Author: Jordi Soler
- ISBN: 9786071135964
- Release Date: 06-09-2015
-Reviewed by: Kenneth Barger
Ese príncipe que fui by Jordi Soler is an engrossing and kaleidoscopic mix of historical fact and fiction. The narrator relates his quest to find the lost treasure of Moctezuma, supposedly buried somewhere in the Pyrenees, a quest that soon turns to an investigation of the strange life of Federico de Grau Moctezuma, a self-proclaimed Spanish and Aztec noble and inveterate hustler now living in exile in Mexico with Crispin, his right-hand man.
This is an unusual story, to say the least. And it is told with a fun sense of the absurd, tinged with magical realism. The author/narrator has a wry sense of humor—sometimes you feel as if he is winking at you.
We never learn much about the narrator, though he does refer to himself in the first person with increasing frequency throughout the story. Four or five chapters in, we learn that he is a retired banker, and a few chapters later, we learn of his relationship with Federico and that he is writing a book about him. He even refers to the book as we read it, citing things that he mentioned “a few pages ago” or will describe “in a few more pages.”
Lyrical is the word that best describes the style of Ese príncipe que fui. Soler uses repetition of images (Crispin cooking fish, Federico caressing the carved lion’s head on the armrest of his chair, people going mad and running around) to great effect, underlining the disorienting march of events. As Federico sinks deeper into substance abuse and delirium, the sentences become longer and more dizzying, until he reaches the depths of alcoholism and debauchery and the sentences take up several pages in a mad rush of images.
The story is told in non-chronological order, or perhaps semi-chronological order, with several threads that eventually inform the main narrative. Some events take place in the time of Hernán Cortés and Moctezuma, others during the waning days of the Franco regime, and still others in the early 21st century. This, too, is done to great effect, and any confusion it causes at the start dissipates as the story coalesces into that of Federico and his strange fall from an even stranger grace.
The characters are not developed in great depth. The cranky Crispin, the bizarre and decadent Federico, the anonymous but oddly tender narrator—they are developed to some extent, but the large cast of supporting characters less so.
And one of the central themes of the book is the absurdity of nobility. “After all, isn’t all nobility a colossal sham?” (p. 154, my translation). This is a theme that Americans rather enjoy, but again, it has much less impact for Americans than for Europeans. The irrelevance of nobility is one of our shared assumptions, one that we rarely or never question.
Ese príncipe que fui is a highly original novel that captivates the reader, telling a strange story in a compelling way, in prose that is lyrical and delightful. It leaves many questions unanswered and inspires the reader to find out more. While some of its themes may be less compelling or impactful to the American reader, it is indeed a marvelous read.