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New Yorker Fiction Review #121: "The Gospel According to Garcia" by Ariel Dorfman

Issue: Nov. 2, 2016

Story: "The Gospel According to Garcia" by Ariel Dorfman

Rating: $

Review: There's not a ton that can be said about this story, because there's not much that happens and its main character, Garcia, never even truly appears in the story, but instead is referred to only in the memory of the narrator. It helps to know that Ariel Dorfman is from Argentina and Chile, because the story is about a favorite teacher who, it would seem, gets "disappeared" by the authorities and is replaced by a substitute whom the children in the story are determined to freeze out, viewing him (rightly or wrongly; probably rightly) as a pale imitation of their beloved Garcia.

Garcia sounds like a real character, having imparted to his students the following bits of wisdom, among others dropped into the story..these are my favorites:

1.) Never apologize if you haven't done anything wrong...The world is cursed because people do not apologize for their sins or crimes or merely their cowardice, but it's even more cursed because people apologize too much---they use their regrets as a way of not really probing what they have done, as permission to persevere in their blindness, absolving themselves without having atoned or understood.

2.) Remember that he who loves more in a relationship always ends up screwed.

3.) A thought that does not have emotion is empty; an emotion without action is bogus.

I absolutely love it when fiction offers up little lessons like these, little pithy bits of knowledge I can carry with me long after I read the story; however, this story was little more than a catalog of Garcia's best bits of knowledge. Okay, so we knew that going in; the title is "The Gospel..." after all. It still falls a little flat, and Dorfman probably could have accomplished the same thing and saved me some time just writing a list like the one I wrote above. There was a way this story could have been made whole, but this just felt like a fragment.

Interesting Note: There aren't many context clues to indicate in which country this story is set, but some of you may have recognized the author's reference to Mafalda, the lovable little Argentinian cartoon character, somewhat like our Charlie Brown. The only reason I even caught that was because I read some Mafalda comics when I took Spanish classes in Argentina, as way to learn the language; the strip itself hasn't been published in at least 20 years.


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