Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Dictator Novel

The recent death of Gabriel García Márquez is a huge loss to the literary world, especially Magic Realism. I owe my knowledge about this style to Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude which led me down a path of Magic Realism and the discovery of many other global authors. Even though Márquez is associated with Magic Realism, he was also a big part of the Dictator Novel. I first learned about the Dictator Novel genre when I read Augusto Roa Bastos' I Supreme as part of the 2011 Copa America Spotlight a few years back. Many references to Márquez's The General in His Labyrinth and The Autumn of the Patriarch appeared when discussing the roots of this genre in Central and South American literature. It is these two books that have been foremost in my mind since I heard of Márquez's passing.

The Dictator Novel is associated with Latin America given the number of dictatorships and generals that took power from the 1960's-70's but the genre can also apply to works about Africa. There are certainly similarities between Latin America and Africa in how some dictators rose to power and the ruthless methods they used to maintain their position. Yet, most of the official talk about this genre does not feature African literature or books about Africa.

Here are a few examples of books that highlight abuse of power in Africa and can be branched under The Dictator Novel, even though two of them are non-fiction.

1. Wizard of the Crow by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o;

Wizard of the Crow by Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is pure magic realism in depicting the myth around an African ruler's hold on power. The book is set in a fictional country of Free Republic of Abruria but it incorporates elements that could apply to many African countries.

2. The Last King of Scotland by Giles Foden

Giles Foden's book meshes fact with fiction in depiction of Uganda's Idi Amin and is told from the perspective of a doctor.

3. The Emperor by Ryszard Kapuściński 

Ryszard Kapuściński's book about Haile Selassie's reign in Ethiopia is non-fiction but his beautiful writing paints such a vivid picture that most fiction authors fail to achieve.

4. In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in the Congo by Michela Wrong 

Like Kapuściński, Michela Wrong's writing about Africa is essential reading. Her debut book highlights Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire.


Norman Crane said...

Good recommendations, Sachin. I haven't read too many Dictator Novels but I've always associated the term with Latin America, though as you point out it applies equally well to African books. I wonder if there's a case to be made for the Dictator Film. I recall some South American films, especially from Brazil's Cinema Novo, that featured "corrupt men of power".

I was also sad to read about the death of Gabriel García Márquez. A few days ago I read his collection of stories, No One Writes to the Colonel.

Sachin said...

Thanks Norman.

That is a really good point about Dictator film because there are enough films to qualify that sub-genre. Many South American films in the last few decades have covered dictatorship indirectly such as Tony Manero or others have highlighted the emotional impact of living under a dictatorship. One aspect explored is regarding the number of people who were kidnapped. The Year My Parents Went on Vacation (Brazil), The Official Story (Argentina from 1985).

And as you mention, the Cinema Novo certainly had films about corrupt men.

I have not read No One Writes to the Colonel but was thinking about it as well because I didn't know if it would qualify as a dictator sub-genre.

Sam Juliano said...

Marquez was of course one of the greatest writers of all time, and certainly one of the most celebrated writers ever from a Spanish-speaking country. I am proud to say that I did read LOVE IN THE AGE OF CHOLERA and 100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE, but not happy to admit that I still have a long way to go with his work. Sad that the film of the former was such a dud. Fantastic and unique overview of "The Dictator Novel" and some obviously invaluable choices.

Magnificent post!

Sachin said...

Thanks Sam. I still have not seen Love in the time of Cholera. The World Cup spotlight has two films that are based on stories by Márquez. I will then see Love in the Time of Cholera as a 3rd film based on his work.