Most of the novella takes place in flashback, mostly from his perspective but also from that of a ticket-seller at the concert hall. The whole thing is meant to mimic a musical piece, with the fugitive's narrative being the main theme, interwoven with that of the ticket-seller and also a prostitute, Estrella, with whom they are both involved.

You might wonder: what are the political valences of this book? Should it be seen as a critique of the Batista regime? Well, Carpentier was living in exile in Venezuela when he wrote the book, so he could have spoken out had he wanted to, but if there's any concrete political commentary here, it's pretty oblique. As I see it, it's a more generalized portrait of power and resistance. The whole thing is, appropriately, rather operatic; I can easily imagine someone writing an actual opera based on it. Actually, the more I think about it, the more cool that sounds. Someone get on it.

It's pretty riveting. It's one of those things where it's a bit disorienting at first, trying to put things together, but then it's rewarding when everything falls into place. You really feel the protagonist's inevitable downfall. "One of the few perfect novellas in Spanish," Guillermo Cabrera Infante called it. I think I'd have to reread it in order to render my own verdict in that regard, but Carpentier was a great talent, and can you believe the English translation didn't appear until 1989, thirty-three years after it was published? MY GOODNESS.


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