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232 pp., 51/2 x 81/4

Published: Fall 2002

The Vanquished
A Novel

by César Andreu Iglesias

Copyright (c) 2002 by the University of North Carolina Press. All rights reserved.

by Arcadio Díaz-Quiñonesn

Cé Andreu Iglesias's novel The Vanquished appeared in 1956. It is a novel about hope in the midst of political defeat, written by a Puerto Rican Communist intellectual who was at the time awaiting trial under the harsh laws of the McCarthy era. Andreu (1915-1976) had taken refuge in a sort of internal exile near the small town of Maricao. He had good reasons to do so, given the climate of intolerance on the island, with close surveillance by both local and federal security forces, and given his own stormy involvement with the Partido Comunista.[1] It is hard not to hear a personal resonance in the title of the novel. In the remote mountains of the old coffee region, he seems to have been able to pause and take stock. In that haven, he found the critical distance that writing can provide and completed his first novel. He seemed to have within him an urge to move forward. Albert Camus's insistence in the image of Sisyphus and the need to return to the struggle comes to mind. The stanzas by Victorian poet Arthur Hugh Clough that Andreu chose as the epigraph for the novel are centered on renewal and hope and seem to announce the author's stand: "Say not the struggle naught availeth."

The Vanquished was an attempt to show through fiction the cultural foundations of political life and perhaps to find some key to the mystery of a very singular and complex colonial relationship and also to the ambiguity of the relationship between Puerto Rican Nationalists and Communists. In the novel, Andreu offers no direct critique of the Partido Comunista, of which he had been president. What emerges with particular force from the narrative is the sense of defeat that hung over radical opponents of the reconstructed colony, as well as Andreu's equally dogged faith in a new beginning. In the final analysis, practically all the men and women in the novel seem to be prisoners of a set of rigid values. The jail at the end of the story is not the only image of incarceration in the novel. However, as they confront the new personal and collective challenges, the author seems to say, colonial subjects have resources of knowledge and experience that might carry them through. An understanding of the anticolonial struggle, however, implies an awareness of the destructive potential of the process. A sense of defeat but also "a bias for hope," to quote the beautiful phrase used elsewhere by Albert O. Hirschman, could be the dialectical center that endows the novel with a certain ambiguity.

Andreu did not want to blur the boundaries between historical account and fiction. But he did follow many of the conventions of realism. The characters move in a specific time and place. Historical actors are seldom mentioned by their name, with the exception of the radical Nationalist leader and powerful orator Pedro Albizu Campos (1891-1965), whose influential words and speeches are remembered by the characters; Luis Muñoz Marín (1898-1980), the charismatic leader who was by then governor of the Estado Libre Asociado (Commonwealth of Puerto Rico); and some historical figures such as Ramón Emeterio Betances, José de Diego, and Luis Lloréns Torres. In contrast, the pages of the novel are saturated with names of the streets of Old San Juan and its new wealthy residential areas, the working-class barrio of Villa Palmeras in San Juan, the road to Caguas, and even New York, places that can be actually located in geographical reality. There are also many allusions to local radio commercial advertising, food, the coastal culture, U.S. Marines walking into bars, the bleak reality of La Princesa prison. The protagonist, Marcos Vega, travels—he is a traveling salesman—and we are offered the narration of a journey through the island until he reaches the coffee plantation in Maricao. Characters are pictured in terms of their surroundings, whether domestic or public.

Andreu gradually builds up a portrait of Puerto Rico in the post-Second World War years, after the successive triumphs of Muñoz Marín and the establishment of the Estado Libre Asociado (1952), and in the period of repression following the 1950 Nationalist uprising on the island and the attack on the U.S. Congress in 1954 carried out by followers of Albizu Campos, the charismatic leader of the Partido Nacionalista Puertorriqueño. Not the least of the merits of this novel is that Andreu insisted on debate and made an effort to open up the possibility of critical reflection not only on the singularity of U.S. imperialism but also on the weaknesses and failures of Puerto Rican opposition.

