The title of the novel echoes the name of the famous treatise of the French philosopher of the 17th century. Rene Descartes “The Discourse on the Method.” Carpentier, as it were, carries out a reverse interpretation of Descartes’ concept, carrying out the idea of the incompatibility of Latin American reality with rational logic, common sense.
The action begins in 1913, before the First World War, and ends in 1927, when the First World Conference against the Colonial Policy of Imperialism is held in Brussels.
The head of the Nation – the president of one of the Latin American republics – carelessly spends time in Paris: no important things, audiences, receptions, you can relax and have fun.
He loves France, a cultural and civilized country, where even the inscriptions in subway cars sound like Alexandrian verse. The President is an educated man, he is very well read and, if he does not mind, dare to show off a catchy quote, understands painting, appreciates operatic art, likes to surround himself with an intellectual elite, is not alien to patronage.
In Paris, he prefers to indulge in various pleasures, enjoy life. The amateur to drink and frequent visitor of fashionable Parisian brothels, at home, in his palace chambers, he is a model of abstinence, severely censuring the growth of the number of brothels and pubs. His wife, Dona Ermenehilda, died three years ago.
In Paris, his father is accompanied by his favorite daughter, Ophelia, a charming Creole, quick-tempered and stubborn, self-willed and frivolous. She is busy collecting ancient gems, music boxes and racehorses. Her brother Ariel is an ambassador to the United States.
Another son of the president, Radames, failing at the exams at the West Point Military Academy, got carried away by car racing and died in an accident, and the youngest, Mark Antony, a worthless and exalted dandy, obsessed with genealogy, is traveling around Europe.
A pleasant pastime disturbs the appearance of the agitated Ambassador Cholo Mendoza, with the news that General Ataulfo Galvan raised a rebellion, almost the entire north of the country in the hands of the rebels, and the government troops lacks weapons.
The Head of the Nation is furious: he found this officer in a provincial garrison, took him under his guardianship, brought him to the people, made him a minister of war, and now the traitor tried to take advantage of his absence to take power, exposing himself as a defender of the Constitution, independence all the rulers wanted to spit.
The president immediately leaves for New York, hoping to purchase the necessary weapons, and for this to yield at a similar price to the United American company United Fruit banana plantations on the Pacific coast.
It has long been necessary to do this, but all the professors and other intellectuals resisted, exposing the expansion of Yankee imperialism, and what can you do if it is a fatal inevitability, caused both geographically and historically. With the deal, there are no problems: the company does not lose anything in any course of events, sensible Galvan even before the armed action against the government made a statement to the press that the capital, lands and concessions of North Americans will remain intact.
Returning to the country, the Head of the Nation is accepted by the iron hand to restore order.
His anger triggers a widespread manifesto, where it is announced that he seized power through a military coup, established himself with falsified elections, and extended his powers on the basis of an unauthorized revision of the Constitution.
According to the opposition, the man who could restore the constitutional order and democracy, is Luis Leoncio Martinez. the Head of the Nation can not understand why their choice fell on the university professor of philosophy, a purely cabinet scientist who combined a passion for free-thinking with an attraction to Theosophy, a militant vegetarian and admirer of Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin.
The troops are thrown against students who took refuge in the university and held rallies against the government. The Head of the Nation personally heads the campaign against the rebellious General Galvan, gets the upper hand and executes it.
We have to commit a bloodbath in Nueva Cordoba, where thousands of opponents of the regime united around Martinez. The president is forced to hurry with this, experiencing pressure from the US ambassador, who hints at his country’s intention to intervene and end all the anarchist and socializing elements.
The Head of the Nation is wounded at the very heart of the black ingratitude of those for whom he worked day and night. Since the people do not believe in his honesty, unselfishness and patriotism, he intends to leave his post and place his duties on the head of the senate until the next elections, but it is necessary to bring this matter to a referendum, let people decide. In an atmosphere of terror and general fear, the results of the vote show astounding unanimity. The Head of the Nation starts to worry about arthritis, and he goes... to treatment first in the US, and then in his beloved France.
