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Empresas y Tribulaciones de Maqroll el…

Empresas y Tribulaciones de Maqroll el Gaviero (Spanish Edition) (edition 2001)

by Alvaro Mutis

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6241730,331 (4.36)75
"Collects in one volume the seven novels describing the saga of Maqroll el Gaviero from 'La nieve del almirante' (1986) to 'Tríptico de mar y tierra' (1993). The reader follows Maqroll's life of errancy and adventure, but eventually a powerful sense of dejá vu takes hold as Mutis overuses the exoticism that originally made his fiction so refreshing"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 58.… (more)
Title:Empresas y Tribulaciones de Maqroll el Gaviero (Spanish Edition)
Authors:Alvaro Mutis
Info:Alfaguara (2001), Paperback, 776 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by Alvaro Mutis


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I read and reread this book many times. Mostly I now open it at random and let Alvaro Mutis’ prose carry me to magical places. But Mutis writing, as beautiful and effortless as it is, pales on the strength of the character he created. Maqroll is an anti-hero always in the margins of society, always traveling from port to port, meeting people in an underworld of brothels and bars. Maqroll’s quest is never defined, and never attainable. He is a voyager from another realm, someone lost in a dream.
I cannot recommend this book enough….
( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
Where to begin? Where to end! Seven shorter "novels" are collected in this mighty volume featuring the restless, elusive and ultimately mysterious Maqroll, a sort of everyman in his absolute uniqueness and unknowableness, a subject of fascination to his "Boswell" -- a man both literary and practical and with a settled life. Maqroll is also not everyman in the extraordinary adventures and experiences he has had. Even his place of birth is unknown, as is the peculiar spelling of his name. (I decided he was descended from the Irish Wild Geese--exiles of the late 18th century's failed rebellion.) For he is somewhat like Odysseus, but one not having a home to return to. He is a man of ideals and a man for hire up for almost anything, a man full of dreams and a man with no allegiances to any country, a man of myriad languages and much erudition. He is a man with no country, loose in the world, us and not us--for are not we all in the same predicament? The most consistent aspects of Maqroll's personality are that he cannot keep money in his pocket and that once a friend, always a friend. When someone mentions a money-making scheme however, Maqroll cannot resist even when: "The presence of danger, unspecified but obvious, plunged him into an all too familiar state of mind: ennui, a weary tedium that invited him to admit defeat, to halt the passage of his days, for they were all marked by the kind of venture in which someone else always profited, took the initiative, forced him into the role of the innocent dupe who served other people's purposes without realizing it." My copy of Maqroll bristles with pink stickies. Marvelous bits of pith: of a friend he writes, ". . . one of his typical character traits was a professorial and very German need to explain everything with pointless precision, as if the rest of the human race needed his assistance to understand the world." Or on weather: "Weather is a purely personal matter. There is no such thing as a climate that is cold or hot, good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. People take it upon themselves to create a fantasy in their imaginations and call it weather." One of the fine amusements in this otherwise rather gloomy but strangely compelling and beautiful tale, is how Mutis introduces each new venture -- I wish I had marked them, but you begin to realize that even this 700 page volume doesn't begin to cover the varied enterprises, both criminal and not, Maqroll had been engaged in from Kuala Lumpur to Anchorage, from fishing for salmon to running a high class whorehouse in Panama City. And I haven't mentioned the romantic theme of the book, the tramp steamer, now almost extinct, replaced by the humongous container ships and vigilant customs patrols. (Have I said the book is set in the 50's and 60's and maybe into the 70's for all that it feels timeless?) A deeply romantic and lyrical tale, this is, written in formal, precise, and elegant prose. Quite amazing. It took me so long to read I can't quite give it five stars, but as a literary work, really, it deserves them. ****1/2 ( )
1 vote sibylline | Dec 28, 2019 |

This New York Review Books edition contains 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. Here is my review of the first three:

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.