In rereading Los derrotados in the superb translation by Sidney Mintz, it becomes clear again that the full story of Puerto Rican twentieth-century culture and politics cannot be told without nacionalistas, independentistas, or comunistas; nor can it be told without rethinking what those words meant to the many Puerto Rican men and women who were involved in the struggles, including the behaviors and internal contradictions connected with them. The 1950s was a decade of political conversion that tested loyalties and forged new alliances, with opponents frequently co-opted or silenced and consistently marginalized. But it was also a period in which the Partido Independentista Puertorriqueñ, under the leadership of Gilberto Concepción de Gracia (1909-1968), became a vibrant political force participating in the electoral system and the legislature to further its cause. On the other hand, during those same years, waves of Puerto Rican migrants were creating new social and political identities for themselves in New York and along the East Coast of the United States. What the novel most powerfully suggests is that the political climate had changed as much as the cities and rural regions of the island and that new thinking and alliances were necessary. It would seem that for Andreu the very notion of "liberation" necessarily meant going beyond traditional political understandings of the nation-state but also against the idea, dominant among followers of Muñoz Marín, that it represented an "anachronism" that had to be sacrificed in the name of a more "progressive" politics.

In spite of the risks involved, Andreu never wavered in his belief in Puerto Rican independence and in socialism; neither did he fail to muster the courage to debate with other independentistas. Like many others, he saw himself as part of a revolutionary tradition going back to the nineteenth century—to Ramón Emeterio Betances and to a literary tradition that had taken shape slowly since then. Andreu spent most of his life in Puerto Rico, where he experienced political events that were each in their own way a turning point in the island's history and were to be identified with him for the remainder of his life. I can give here only the briefest sketch. He was two years old when Congress conferred U.S. citizenship on Puerto Ricans in 1917, a citizenship that has been both a continuing source of dispute and a symbol of unity.[2] In his youth, Andreu witnessed the poverty of Puerto Rico as a U.S. sugar colony, as well as the growth and spread of social discontent. Serious moments and movements of opposition occurred in the 1930s, and often the most visible and best-organized participants were the Nationalist and socialist militants. Andreu saw how the depression, the founding of the Puerto Rican Communist Party in 1936, and the rise of Nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos, as well as the massacre of Puerto Rican Nationalists that took place in Ponce in 1937, unsettled the political smugness of the colonial government.

By the 1930s U.S. colonial rule had marked indelibly Puerto Rican culture and society, dividing its citizens. It also provided a context in which a modern movement of national self-assertion could emerge. There were clear signs then that a dramatic fissure could occur in the system of military and political domination that had been in place since 1898. What was striking was the way the new Nationalist and socialist movements collaborated with each other and prevailed in the political imagination of younger generations. As a young adult, Andreu was drawn into labor organizing, and during the Second World War he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He witnessed the coming to power of Muñoz Marín and the stable and lasting Popular Democratic Party, which ruled until 1968. Finally, he knew firsthand the harsh repression of both Nationalists and Communists during the 1950s under McCarthyism, particularly after the Puerto Rican Nationalist uprising of 1950 and the attack on the U.S. Congress in 1954. All these events and struggles played a key role in shaping his thought, as can be seen in his important and shrewd political essays. Before the publication of The Vanquished, Andreu was already known for his polemical texts and for journalistic pieces characterized by his wit and flair for political satire.

The 1950s era was not a more innocent time. Andreu was well enough aware of how vulnerable the situation was for independentistas and comunistas, as they were all targets of federal investigations. On the other hand, the pro-American rhetoric could be equally shrill and loud. Andreu's narrative requires us to imagine the singularity of that context. The picture he draws is a sort of composite portrait of a section of Puerto Rican society, a portrait to be found in the book's plotting and fictional characters and in its many moments of silence and waiting. The novel tells us a great deal of what happened to both winners and losers in the battle for the nation during the late 1940s and early 1950s and also of the author's personal doubts and uncertainties concerning violence. However, it is a mark of his achievement to have produced a novel that also leaves many questions unanswered or hidden in the dreams, memories, and personal histories of the deeply solitary characters who become embroiled in feelings and self-discoveries with which they are largely incapable of dealing.

