'The Chase' is Alfred Mac Adam's translation of Carpentier's 1956 short novel 'El Acoso' (which might also be translated as 'The Manhunt' or 'The Harrying'). The great Cuban novelist had already written the books for which he is now best remembered; but 'The Chase' is well worth reading in its own right.
The story is set in a country that is probably Cuba - but might stand for any of a number of Caribbean countries - and probably in the period of the dictatorship of Machado (1925-33), of whose prisons the author had first-hand experience. A young man - a student turned revolutionary - is being hunted through the night by two former associates. He takes refuge in a concert hall where, for the space of the performance, he is safe.
Carpentier breaks what might in outline be a simple tale into multiple facets, moving backwards and forwards in time and switching points of view. His prose - the 'new world baroque' that was to be so influential on Marquez and the other writers of the Latin American 'boom' - is extraordinarily sensuous, glutted with sounds and sights and smells. Gradually the reader comes to understand the irony behind Carpentier's selection of Beethoven's Third Symphony, with its famous inscription, for his protagonist's final concert.
'Explosion In A Cathedral' 'The Lost Steps' and 'The Kingdom of This World' may be better known, but it was a real pleasure to make the acquaintance of this book. Carpentier is now one of the most overlooked of Latin American writers; 'The Chase' reminded me of his virtues.
Carpentier was one of the leading writers of his time; and The Chase sees his baroque style - juggling time, thought and action - reeled out in the service of an almost incidental plot. It's a novella about a student caught up in revolutionary politics, who volunteers for violence and is tortured into betrayal before meeting his own end. Recognisable Carpentier themes - conspicuously architecture, music and religion - weave around the anxieties of the author's typically egocentric 'hero'. There is no 'magical realism' here. The translation is good, but not as strong as Harriet de Onis' work on Carpentier's more substantial 'The Lost Steps'. The overall effect is a bit like seeing a full orchestra brought together solely to play an interlude: simultaneously impressive and underwhelming.