ILONA COMES WITH THE RAIN (Ilona llega con la lluvia)
This Álvaro Mutis novella, the second in a series of seven forming The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll, could carry the subtitle: A Tale of Freedom and Fate. And the more we turn the pages, the deeper we dive into this tale, the progressively more gripping. Since the storyline is simply too good and loaded with too many unexpected twists, I’ll steer clear of plot and offer comments on the following people, places and things:

Frame: The narrator, author of the six chapters we are about to read, recounts his many conversations with Maqroll wherein he would revisit key episodes of the Gaviero’s tale again and again until they were fixed in his memory so he could write in a way that would allow “our friend” to speak directly to the reader. One thing the narrator (who might or might not be Álvaro Mutis himself) takes pains to make clear is the past and future held little consequence for Maqroll; rather, the adventurer gave the impression “his exclusive and absorbing purpose was to enrich the present with everything he happened upon.” To my mind, one of the glories of the human experience: storytelling as enrichment.

Globetrotting Gaviaro: Our protagonist is an adventurer, a radical individualist, which ultimately boils down to life as a solo journey – lovers and friends are embraced at the next port or on the next barge, but when it's time to move on, you travel alone. If there is any one of the seven Álvaro Mutis novellas placing Maqroll's wandering philosophy in bold capital letters, it is Ilona Comes with the Rain.

Colorful Portrayals: Maqroll looks out at the dock in Cristóbal; he’s under the command of a luckless Captain of a dilapidated freighter painted the garish yellow of a yellow-tailed parrot, a captain who is about to have his boat taken away and who goes by the name of Witto - thin, of medium height with bushy brows covering his eyes, a man of slow, precise speech and who bares the mark of defeat, one with a secret emotional disorder who moves through life as if needing to hide a deep, painful psychic wound. Reading Álvaro Mutis is a literary feast – characters, landscapes, city streets, everything described in vibrant, memorable detail.

Panama City: Once in this bustling metropolis, his first time ever, all blaring car horns and howling sirens, Maqroll knows in advance he’ll never encounter anyone he will recognize. All new faces – just the way he likes it. First off, after making arrangements at a not so rundown hotel, he locates an ideal bar, quiet, attentive but not overly talkative bartender and returns to his hotel room drunk that night.

I’ll never forget the Gaviero’s shock the next morning at finding an enormous, naked black woman with Zulu warrior hair asleep beside him. He gives her some money and kicks her out. Ditto the next morning after yet again another drunken night at the bar, only this time she’s a terrified bleach blonde. No money exchanged, Maqroll simply kicks her out and goes down to pay a visit to the concierge. He assures Maqroll it will never happen again. The next week the rainy season hits like a tornado, turning the city streets into impossible to cross rivers. Our adventurer hunkers down in his hotel room and reads. Ah, books to the rescue! Then it happens: paying a visit to one of the city's casinos, he recognizes a past love: the alluring, captivating Ilana.

Ilona: Tall, blonde, athletic, age forty-five, spirited Ilona has a comparable sense of life as an ever expanding adventure. Ilona the Vivacious and Maqroll the Gaviero – quite a team; their common adversary: boredom and monotony. Ilona and Maqroll have rousing success in Panama City (a ton of loot and a ton of fun) operating their new, creative business venture (unique upscale house of prostitution). But they reach a point, surprise, surprise, for restless adventurers, where an added infusion of energy is called for – and they get what they’re after in the form of a beauty with long jet black hair and mysterious past – Larissa.

The Fourth Dimension: At this point Álvaro Mutis kicks his tale into what some might term magical realism or the fantastic or the supernatural. Gripping is understatement. Maqroll is unhinged, as is Ilona; she confides in the Gaviero: “Something in Larissa awakens my demons, those ominous signs in me that I learned to tame when I was a girl, to keep anesthetized so they don’t come up to the surface and put an end to me.”

Coda: As noted above, this novella hits squarely on the philosophical dimensions of fate and freedom. Good luck and bad luck could be added to the mix. With Larissa the stakes are raised. All of a sudden our two adventurers are caught in an episode of life and death. A tale not to be missed.

The third in a series of seven novellas forming The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll by the great Columbian author Álvaro Mutis, the only one in the series not written in intimate first person.

Why the switch in voice? Maqroll is an older man in this tale – a specific age is not given but one can infer the Gaviero is in his sixties. Perhaps an objective third person narrator provides a more panoramic lens, an opportunity to step back and view the arc of Maqroll’s entire life from a distance.