In this respect, it is most revealing to observe how the narrative brings together personal emotional concerns of home and domesticity with public issues, thus thematizing the split, and the need for reconnection, between the world of affect and the world of politics. The structure of the chapters seems to follow a system of confrontation and collision, political and emotional, that also serves to frame the reader's attention. Moreover, the author makes use of the political debates and the class concern circulating in melodrama, a radical idea that counters trite attacks on the genre as ahistorical and escapist. The novel is also a story with an existentialist savor, perhaps the influence of Sartre's works. All the characters are painfully confined by their social status, education, or gender, and they betray their uneasiness and frustration. Love is all but impossible, and there is a profound discontent and resentment. Marcos's marriage is perceived as a form of imprisonment, pointing to failures of another kind. The Vanquished, like Richard Rorty's philosophy, is a "mirror of nature"—human nature, reflecting human aspirations and hopes, ambivalences and failures. On the other hand, one has the feeling that Andreu is always there in his writing. The novel is not openly autobiographical, but in the portraits of characters and everyday life conveyed to the reader we constantly sense his presence.

The Vanquished was intended as a political fiction that would position the author in relation to the politics of the period and encourage debate. Today, almost fifty years later, it cannot be read as a "historical" novel, but it is a historical object, a novel that might be important for its intrinsic worth and can still be more important for the new questions we bring to the text, even detaching it from its intended context. Much precise information and a great many new sources for the period are certainly now available. But despite the accumulation of knowledge and lengthy theoretical reflection in the past decades, this novel is an invaluable source to reach other truths that otherwise remain inaccessible. And this is true to a large degree because Andreu succeeded in standing in a complex posture inside and outside his own period, with enough distance to see it as a novelist. In the book's sometimes minute description of place, Andreu's characters find themselves in a new and rapidly changing urban landscape and in the upheavals created by the rising speed of transportation and communication. They also find themselves face to face with great issues, such as the meaning and price of modernization, freedom, death, the subordination of women to men, sexual repression, and the yearning for heroes.

The novel also provides an interesting counterpoint to contemporary discussions of masculinity and the anxieties of gender and social roles in the deeply melancholic works of writers such as Renâ Marquâs (1919-1979), who explored Puerto Rican nationalism in Otro día nuestro (1955) and in other stories. One of the most interesting features of the novel is how Andreu bridges the gap between "women's" genres, such as romance and melodramas, and "men's" genres, especially action films and novels. Although the novel is ostensibly about the real dilemmas faced by Marcos, some of the most compelling scenes occur between him and others and the female characters in very specific rooms. And there is a close link between gender and place, as the displacements of Delia illustrate. Politics is very much a man's world, but women characters—Sandra, Marcos's wife; Delia, his lover; Antonia, the prostitute; María Encarnación, the resigned Nationalist who idolizes the man who rejected her; and Monse, the Nationalist who is not allowed to participate in the attack—have a vital importance. The narrative is always asking whether personal erotic passion can have, after all, any place in a life that is shaped and ruled by heroic longings and illusion.

On the other hand, men negotiate with one another their personal and political concerns, but there seems to be little affection, intimacy, or even trust among them. The characters combine the need to act with a desire to hear their own voices repeat the memories and the motivations that accompany the process and their hidden and unconscious struggles, often creating a web of contradictions and a state of uncertainty in the reader. The latter part of the novel, the failure of the Nationalists' conspiracy, is increasingly dominated by a mistrust of one another that from the beginning threatens their operation, something that the hallowed clichâs of patriotism cannot hide. This adds considerable complexity.

Ultimately, the Nationalists were vanquished. Recognition of defeat informs this moving book. The author reminds us, however, that only at the risk of serious simplification can Nationalists be considered "pathological" or more aberrant than other political groups. More fundamental to Andreu's view, the struggle does not exhaust itself in the collapsing of the Partido Nacionalista. It is true that in the novel the Nationalists' insistence on heroism and sacrifice is compelling but ultimately problematic. The novel concludes in parallel ways. A young Nationalist, Camuñas, dies in the attempt. Marcos survives, but is socially eliminated, in prison. Old Bienvenido loses all sense of time and place. Andreu was particularly troubled by human ambiguity and fragility in the face of violence. But in the crucial chapter 20 of the novel we find a key to his view. It is taken from a well-known parable: "The labor of sowing is no less labor because the seed does not germinate. . . . Does that make the work of a man who hopes for a harvest a less important work?" (Mintz's translation).