Again Paris, where you can obey the familiar rhythm of a carefree life.
However, the president immediately understands that the attitude towards him has changed. The newspapers reported on the brutal repression committed by him, he was branded as a tyrant. It is necessary to try to correct the matter.
The French press easily bribes, and now on its pages a series of laudatory articles about his country and his government is published. But still the reputation can not be restored. He feels a burning indignation by people who humiliated and insulted him, slamming the doors of his house in front of him. Quite by the way, in his opinion, the shot sounded in Sarajevo, against this background, the events in his country will quickly be forgotten.
And again a telegram from his homeland comes-General Walter Hoffman, who headed the Council of Ministers, raised the insurrection.
The head of the nation hastens to return to the country.
But this time he does not just act according to the usual rules – to pursue, grab, shoot, and in accordance with the moment he tries to form public opinion, in his public speeches, as usually distinguished by the floridity of speech turnover, by language pomposity, he calls Hoffmann, who has German roots, the personification of Prussian barbarism, which is spreading across Europe. “We are mestizos, and we are proud of this!” – the Head of the Nation constantly repeats.
Finally, the rebels are pushed back to the area of rotten bogs, where Hoffman finds his death.
Official propaganda proclaims the winner as the Peacemaker and the Benefactor of the Fatherland.
The European war has inflated the prices for bananas, sugar, coffee, gutta-percha. Never before has the state known such prosperity and prosperity. The provincial town turns into a full-fledged capital.
To celebrate the centenary of independence, the Head of the Nation considered it necessary to present the National Capitol built on the American model. However, life is becoming more expensive, poverty is deepening and the secret opposition is gaining strength. Attempt on the Head of the Nation causes another wave of terror and persecution, but the resistance forces can not cope. The police have to deal with a very mobile, knowledgeable, enterprising and cunning opponent.
According to the information flowing out, it turns out that the initiator is the student who emerged during the previous unrest in the university, the popular rumor is his defender of the poor, the enemy of the rich, the scourge of covetousness, a patriot reviving the spirit of the nation, repressed by capitalism. The police got off their feet, searching for such a legendary person.
Finally, the Student is seized, and the Head of the Nation wants to personally meet with whom they talk about so much.
He is somewhat disappointed: before him is a thin, frail, pale-faced young man, but the strength of character and determination are visible in his eyes. The president is well-disposed: how naive are these young people, and if they impose socialism, then in forty-eight hours they will see the North American marines in the streets. However, you can even envy high impulses, in his youth, he also thought about such things.
The Head of the Nation orders unimpeded release of the prisoner from the palace.
Ending the war in Europe, the Head of the Nation perceives as a real disaster, the era of prosperity is replaced by an economic recession, the strike struggle is growing.
When a popular uprising breaks out, the Head of the Nation is secretly taken out of the city in an ambulance carriage and, with the assistance of the Consul, the US is sent abroad.
The biggest shock for the overthrown dictator is that his secretary and confidant, Dr. Peralta, was in the camp of the enemy.
The ex-president walks through the days in the attic of the Parisian house, the full mistress of which was Ophelia, a rich madcap who left for bohemia.
He perceives himself dropped out of the surrounding life, he is burdened by idleness, health is weakening. His modest dwelling, thanks to the efforts of the faithful Majoro of Elmira, has been turned into a homeland homeward: a favorite hammock hangs, folk songs recorded on gramophone records, national dishes are prepared on a plate converted to a Creole focus.
When longing melts, Ophelia likes to run to her father, and Cholo Mendoza often comes here. During the diplomatic service, the former ambassador managed to make a fortune by fraud and theft, and even the ex-president has a solid account in a Swiss bank. With vindictive satisfaction, the ex-president follows the activities of his successor, Dr. Luis Leoncio Martinez, who is unable to resolve any issue, and the discontent of those who brought him to power is growing. “Soon a military coup,” the ex-president gloats, “it will not be a surprise.” But his life force is dying out, and now the old dictator finds solace in the grave vault in the cemetery Montparnasse.