In similar spirit, perhaps also it is no coincidence Un Bel Morir returns to the landscapes of Maqroll's childhood - in and around a river town near coffee plantations nestled in the Andes Mountains, a small town by the name of La Plata (not the city south of Buenos Aires in Argentina). This is a tale of high adventure, a thriller with a cast of colorful characters. Here are several:

Doña Empera: Blind old woman who runs the boardinghouse where Maqroll spends an entire two months lolling about, paying visits to the local tavern or in his room overlooking the gently murmuring, tobacco colored river where he occasionally reads about the life of Saint Francis of Assisi or from a two volume set containing letters of the Prince of Ligne. On occasion the Gaviero will even read aloud to Doña Empera, a trusted and knowledgeable source of information on all matters relating to La Plata, including the young women who come down from the mountains to provide companionship for men.

Anparo Maria: Columbian Aphrodite with a stern, fierce Gypsy air, a lady of few, well-chosen words who hungers for affection. And she receives what she’s after every time she pays a visit to the Gaviero. Is it any surprise this sensual lovely and the aging adventurer form a bond of the heart? At times Anparo Maria reminds Maqroll of Flor Estévez and at others Ilana Grabowska (Readers will be familiar with Flor from The Snow of the Admiral; Ilana from Ilana Comes with the Rain). The Gaviero considers Anparo Maria a gift from the gods, in all likelihood at this point in his life, the last he will receive.

Jan van Branden: Over the course of several evenings between drinks down at the town tavern, this burly red-bearded Belgium talks Maqroll into transporting equipment up a mountain as part of a railroad project. The Galviaro smells a rat. Is van Branden really Belgium? Does he, in fact, have a background in engineering? Are those crates loaded with railroad equipment or something highly illegal and maybe even dangerous? He initially vacillates but ultimately surrenders and accepts the proposition. Hey, the Gaviero might be old but he still has the fire of risk and adventure in his soul. After all, sitting around the boardinghouse reading books to an old blind woman strikes him as a less appealing alternative. He reflects: “The real tragedy of aging lay in the fact that an eternal boy still lives inside us, unaware of the passing of time.”

The Helpers: Rancher Don Anibal offers hospitality and seasoned advice as the Gaviero makes his way up the mountain. There’s danger around every bend. Maqroll is joined by Zuro, a young man who proves an invaluable sidekick, an expert mule driver, desperately needed as mules are carrying the load. On one trek up Zuro warns Maqroll, “Be careful of your sleep senor, Señor. You need to stay alive. In the barrens altitude the exhaustion make you dream a lot. It’s not good for you. You don’t get your strength back, and they’re never good dreams. Just nightmares. I know what I’m talking about: the foreigners who came to try mining all went crazy and tried to murder each other in the tavern or drowned themselves in the whirlpools in the river.”

Men in Uniform: The Gaviero usually has had to deal with both the police and the military at one point or the other during the misadventure part of his adventures. Never a totally satisfying or pleasant experience but Maqroll knows the drill only too well – either cooperate or in all likelihood lose your freedom or even your life. On this mountain adventure it isn’t any different. He’s seen it many times before. He is brought before a Captain Segura who demands his orders be followed without exception and a Captain Ariza who demands he repeat his story over and over without deviating from the truth. Follow orders? Repeat the truth? Fortunately Maqroll the Gaviero comes through as Maqroll the Gaviero – a most satisfying reading experience.

Lastly, permit me to underscore the sumptuous language and exquisite storytelling. There's good reason fans of Maqroll cherish Álvaro Mutis' cycle of seven novellas. And I'm sure Un Bel Morir is high on the list.

Special thanks to Goodreads friend Fionnuala for her engaging review of this book 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

“Weather is a purely personal matter. There is no such thing as a climate that is cold or hot, good or bad, healthy or unhealthy. People take it upon themselves to create a fantasy in their imagination and call it weather. There's only one climate in the world, but the message that nature sends is interpreted according to strictly personal, non-transferable rules.”
― Álvaro Mutis, The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll ( )
1 vote Glenn_Russell | Nov 13, 2018 |
Mutis displays prevalent talent in the unveiling of the adventures and misadventures of the mysterious Maqroll. There is a richness to Mutis' prose and a depth to his writing that evokes comparisons to Conrad, Neruda, and Whitman. I also felt a Dickensian tone to certain parts, primarily those that came straight from Maqroll.

