The Harp and the Shadow

by

Alejo CARPENTIER

Translated by Thomas Christensen and Carol Christensen

Original title: El arpa y la sombra

Published in 1979

THIS BOOK COUNTS FOR THE FOLLOWING READING CHALLENGES

         

       

MY THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BOOK

Do you know about a cool way of traveling for free? I do: read books by authors from all other the world. It will open your horizon, and you will discover treasures.

Alejo Carpentier is another great author I’m just discovering. The Harp And The Shadow is a fascinating historical novel focused on Christopher Columbus’s travels to the New World. The book opens in the 1864 with Pope Pie IX, as he tries desperately to find reasons to beatify Columbus. As you can imagine, he can in no way find religious reasons for that in the life of Columbus, and has to turn implicitly to political reasons: wouldn’t it be smart to have a guy connecting the old and the new world as modern saint against the rise of Communism? But he cannot base his file on this explicitly. But he does the sign the document to start the process – as history says, it actually did not work out.

Incidentally, I am amazed that several times in history, religious and popes have pushed to canonize Columbus! But again, if the reasons were actually political…

Then we turn to Columbus in 1506 on his death bed, waiting for a confessor, going over his life and seeing what he will have to confess. He seems ready to be true to what he did or not, though when the priest does arrive, Columbus does not say a word of all he just confessed to you, the reader!

The last part of the book takes place in the Vatican in the 19th century. Both Columbus and Pius IX are dead, and Columbus’s ghost is coming and listening to the trial for his beatification. An amazing scene!

This book is so well written, I love Carpentier’s prose, and his way of presenting hypocrisy at the levels of the Papacy, of the Spanish Ferdinand and Isabella, who provided Columbus with money for his trips, and of Columbus himself.

This should be considered as a classical historical novel of the New World.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT

Exploring the consequences of the European discovery of the Americas and challenging the myth of Columbus, Alejo Carpentier-“the father of magical realism”-studies the first meetings of the Western and American cultures and the tragic consequences of tarnished and abandoned idealism. [Goodreads]

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cuban novelist, essayist, and musicologist who greatly influenced Latin American literature during its “boom” period.

Perhaps Cuba’s most important intellectual figure of the twentieth century, Alejo Carpentier (1904-1980) was a novelist, a classically trained pianist and musicologist, a producer of avant-garde radio programming, and an influential theorist of politics and literature. Best known for his novels, Carpentier also collaborated with such luminaries as Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, Georges Bataille, and Antonin Artaud. Born in Havana, he lived for many years in France and Venezuela but returned to Cuba after the 1959 revolution.

REVIEWS BY OTHERS

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OR ANY OTHER BOOK BY CARPENTIER?
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