Kirkus Reviews QR Code
I THE SUPREME by Augusto Roa Bastos



Pub Date: April 17th, 1986
ISBN: 1564782476
Publisher: Knopf

Species: the Latin-American lollapalooza novel. Habitat: in this case, Paraguay. And thus, not surprisingly from the land of Stroessner, a dictator's monologue, this one by Jose Gaspar Rodriguez de Francia, total oligarch for the 30 years since 1814, who now in his last days on earth has uncorked himself once and for all and has sailed into a monstrous diatribe. Ostensibly, it's a response to a malicious ""pasquinade"" being circulated throughout the country about his death, a celebratory document naturally. But more diffusely, it's a megalomaniac's testament to both absolute power and obsession. Sounds like Garcia Marquez's Autumn of the Patriarch? Well, only partially. The Supreme megalomaniac, apart from the century he writes from (in heavily Latinate style), is also a supremely cultured maniac. He discourses upon religion, law, and science (he keeps a fallen meteorite in his palace). The very spine of the book is the Supreme's pedantry--as well as the author's; Bastes has been a professor in France for many years, and the book is not averse to whipping in plenty of tedious French texte games when it likes. Subscripts, emendations, documentations abound--some solidly historical (relations with Argentina and Brazil), some literary (a French prisoner who shared a cell block for a time with the Marquis de Sade). The book has the distinct feel of an encyclopedia: antiquarian, saturnine, inkhorn-y beyond fresh air. Doubtless it sets out what it means to do--be the big overstuffed Paraguayan novel--but American readers (beyond marveling at the wizardly Helen Lane's translation) may yawn (and skip) their way through the bulk of it.