On the basis of talent alone, it's an awesome book. Maqroll is the gin to Mutis' vermouth, a timeless combination - the perfect dry martini. Layered but smooth enough to carry the reader into the travels of Maqroll. To have those layers, to be able to bring so much into a novella, speaks volumes to Mutis' ability as a stylist.

I wouldn't go so far as to classify Maqroll as a 'hero' though the combined weight of his experiences could certainly outfit the classical epic easily enough. He's a man alone who stumbles into a bunch of things and does whatever comes to mind. It's an interesting read and, as mentioned above, the talent is there. But stretches did become a bit boring. I felt pretty removed from some of his actions which probably fleshes out the root of my remove from his character and from the stories in parts. So I'd say it was Mutis' talent that really kept me into the book at large.

( )
  lamotamant | Sep 22, 2016 |
I found myself reading more slowly as I neared the end of this magnificent book, a collection of seven novellas, because I was reluctant to leave the world of Maqroll the Gaviero (lookout) and his diverse and far-flung friends. In varying styles, including describing Maqroll as a friend who sends him dispatches from around the globe, Mutis presents the tale of an inveterate wanderer, usually by sea, who consistently gets involved in money-making schemes, often not exactly within the law, that come to naught, who is steadfastly loyal to his friends, and who is given to reading historical books and musing philosophically about the important issues of life.

As the novellas progress, the reader becomes more and more familiar with Maqroll and some of the key episodes of his life, although his origins are murky: he travels on a clearly forged Cyrpiot passport but it is unclear where he was born, and the text hints that he had an unhappy childhood and took to a life at sea (as the lookout who climbed the tallest mast) at an extremely early age. He is older when the novellas begin, and to some extent they jump back and forth in time, so the reader has to figure out which adventure or misadventure came first. And because he is older, there is an elegiac if not downright melancholy feel to his thoughts. This is a fascinating work partly because it combines the downright adventurous with an equal helping of philosophy.

So what of his adventures? They range from traveling up a South American river with somewhat sketchy guides to find some lumber mills, starting a brothel using women who pretend to be stewardesses, engaging in a scheme to substitute lower quality oriental rugs for valuable ancient ones, transporting some mysterious boxes for a highly suspicious person, gold mining, and more. One novella focuses on Maqroll's best friend, Abdul Bashur, another inveterate wanderer, who sprang from a Lebanese family of shipbuilders and ship owners, his family, and his search for the perfect ship, and others involve other unforgettable friends of Maqroll, including a variety of strong women who he has been deeply attached to.

Mutis vividly depicts the environment, whether it's the hot, humid, buggy tropics, the cold of Vancouver, or the activity of a Mediterranean port. Above all, the reader gets a feeling for the sea, for life on freighter and other ships, and for the vibrant seediness (and criminality) of port communities. Mutis was a poet (who apparently wrote about Maqroll in poems long before he got the idea of writing a novella about him), but he was also gainfully employed as a publicist for an oil company and then a US film company, so he presumably traveled to many of the places he "traveled" to as a character in some of these novellas.

Maqroll lived a very full life, full of trials, hardships, love, friendship, adventure, stagnancy, but it is his reflections on literature and life, usually dark, that are as compelling if not more so than his adventures. Does he find a little happiness at the end?
8 vote rebeccanyc | Dec 26, 2013 |
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I thought that the writings, letters, documents, tales, and memoirs of Maqroll the Gaviero (the Lookout) had all passed through my hands, and that those who knew of my interest in the events of his life had exhausted their search for written traces of his unfortunate wanderings, but fate held in store a curious surprise just when it was least expected.
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7 novellas: "La Nieve del Almirante"; "Ilona llega con la lluvia"; "Un bel morir"; "La última escala del Tramp Steamer"; "Amirbar"; "Abdul Bashur, soñador de navíos"; "Tríptico de mar y tierra"
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"Collects in one volume the seven novels describing the saga of Maqroll el Gaviero from 'La nieve del almirante' (1986) to 'Tríptico de mar y tierra' (1993). The reader follows Maqroll's life of errancy and adventure, but eventually a powerful sense of dejá vu takes hold as Mutis overuses the exoticism that originally made his fiction so refreshing"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 58.

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