Diego Azurdia at The Quarterly Conversation:
Colonel revitalizes the notion of a literature that exists for and from the moment of writing, and it avoids the accompanying unchecked optimism in the possibility of transcendence by foregrounding failure. We are reminded of the pure effort, an idea coined by Ortega y Gasset in order to describe Don Quixote’s adventures and King Philp II’s construction of El Escorial. Both gargantuan in dimensions, much like the Colonel’s Vertigos of the Century, they exemplify those projects that foreground will over structure and design, so as to find their justification in effort itself. They are doomed to fail and inevitably result in a sheer state of melancholy, arguably Iberian and Latin American.
I guess it is unavoidable to end with a discussion of the tradition. Latin American writers have often dealt with challenges springing from the historical and problematic relation between cultural production and politics. The place of the intellectual in the continent has been a highly contended matter, and what we see in the Colonel is a kind of embodiment of the its different stages: from an “enlightened” academic in its universal (mathematical) labors, to the political subject attempting to participate in the movements of his time, to the forgotten hermit attempting to memorialize his own life. If anything, Colonel is a novel that attempts to work out the difficult question about the place of the contemporary intellectual.