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The Kingdom of This World (Alejo Carpentier)

April 13, 2010

When reading this novel, I had to wonder how much of the character of the novel got lost in translation. It’s an interesting enough story, but the language in which it’s told kept me distanced from the characters and the events. I felt like Ti Noël, the protagonist, was a nice guy, but I didn’t really find myself really feeling for him when he was on the run or when he was taken as an involuntary worker to help build the Citadel. It’s unfortunate, because it really is the language that gets in the way, and since this is a translated work, I just keep thinking it’s probably the translation that ends up losing some of the story.

In any case, the novel is a really interesting look at the Haitian Revolution (18th century, I think) and at some of the issues that have been coming up in other works on my reading list (civil liberties, personal beliefs, etc.) but without the same context of being set in America. In some ways, it is similar because this novel is also dealing with slavery…so just because that slavery isn’t taking place on US soil doesn’t mean it’s entirely different. However, removed from the southern states in America, the situation does change in interesting ways.

I’m noticing how vague my entry is this time around. I think it’s really because I felt a profound disconnect with this novel. Okay, so I’ll talk about form. The novel is divided into four different parts, and each one begins with an epigraph. Perhaps more interesting are the chapter titles within each part. Several titles are allusions to other texts (such as “The Daughter of Minos and Pasiphaë” and “The Metamorphoses”), while many others are actually in what appears to be Latin (such as “De Profundis” and “Ultima Ratio Regum” and “Agnus Dei”), and still others actually deal with the events that will take place in the novel (such as “The Amputation” and “The Sacrifice of the Bulls”). Carpentier’s novel does seem very referential in this way — and within each chapter, there are often snatches of other texts (many of them religious in nature) which frequently appear in their original languages, and sometimes without a translation for dolts like myself.

All in all, this novel was interesting, but disappointing.

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