Against the grain of many who read The Vanquished as an attack on Nationalists, and in the full context of the work, today one could read the novel as animated by the struggle to reconcile the divided consciousness of Puerto Ricans. However, such reconciliation implied a very complex renegotiation: the need to abandon a redemptive view of suffering and sacrifice and to replace it with an understanding of politics as a secular struggle of the citizen and a firm belief that justice can, in fact, be attained. Although Andreu understood the bitterness, what he rejected is clear, and it is built in the novel around the metaphors of death-in-life. There might be, he seems to be saying, greater courage in allegiance to life. At the end, the protagonist's point of view seems to widen to a general perspective that frees him from his imprisonment in a single view. From a Marxist perspective, Andreu rejects faith in the linear nature of historical progress as naive. Politics, furthermore, should not be a substitute religion. At the same time, he is trying to understand how everyday experiences of Puerto Ricans in the postwar years enabled them to see political questions with a different vision.

Perhaps we still do not know enough about what brought this novel to birth and in which ways writing might have changed Andreu. But we can speculate that the novel must have been a liberating experience for him, just as almost twenty years later he worked on the manuscripts left by Bernardo Vega (1885-1965), which in many ways also became his project and his book. Like his much admired Vega, whose Memoirs he managed to complete shortly before his death, Andreu was at the very forefront of socialist and independentista movements.[3] Like Vega, Andreu was a tireless organizer, a creative editor, and a speaker on the history of the labor movement in Puerto Rico, encouraging the doubters. Very early he had plunged into the urgent and spirited social battles that in turn reinforced his study of society. Politics is everywhere in his work, and the intensity with which the debate between Nationalists and socialists flares up in The Vanquished is central. Andreu was at the same time a firm believer and a doubter, a rebellious and defiant intellectual known for the strength of his personality, whose penetrating criticisms of the Left, often in a provocative way, were launched from within that culture.

Andreu had extremely high regard for the "mission" of literature, a conviction shared by other contemporary Puerto Rican authors and artists of the 1950s—such as Nilita Vientós Gastón, René Marqués, Margot Arce de Vázquez, Tomás Blanco, Luis Palés Matos, José Luis González, Pedro Juan Soto, Lorenzo Homar, and Rafael Tufiño—at a time when a vibrant new culture was emerging in the modernized colony. Literature and the arts became a repository of the collective memory. In fact, The Vanquished was first published in a small radical press, Los Presentes, in Mexico in 1956. José Luis González (1926-1996), a younger friend and comrade exiled in Mexico, was influential in having the novel published. No doubt there are many connections to be drawn between Andreu and González. González always felt intellectually indebted to Andreu, and he would build later on Andreu's foundation. In their books, articles, and speeches, both were critical of the indiscriminate use of violence, and both challenged the rhetorical cult of death in political struggles. Both also suffered the consequences of McCarthyism but continued to express a clear, unqualified demand for political independence of Puerto Rico and for the liberation from the heritage of racism. González must have been very eager to see Andreu's first novel published. Andreu found in fiction the resources necessary for his new beginnings. Critical attention to The Vanquished by the most distinguished literary critic Nilita Vientós Gastón and by González himself was immediate and quite positive. At least two more editions in Spanish were published in 1964 and 1973. But since then, with few exceptions, it has been largely neglected.

A good deal remains to be said about Andreu, the novel, and the period. Thanks to Sidney Mintz's impressively accurate and beautiful translation and his insightful and sensitive notes, Andreu has found other beginnings. Mintz's translation stems from decades of immersion in Puerto Rican and Caribbean life and from volumes of rich and fruitful scholarship, such as the classic Worker in the Cane. He knows not only Puerto Rico and the words in Spanish from within but also, as Bakhtin suggested, that words "remember" earlier contexts and that words contain ways of speaking. One could not think of a better translator. With characteristic generosity, Mintz writes in his translator's note: "This novel's losers are saturated with a single desire, which they fail to attain. But I think that what moves them to act is something for us all to ponder, with genuine humility." We are all indebted to Mintz for these new beginnings. This volume is cause for celebration.

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