“The motor changes rhythm constantly, keeping us in perpetual uncertainty: at any moment it may stop forever. The current is becoming wilder, more capricious. It’s all absurd, and I’ll never understand why I set out on this enterprise. It’s always the same at start of a journey. Then comes a soothing indifference that makes everything all right. I can’t wait for it to arrive.”
An unnamed traveler has been on the hunt for a rare piece of literature and after making a routine stop at a book store in Barcelona he finds what he’s been looking for, but he also gets a little surprise as well. I don’t know about you but I enjoy looking through old books that I buy and seeing dog-eared pages, notes in the margins and other stuff. But what I enjoy is seeing the things people use and left for bookmarks. In my past some of the more interesting things I have come across were a receipt for the book from 1987 in New York, a concert ticket to go see Modest Mouse in London, and a plastic surgery business card.
Three stories that center around an unrepentant vagabond’s thirst for adventure while going down ominous paths that given the variety of circumstances will certainly seal his fate, (or so you would think). Wandering from place to place with little income, Maqroll finds himself obtaining dangerous occupations to help get him to his endgame with plenty uncertainty to be found along the unbeaten path. With no place in the world he feels a connection to, Maqroll finds the water to be his salvation. Maqroll the Gaviero (the lookout) is a dreamer of a prophetic nature, a man that has many visions of his inner demons bringing about his demise but he still goes on knowing that certain failures will be coming his way. With an incurable wanderlust in conjunction with a need for danger and a woman’s love, he is relentless in his pursuit to avoid the tedium that is life.
In The Snow Of The Admiral Maqroll the Gaviero embarks on a four month voyage to the sawmills with only his mistress Flor Estevez’s money to his name. He is traveling up the Zurando river with an incapable yet commanding captain from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada who is mourning the death of his mistress. He also happens to be incessantly drunk on Firewater which makes his emotional state all the more erratic. Making up the rest of the crew are a quiet and reserved Indian mechanic, a strange pilot who is perpetually in a parroting phase that precludes him from having an identity amongst his fellow voyagers, and a blond Slavic giant from Estonia. Through rising rapids, beached boats, madness, search and seizures, debauchery, sickness, death, imprisonment; this voyage seems to mirror Maqroll’s life in that there are only a few truths in this world, precarity and despair. The only certainty for Maqroll to remember is to live a life lived, not wasted and accept whatever fate comes his way.
“Not even in their evil doing can humans surprise or intrigue each other. That’s why the forest, the desert, the sea, do us good. I’ve always known it. Nothing new. I close the book, and a swarm of fireflies dances over over the water, accompanies the boat for a while, and is lost finally in the distant Swamps where the moon shines brightly and then hides behind the clouds. A cool breeze, the advance guard of an approaching squall, is carrying me gently toward sleep.”
Ilona Comes With The Rain is a story of three wayfaring world traveling friends going through life with no recollection or dwelling on the past or profound thoughts about the future. They may not be close to one another when it comes to current living arrangements, but their loyalty knows no bounds. Maqroll begins this story at a standstill as the ship he was working on called the Hansa Stern was confiscated at the ports. After being told how special of a person he is by the financier of his expedition the proprietor shoots himself in the head. Something about grand epiphanies and suicide when it comes to experiencing Maqroll the Gaviero. With no imminent prospects he throws himself into a drinking binge that not only drained his wallets it also led to some rude awakenings in the morning in the form of toothless, deathly-skinny, or violent woman of the night. With clear motivation to kick the bottle Maqroll gets an opportunity to employ his risk averse nature. Not bound by any laws he doesn’t care about the past or future only the here and now making his frivolous nature with money all the more concerning and his whereabouts all the more difficult to pinpoint. Panama City is a transient place, a place where you don’t leave an impression but a freedom to do whatever you want. Feeling the heat of police it isn’t until a chance encounter with a loved one that allows him to divert attention and get on with his life.
Ilona is a woman that has no attachment to things, it even goes as far as her own birth name. At often times she appears and disappears in people’s lives not out of fault but fear of routine. Ilona runs into Maqroll in Panama City only to see a shell of the man she once knew. Happy to see each other Ilona and Maqroll decide to open a brothel with an interesting theme to get on the straight and narrow and help their other friend in need. Abdul Bashur is in jail for arms dealing and Ilona and Maqroll not only plan to get him out but also set him up so he can hit the ground running when he’s released. Everything is going great until a peculiar character and tortured soul seeks employment that may make Maqroll regret deciding to play it straight.
Un Bel Morir serves as the conclusion to Maqroll’s journey but not the end of excitement. While living in a boardinghouse he still maintains his transient loves with nothing getting by the all seeing and vision impaired landlady. Getting older he doesn’t want to remain stagnate so he decides to take on a job as a transporter for a railroad construction company. As time goes by he realizes that he has been victimized and can’t believe he has fallen for a scam and being subject to his greatest fear. With one last chance for vengeance and love, will Maqroll seize the opportunity or will father time finally catch up to him?
I found the writing to be very beautiful and the stories to be captivating even if the subjects were not my cup of tea. The inner struggle that plagues the characters in these stories and their desire for fulfillment, or to some extent self-actualization was enough to grab my attention and keep me fascinated. There is plenty riding on these exploits from a psychological standpoint even if in reality it truly is a journey to nowhere. Definitely recommended for people that enjoy misadventure, atmosphere, and superb writing.
“On the threshold of old age the Gaviero was leaning to accept what is inevitably given to us, with interest, in exchange for what might have been and is lost. Fate had brought him Amparo Maria. Twenty years ago he would have loved her, would have wanted to keep her on an isolated farm in Catania. Now, when he was weary, here in a country of horror and helplessness, she was his, a gift of the gods.”