Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez . 1918, 471pages Part 1

Part 1 of 2 parts.
“And when the sun arises in a few hours, the world will see coursing through its fields the four horsemen, enemies of mankind….Already their wild steeds are pawing the ground with impatience; already the ill-omened riders have come together and are exchanging the last words before leaping into the saddle.”
“What horsemen are these? Asked Argensola.
“Those which go before the Beast”
The two friends thought this reply as unintelligible as the preceding words. Desnoyers again said mentally, “He is drunk,” but his curiosity forced him to ask, “What beast is that?”
“That of the Apocalypse.”

Revelations 6:1-8. As the first four Seals are opened, four horses of different colors, white, red, black and pale, appear. . (I think the grim reaper got his scythe from this image.) This vision has been frequently depicted in art, most famously by Albrecht Durer. The riders have been assigned certain qualities through the ages. To a Spanish author like Ibanez, the Catholic interpretation seems most likely. Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death are the common attributes of the horsemen. This book is a story of a family of Argentine origin who leaves and moves to Europe in the years before WW1, the Great War. Two sisters separate and one arrives in Paris the other Germany.

Happy times are the story lines of Argentina and Paris. The story carries well and you are lulled into believing you are following a Russian novella bringing in multiple characters only to see them drift off. It is not until well past half way into the story before the Four Horsemen arrive. They appear as a sort of prophecy by one of the minor characters to introduce a foreboding or foreshadowing of the rest of the book.

Written as a historical fiction novel, it was originally in Spanish. I found the translation excellent. I would not have known without reading a disclaimer. The story telling was about romance, friendship, and family until the onset of the Great War. The story sounds autobiographical and is told as if the writer was an eyewitness. The writing was so compelling you are drawn in knowing the whole time it is going to end badly for someone. Ibanez describes the arrogance of the French at the beginning of the War in their marching, bravado, ridiculous fancy uniforms and irrational patriotism. Ibanez depicts France as expecting restitution and revenge from Frances last great defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Apparently, the French believed they had inherited invincibility with this chance at redemption. Since the reader knows how the War turned out for the French, (by 1918 the author knows as well) it is painful to listen as the bands play and the women turn out waving as their men leave for what was expected to be a 3-4 month adventure but which instead is certain death. As the story moves from the beautiful Argentine ranch to the ravages of war, the violence of war is graphic in description even by today’s standards.
Part 2 will have some more excerpts from the text.

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