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Alejo Carpentier: War’s long reach


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Latin American writers on war and peace


Alejo Carpentier
From Explosion in a Cathedral (El siglo de las luces)
Translated by John Sturrock

At this moment the brisk trot of horses was heard. Remigio had appeared at the end of the avenue, sitting on the box of a mud-spattered carriage. But there was no one inside. Reining up abruptly when he saw Esteban, he told him that Jorge had been suddenly taken ill, and was in bed, struck down by a new epidemic that was afflicting the city, and was attributed to the great slaughter on the battlefields of Europe, whose mephitic infection had been brought over by some Russian ships recently arrived to barter goods they had never seen before for the tropical fruits that were very popular with the rich gentlemen of St. Petersburg.


She turned toward the harbour, and leaned her back against the gunwale. On the other shore gleamed the lights of districts she had never been to; beyond, mingling together, were lights of the vast baroque chandelier which was the city, with its red, green and orange glass shining among the arcades. To the left lay the dark channel that led to the blackness of the open sea, the sea of adventures, of hazardous voyages, of the endless wars and conflicts that had stained this many-islanded Mediterranean red with blood.


And he explained that the soldiers who had survived the plagues in Jaffa were suffering from a mysterious sickness, with which they had already contaminated half France, where the epidemic was wreaking havoc.


Although Toussaint Louverture was anxious to establish commercial relations with the United States, the North American traders distrusted the black chieftain’s solvency, and left this chancy market to the men who sold arms and ammunition – the only goods which were always paid for in cash, even when there was not enough flour to make dough for the daily bread.

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