Inspired biography of the great Latin American revolutionary, with great depth given to his fulsome ideas.
Like the recent biography by Englishman Robert Harvey, novelist and memoirist Arana’s (Lima Nights, 2008, etc.) work is bold and positively starry-eyed about her subject. She plunges into the tumultuous life of the Great Liberator, from the moment he thundered into the capital of the Spanish viceroyalty, Santa Fe de Bogotá, on August 10, 1819, at age 36 and at the height of his power, sure at last that his revolution “stood to inherit all the abandoned riches of a waning empire.” Arana reconstructs the wildly erratic, early character development that led to Bolívar’s apotheosis, a career forged by his own will and wrought by experience, from his aristocratic roots in Caracas through wide-ranging travels to Europe and America. From his mother’s thwarted efforts to secure a title of nobility for her sons, Bolívar learned early on about the racial inflexibility of the Spanish overseers, cognizant that Latin America, with its rich ethnic layers, was unlike the makeup of European and American society and therefore was incompatible with their models of government. Bolívar would effectively build on important insurrections before him: by Indian leader Túpac Amaru II in Peru in 1781; by the famously egotistical Venezuelan rebel-in-exile Francisco de Miranda, from whom Bolívar learned the fatal consequences of indecision; and by José de San Martin in Argentina and Chile. Disgusted by the corruption and venality of the Spanish crown and feeling betrayed by North America’s refusal to aid the Latin American revolutionaries, Bolívar embraced revolution wholeheartedly, declaring freedom for Spanish-American slaves, proclaiming war to the death and ruling by an authoritative style that won many detractors.
Arana ably captures the brash brilliance of this revered and vilified leader.