Monday, June 05, 2006

Our Lives Are the Rivers by Jaime Manrique

Manrique's novel is full of stories: how the teenage Manuela ran off with an amorous lieutenant, destroying her reputation; how she helped Bolívar dodge an ambush at the Presidential Palace in Bogotá, then met his intended assassins, saber in hand, earning her the honorific "liberator of the Liberator"; how in a letter she dispensed with James Thorne, her pasty English husband ("I have an idea: in heaven we will marry again; but no more on this earth. . . . Everything will be done in the English style in heaven, where a perfectly monotonous life is reserved for the people of your nation").

Yet Manrique doesn't always make these tales as vivid and convincing as they should be; it's as if he's holding his imagination in check. We hear about Bolívar's "perturbing maleness," but can't quite visualize the tiny, brooding conqueror in the flesh. And Manrique's Manuela can be a bore, especially when she pummels the reader with allusions to Don Quixote, or with trite revelations ("Had I fallen in love with a man whose true mistress was war?"). Her passions make her an engaging heroine, but it's not until she goes into exile and her spirit, liberated from her plague-ridden body, swirls above the lush volcanic wilderness of the Andes that Manuela — and Manrique's prose — begin to soar, freed perhaps from the clutches of history.

You can find the review here

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