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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Ingenious
Gentleman and Poet
Federico García Lorca
Ascends to Hell

Carlos Rojas

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To purchase The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico Garcia Lorca Ascends to Hell

Title: The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet [...]
Author: Carlos Rojas
Genre: Novel
Written: 1980 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 203 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet [...] - US
El ingenioso hidalgo y poeta [...] - US
The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet [...] - UK
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The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet [...] - India
L'ingénieux hidalgo et poète [...] - France
Der scharfsinnige Edle und Poet [...] - Deutschland
El ingenioso hidalgo y poeta [...] - España
  • Spanish title: El ingenioso hidalgo y poeta Federico García Lorca asciende a los infiernos
  • Translated and with a Translator's Note by Edith Grossman

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Our Assessment:

B+ : creative fictional vision

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times A 10/5/2013 Hector Tobar
Publishers Weekly A 4/3/2013 .
Wall Street Journal . 12/4/2013 Sam Sacks

  From the Reviews:
  • "The Ingenious Gentleman is as intelligent and audacious a meditation on art, fate and mortality as anyone could hope to read. At once dark and illuminating, it often draws upon Lorca's own, real-life musings on death. (...) The Ingenious Gentleman is a nuanced depiction of a man and his times" - Hector Tobar, The Los Angeles Times

  • "The richness of Rojas’s writing isn’t random creativity; it’s rooted in a deep and insightful knowledge of his subject, making the book exceptional." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Mr. Rojas includes a number of shrewd homages to his subject, from echoes of poems to the kind of story-within-a-story structures that Lorca used in his dramas. But more important, this moving tribute cuts to the heart of the dichotomy of the poet's troubled immortality." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

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:

       "Many years after I'm shot dead, they'll still be writing books asking why I was murdered", a version of García Lorca, the poet famously killed under mysterious circumstances in 1936, observes, and in this book Carlos Rojas offers an unusual surreal take on the question. The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico García Lorca Ascends to Hell is a four-part novel, a creative take on the poet's life and especially his death.
       The novel's construction itself is ingenious, beginning with García Lorca in hell, finding that:

     In reality, hell is a desert very different from the one sketched in that sonnet. It is a spiral, perhaps interminable, in which each of the dead has an empty theater with its curtain raised.
       García Lorca finds himself in this seemingly endless spiral, isolated yet not entirely alone: he can see the occasional other personal theater of the condemned, and, more immediately, he is confronted with stage-visions, episodes brought to life in performances out of his mind's eye and memory. As he explains:
On stage, my memories are revived when I evoke them. Only mine, though other dead people invisible to me must see them as well, as I sometime look at theirs in other theaters.
       This hell also turns out not to be a simple final resting place of damnation, as the dead poet finds himself summoned and warned with the words: "PREPARE FOR YOUR TRIAL", and after the opening section, 'The Spiral', the novel proceeds through 'The Arrest', 'Destiny', and finally to 'The Trial'. Death turns out to be performance, and confrontation with the past -- choices made, the person he became (and the ones he didn't). García Lorca is confronted with other versions of himself -- "the man I would have turned into if I had lived", for example. The trial is, in a sense, an ongoing one as García Lorca repeatedly faces his past and the events surrounding it, a set of alternate perspectives and some alternate worlds.
       It culminates in a stream of consciousness immersion, a twenty-page-long flow without punctuation describing García Lorca's end -- Rojas' summation. But it is not -- cannot be -- definitive; it is also a performance/piece, a final variation on the theme -- as is the novel itself, itself also presented as the basis for a musical sonata and as such a foundation which "ceases to exist" as soon as that musical composition is completed. The musical composition itself is meant: "to reduce to an irreducible unity the history of a poet", and the reliance on a musical alter- (or über-)version suggests Rojas shies away from laying claim to achieving such a unity with words alone, but the conception of the novel -- including its reliance on theater as well as music -- suggests at least the attempt to achieve it.
       Rojas figures in the novel, too, as a nameless stranger -- revealed, however, in publishing the manuscript under his own name with, as promised, a dedication to the 'actual' author of the text, his fictional alter ego, Sandro Vasari and Marina, composer of the sonata. ('Sandro Vasari' is an alter ego of Rojas' that has also appeared in some of his other novels.)
       The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico García Lorca Ascends to Hell is a surreal fiction, in which characters encounter themselves yet don't always recognize themselves immediately or in them (Rojas-as-stranger, for example, simply eventually: "noticed his hands. They were identical to Sandro Vasari's"). García Lorca's poetry and poetic and personal vision obviously shape much of the text, but Rojas allows other powerful influences too -- not least of which is Dalí, who is repeatedly mentioned. García Lorca's mysterious murder is ideal material for such presentation, where little is certain or absolute and dream and reality are difficult to distinguish. So too, unsurprisingly, the García Lorca-figure finds, at one point:
I created this awful hallucination, the image and the likeness of my caricature, and now it not only has a life of its own but has come to usurp mine, in another hell that's a sinister parody of this spiral.
       There's a Kafkaesque quality to the novel, too -- specifically the nature of García Lorca's trial: "I don't know whether I'm accused of having been born or having been murdered", he notes -- two acts for which, after all, he can barely take responsibility, much less be found guilty. And though it hardly needed to be explicitly stated --:
     "What does all this mean ?" he asked, more impatient now than disconcerted.
     "This means nothing, because life has no meaning.
       The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico García Lorca Ascends to Hell is a convolute, layers (and/or a spiral ...) of stories and variations on a life, and a death. An homage to García Lorca, it is also an experiment in fiction. Often fascinating and gripping, it can also be dizzying; certainly powerful, it can also seem willfully playful. Rojas emphasizes the artifice -- from the hell-stages to his own appearance as (credited) author -- but at times threatens to get caught in his own spirals of invention.
       Certainly an unusual and interesting work -- but note also that this is one in a trilogy of works in which 'Sandro Vasari' figures; it seems likely that Rojas' vision is better appreciated if all are seen (read) together.

- M.A.Orthofer, 24 March 2013

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The Ingenious Gentleman and Poet Federico García Lorca Ascends to Hell: Reviews: Other books by Carlos Rojas under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Spanish author Carlos Rojas was born in 1928. He taught at Emory University for many years.

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© 2013-2022 the complete review

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