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La Nieve del Almirante (La Otra Orilla) by…
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La Nieve del Almirante (La Otra Orilla) (original 1986; edition 1991)

by Álvaro Mutis

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1214187,645 (4.2)2
"Inicia la saga de Maqroll el Gaviero, viejo marinero errante que recorre los puertos y mares mas reconditos, alter ego del autor que expresa sus sentimientos mas profundos y oscuros, los estados de animo de todo su ser. En esta ocasion, Maqroll se adentra en un rio imaginario, el Xurando, y atraviesa la selva acompanado del imborrable recuerdo de Flor Estevez y de un libro que narra la muerte del Duque de Orleans."… (more)
Member:rolazp
Title:La Nieve del Almirante (La Otra Orilla)
Authors:Álvaro Mutis
Info:Grupo Editorial Norma (1991), Paperback, 149 pages
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La Nieve del Almirante by Alvaro Mutis (1986)

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The New York Review Books edition contains the seven linked novellas by the great Colombian poet and novelist Álvaro Mutis. I'll be posting a review of each novella as I move through the book, both under the combined NYRB edition and each of the separate volumes listed in Spanish.

THE SNOW OF THE ADMIRAL (La nieve del almirante)
For John Updike, The Snow of the Admiral is “rendered so vividly as to furnish a metaphor for life as a colorful voyage to nowhere.”

Maqroll the Gaviero - our intrepid trekker. The bulk of The Snows of the Admiral consists of a very personal diary written by the Gaviero (the Lookout) chronicling his journey up the Xurandó River through jungle in a diesel-powered barge. Xurandó, such an apt name for Álvaro Mutis's fictional river since the sound and spelling blend in so well with a number of indigenous Amazonian tribespeople: the Xipaya, the Xiriana, the Txikao, the Kaxarari.

How much can a reader cherish Maqroll? The Chilean poet Gonzalo Rojas threatened to sue Mr. Mutis if he ever killed off his beloved character. And Álvaro Mutis himself spoke of Maqroll as if he were a living person. After reading The Snow of the Admiral, the first of seven linked novellas forming The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, I likewise treasure the Gaviero and plan to join him on all his other quests right to the final paragraph of this 700-page modern classic.

Such passion for literature, Gonzalo Rojas! Likewise, John Updike, myself, and I’m supremely confident many other readers hold a special place for author Álvaro Mutis’s colorful, lovable voyager.

There's also that fascinating story behind the publication of The Snow of the Admiral: Back in 1986, the Columbian author, age 63, is editing one of his prose poems and realizes it “wasn’t a poem but a piece of a novel.” Then, with a sense of fatigue, Mr. Mutis processed to write a prose narrative and send the manuscript to his Barcelona agent along with a note telling her “I don’t know what the devil this is.” She replied back informing him what he wrote was “quite simply a wonderful novel.” And, give praise to the gods of literature, over the next five year, Álvaro Mutis proceeded to write six more short novels about Maqroll. Quite a feat for an author who spent a forty-five year career publishing not novels but poetry.

The New York Review Books edition of The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll is ideal - in addition to all seven novellas published together in English for the first time as one book, also included is an informative introductory essay written by Francisco Goldman, himself a celebrated novelist and friend of the author.

In his Introduction, Mr. Goldman relates the time when Álvaro Mutis spent his entire two week vacation sitting in a garden reading a stack of Charles Dickens novels morning until night. As Mr. Mutis told Francisco Goldman directly: “A real influence is an author who communicates an energy and a great desire to tell a story. And it isn't that you write like Dickens, but rather that when you read Dickens, you feel an imaginative energy which you use to your own ends.” Worth mentioning since many critics reading about Maqroll’s tropical river journeys compare the author to Joseph Conrad but it is Charles Dickens who is the prime influence for Álvaro Mutis.

Turning to The Snow of the Admiral, I’ll never forget in the first pages the narrator relating his purchase of a rare volume from a Barcelona secondhand bookstore only to notice tucked inside the back cover a diary written in tiny, cramped handwriting, a diary written by one Maqroll the Gaviero during his journey up a jungle river.

Likewise, Maqrill’s description of the captain as always semi-inebriated from steady drinking that keeps him in a state of euphoria alternating with a drowsy stupor; the mechanic, an Indian who speaks to the captain in a mixture of different languages; the pilot who reminds Maqroll of a menacing character from Little Dorrit (Álvaro Mutis and his voracious reading of Charles Dickens!); Maqroll’s fellow passenger, a calm blond giant speaking with a Slavic accent.

Or, when one nightfall, after the barge’s propeller hits a root, they’re forced to pull up on a sandy beach and a family of beautiful, tall, naked natives with their hair cut in the shape of a helmet and their teeth filed to points appear unexpectedly. And that night, Maqroll is aroused from a deep sleep by the Indian woman and shortly thereafter enters her and feels himself sinking into a bland, unresisting wax, all the time a putrid stench clinging to his body.

And yet again the way in which Maqroll recalls his own recurrent failures and how he, at least in his own mind, keeps giving destiny the slip. Also the Gaviero's recounting his various vivid dreams and fantasies along with establishing certain precepts, among which “Everything we can say about death, everything we try to embroider around the subject, is sterile, entirely fruitless labor. Wouldn’t it be better just to be quiet and wait? Don’t ask that of humans. They must have a profound need for doom; perhaps they belong exclusively to its kingdom.”

Then there are major episodes of the voyage, among which an old-style Junker seaplane landing near the barge and the appearance of a stern major who immediately takes complete control, the illness of Maqroll himself and his report of the near-death experience, the surprise encounter at Maqroll’s destination far up the jungle river.

But more than anything, the lush, poetic, intoxicating language, the full expanse of what it means to write sublime prose. Obviously, all those year Álvaro Mutis wrote his poetry exerted a profound influence on his writing his novellas. To take but one spectacular sentence as an example:

“I could discover that my true home is up there in the deep ravines where giant ferns sway, in the abandoned mine shafts and the damp, dense growth of the coffee plantings covered in the astonishing snow of their flowers or the red fiesta of their berries, in the groves of plantain trees, with their unspeakably soft trunks and the tender green of their reverent leaves so welcoming, so smooth: in the rivers crashing down against the great sun-warmed boulders, the delight of reptiles that use them for their lovemaking and their silent gatherings; in the dizzying flocks of parrots that fly through the air, as noisy as a departing army, to settle in the tops of the tall cambulo trees.”

After reading The Snow of the Admiral (the name of a memorable eatery for Maqroll, by the way), I was inspired to come up with the following quote: "Great literature is the opium of the book reviewer." I highly recommend joining Maqroll’s trip upriver. Completely addictive.

Special thanks to Goodreads friend Fionnuala for her engaging review of The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll that inspired me to start reading. Link to her review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1297736919?book_show_action=false&from...


Colombian author Álvaro Mutis, 1923-2013 ( )
  Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
Splendid book, full of the poetic writing of Alvaro Mutis. The stories of Maqroll, the seaman who is almost never at sea, go on like an epic dream. ( )
  sinaloa237 | Mar 17, 2009 |
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"Inicia la saga de Maqroll el Gaviero, viejo marinero errante que recorre los puertos y mares mas reconditos, alter ego del autor que expresa sus sentimientos mas profundos y oscuros, los estados de animo de todo su ser. En esta ocasion, Maqroll se adentra en un rio imaginario, el Xurando, y atraviesa la selva acompanado del imborrable recuerdo de Flor Estevez y de un libro que narra la muerte del Duque de Orleans."

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