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News from the Empire (Latin American…
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News from the Empire (Latin American Literature)

by Fernando del Paso

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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123497,888 (4.2)15
  1. 00
    Maximilian and Charlotte of Mexico by Egon Caesar Corti (brecha)
    brecha: Un excelente libro en el cuál varios autores de otros libros acerca de la pareja imperial en México se basan pues es una buena fuente de información creada a partir de los archivos que envío Maximiliano a Austria antes de la caída del imperio.
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» See also 15 mentions

Spanish (2)  English (2)  All (4)
Showing 2 of 2
Parts where Carlota raves in her 80s?
5 Stars
Parts which are letters between brothers or reproductions of court etiquette?
5 Stars
Plain jane dialogue parts?
4 Stars
Experimental pomo prose recollections?
3 stars
Historiography/rapid fire historical fact in place of prose?
2 Stars ( )
  billt568 | Sep 5, 2017 |
I've been reading this remarkable and complex book since September, and am somewhat at a loss about what to say about it. On the surface, it is the story of Maximilian and Carlota who were placed on the throne of Mexico as emperor and empress by the French: how that came about and what happened during their short-lived reign. So in that sense, "news from the empire" is news from the brief span of the Mexican empire. But the book is so much more: it spans the empires of Europe -- their pasts and their ends, their ruling families and their secrets -- as well.

Del Paso deluges the reader with the perspectives of dozens of participants and witnesses to the events of the 1860s, interspersed with the often crazy but equally often perceptive ravings of Carlota, who returned to Europe before Maximilian was killed, went mad (maybe was poisoned), was locked up in a castle, and lived another 60 years until 1927. Depending on whose story is being told, del Paso's language can be straight-forward, but more often than not consists of words piled on words, phrases piled on phrases, sentences piled on sentences. He is an amazing writer.

Maximilian was the brother of Franz Joseph, the ruler of the Austrian-Hungarian empire (although it was rumored his father was really Napoleon's son, the "king of Rome"), and Carlota (née Charlotte) was the daughter of Leopold of Belgium. For a complicated series of reasons, ostensibly involving debts of the Mexican government to several European countries and a desire to thwart the growing hemispheric interests of the United States, but really involving a grab for power, prestige, and empire, the French, under Louis Napoleon, decided to send troops to Mexico, make it an empire, and place Maximilian and Carlota on the throne. Needless to say, the Mexicans under Benito Juarez are not enamored of this plan, and continued to fight against the French, ultimately capturing Maximilian and sentencing him to death.

Who are some of the people who offer their perspectives? Emperors and empresses (Louis Napoleon and his wife Eugenie), aides to Maximilian, military officers (including a particularly vicious one), priests (including one obsessed with sex), a Mexican spy, a military man writing home to his brother who is more of a free thinker, those concerned with imperial protocol, and many many more. It takes a while sometimes to figure out who is "talking" and what his (usually his, not her) connection to the story is. But the star of the novel is Carlota, locked up in Bouchout Castle in Belgium, obsessing 60 years after Maximilian was killed about her love for Maximilian, her hatred for Maximilian, her belief that he is still alive, her knowledge that he is dead, and about the history of many of the European empires and the behavior of the families who led them -- and about what has happened in those 60 years, including many inventions (such as the typewriter and the airplane), many wars, most notably World War I, and the ends of several empires.

Towards the end of this 704-page tome, when del Paso has switched to some more strictly historical sections, he writes:

". . . one can always -- with talent -- push history to the side and, based on an event or some historical characters, construct a self-sufficient novelistic or dramatic world. The allegory, the absurd, the farce are some of the possible modes available to an author for creating such a world: everything is possible in literature, so long as you aren't pretending to adhere to history. But what happens when an author can't escape history? When an author can't consciously forget what has been learned. Or, better yet, when an author doesn't see fit to ignore the overwhelming mass of facts available on a subject -- crucial in terms of their influence over the lives, the deaths, the destinies of the characters in his tragedy, a tragedy of his own? In other words, what happens -- what can you do-- when you don't want to avoid history, but do want to achieve poetry? Perhaps the solution is . . . to try and reconcile everything that might be true in history using the exactitude available to invention. In other words, instead of pushing history to the side, place it alongside invention, alongside allegory, and even mix it together with some wild fantasy. . . . our poetic reinvention would go hand in hand with history: a history, however, whose authenticity -- as we must warn the reader -- as I must warn the reader -- cannot be guaranteed, except on the level of the symbolic." p. 676

How nice of him to tell the reader what he has been doing for the past 675 pages!

History is definitely one of the themes of this novel, and not just history but how the history of one place interacts with the history of another and with people's characters and actions -- how all this is interwoven.

At times I was overwhelmed by the density of del Paso's language, and at times I thought I would never finish this book, but by the end I was entranced by the world del Paso had created and in awe of his inventiveness and creativity, as well as his writing ability. As I said at the beginning, this is a remarkable book.
7 vote rebeccanyc | Oct 31, 2014 |
Showing 2 of 2
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Fernando del Pasoprimary authorall editionscalculated
Clark, StellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
González, AlfonsoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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