Anything described as even faintly Borgesian is always good for me, which is why I did not hesitate to read Colonel Lágrimas by Carlos Fonseca Suárez—who was born in Costa Rica in 1987 and grew up in Puerto Rico. He lives in London and teaches at the University of Cambridge.
The novel is published by Brooklyn-based Restless Books (@RestlessBooks)—“an international publisher for a world in motion”. Colonel Lágrimas—which is loosely based on the life of the eccentric German-born French mathematician Alexander Grothendieck (1928–2014)—is “a world-spanning tour de force of history, politics, literature, mathematics, and philosophy” and an appealing “human story of the forces that have created the modern world”.
When the novel opens, the enigmatic Colonel has withdrawn himself to the Pyreness, distancing himself from the society. He is busy at work on a final, mysterious project. What emerges is a perplexing web of coffee, cigarettes, alcohol, the lives of eccentric characters, and references to major events and social trends—the Spanish Civil War, Vietnam, big data, equations, what not. All that’s left in the end is the colonel’s monastic madness and his laugh—“the story of an imploding century”.
I’m still trying to make sense of this book. It was a swift, weird, overwhelming experience—and I don’t think I can write a long and coherent review. But there’s one thing that turned out to be a kind of key—and a thought-provoking one at that—to the eponymous character’s insanity and self-imposed isolation. In a letter to a man named Maximiliano Cienfuegos, the colonel writes:
The century in which we are living, my dear Maximiliano, is the age of work. The nineteenth century was merely a harbinger of what was headed our way. Man has lost the ability to take a nap. And, I tell you, wars are the catastrophes of a century that, now exhausted, opts for a final implosion. If only we knew the value of a siesta, the pleasure of the hours lost to leisure, we would understand that history needs to seek the counterweight of its energies in its respite. Or perhaps all this is to tell you to take your naps, that the moments of creation are different from those of work.
So don’t forget to take your naps!
Other Spanish-language books on this blog: The Art of Flight by Sergio Pitol, The Clouds by Juan José Saer, Seeing Red by Lina Meruane, Andean Journeys: A Bilingual Anthology of Contemporary Bolivian Poetry edited and translated by Ronald Haladyna…