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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Colonel Lágrimas

Carlos Fonseca

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To purchase Colonel Lágrimas

Title: Colonel Lágrimas
Author: Carlos Fonseca
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 205 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: Colonel Lágrimas - US
Coronel Lágrimas - US (Spanish)
Colonel Lágrimas - UK
Colonel Lágrimas - Canada
Coronel Lágrimas - España
  • Spanish title: Coronel Lágrimas
  • Translated by by Megan McDowell

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Our Assessment:

B : decent (if arguably over-written) character/life-study

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
El Cultural . 27/3/2016 Jesús Nieto Jurado
The NY Times Book Rev. . 11/12/2016 Valerie Miles

  From the Reviews:
  • "Coronel Lágrimas es una recreación particular, casi un homenaje excesivo de Fonseca al matemático Alexander Grothendieck (.....) Aun rara, posee la novela un ritmo interno que se nos impone cual salmo , con una musicalidad estudiada que ora estraga, ora se revela como el martilleo necesario para una obra perturbadora y absorbente." - Jesús Nieto Jurado, El Cultural

  • "Beware, reader, in these pages you will experience vertigo, anxiety and joy. You will become a ghostly presence in a Borgesian world, a camera obscura, where mathematics is a secret weapon, and memory the object of an archaeological pursuit. (...) Deftly translated, the voice remains sedate, elegant, whispered even; we wouldn’t want to wake the colonel." - Valerie Miles, The New York Times Book Review

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Colonel Lágrimas is a close-up of the eighty-three-year-old Lágrimas, writing away on an historical work ("an autobiography by means of a megalomaniacal catalog of other people's lives") in his Pyrenean retreat as death approaches. He's not an actual Colonel, but arguably the label fits him. (Or not: the militaristic connotations surely drown out anything else about it.) And:

The Colonel used to be mathematician, but no longer. The Colonel saw the war from the battlefield, but he was unarmed. The Colonel was famous, but he decided to stop being so.
       (The Colonel is, in fact, closely based on the mathematician Alexander Grothendieck (1928-2014), who abandoned mathematics and retreated to the Pyrenees. However, while Fonseca uses aspects of Grothendieck's life as the basis for his character, he also changes many features and details to fit his novel-vision.)
       The narrative voice in Colonel Lágrimas is essentially the unusual first person plural, though in fact the otherwise omniscient narrator only occasionally demands of readers this forced collusion; still, already in the second sentence readers are pulled in: "We have to come near". The reader is not allowed to pretend to be a neutral observer. Appropriately, perhaps: life-accounts, even as they are based on facts, are subjective. But the reader also doesn't have any say in how or where things are headed, even as the narrator pretends we're all in this together.
       The novel's early scenes also focus on the Colonel himself at work at biography -- a volume of: 'Portraits of Three Alchemical Divas' -- and allows some consideration of the nature of historical re-creation on the page. The work is a: "project of other people's lives, a kind of autobiographical amnesia" -- while the work in which the readers are participating (as readers, and as part of the 'we' of the text itself) is an anti-text, against the character's wishes. Because as far as the Colonel goes, he just : "wants to be forgotten"; he wants: "to erase all legacy".
       The narrator certainly won't let him: Colonel Lágrimas is a full life-examination, and while the Colonel is seen as an: "anachronistic child of his age" he is nevertheless witness and participant, indeed representative, in many ways:
He was there -- in the Mexico of the twenties, in the Spanish Civil War, in the Second World War, at Woodstock and Vietnam -- but always a little before or after, a little out of time and place.
       The account is an attempt to: "get, narratively speaking, from doodle to equation". To capture this unusual figure in a more exact form. (Though one has to wonder -- not that the narrator lets us ... -- whether an equation is in any way a better rendering than a doodle might be .....)
       Among the Colonel's defining features is his statelessness (in an age of the nation-state), allowing him also to be seen as "a true vagabond", condemned "to a kind of eternal pilgrimage" (even though he seems to have settled down fairly happily as a hermit in the Pyrenees for quite a while now ...).
       Fonseca has some nice ideas here, and the Colonel is in many ways a fascinating figure, but Fonseca's methods and approach aren't entirely successful. He's prone to some excess in expression, which works in part but, given its extent, can get tiresome too:
Is it nostalgia the colonel is feeling ? Only if by nostalgia one means the presentiment and anxiety that the phantasmagorias of the past, projected onto the wall of the future, are stalking one's steps.
       Shifting between the present -- the day, and how the octogenarian spends it -- and the Colonel's varied pasts, as well as his limited communications with a chosen one, Maximiliano Cienfuegos, with whom he shares a sometime-project, Les Vertiges du Siècle ('Vertigos of the Century', Maximiliano suggests), Fonseca builds up an evocative character-portrait. Yet it can feel like too much is being asked of the Colonel -- or what he (can) stand for, representative of so much of the past century, and that not enough room is made for the scope of his retreat.
       Though often intriguing, Colonel Lágrimas is only partially successful -- and often weighed down by the writing style (and the involuntary coöpting of the reader in(to) the narrative).

- M.A.Orthofer, 9 October 2016

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Colonel Lágrimas: Reviews: Carlos Fonseca: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Costa Rican-born author Carlos Fonseca Suárez teaches at Cambridge. He was born in 1987.

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© 2016 the complete review

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