"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Monday, April 21, 2014

Literature in the News: Gabriel Garcia Marquez, RIP

I would be remiss if I didn’t note the passing of one of the most important writers of the last one hundred years, the Columbian writer and literature Nobel Prize winner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.    He passed away a few days ago. 

Let me say up front I have not read any of his major works.  I think the sole work I read was one short story, and if I dig long enough into my books I might find which one it is.  I don’t have a distinct memory of it.  So I’m going to let this obituary from CNN outline why Marquez was such an important writer. 

Gabriel García Márquez, the influential, Nobel Prize-winning author of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of Cholera," has died, his family and officials said. 

He was 87. 

The literary giant was treated in April for infections and dehydration at a Mexican hospital. 

García Márquez, a native of Colombia, is widely credited with helping to popularize "magical realism," a genre "in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination," as the Nobel committee described it upon awarding him the prize for literature in 1982. 

He was sometimes called the most significant Spanish-language author since Miguel de Cervantes, the 16th-century author of "Don Quixote" and one of the great writers in Western literature. Indeed, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda told Time that "One Hundred Years of Solitude" was "the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes." 

Magic realism is a genre that blosoomed in the 20th century and seemed to be embraced by many South American writers.  When one thinks of magic realism, Marquez is certainly one of the first writers one should come to mind.  More from the obit: 

The author -- known by his nickname "Gabo" throughout Latin America -- was born in the northern Colombian town of Aracataca, which became the inspiration for Macondo, the town at the center of "Solitude," his 1967 masterpiece, and referenced in such works as his novella "Leaf Storm" and the novel "In Evil Hour." 

"I feel Latin American from whatever country, but I have never renounced the nostalgia of my homeland: Aracataca, to which I returned one day and discovered that between reality and nostalgia was the raw material for my work," reads a mural quoting the author outside of town. 

García Márquez was tickled that he had earned so much praise for his fertile imagination. 

"The truth is that there's not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination," he told The Paris Review in 1981. 

What is most interesting is that Marquez started as a journalist, which one would think would strip his reality down to the most objective of facts, but his breakthrough came by going beyond such an objective reality to a collective cultural reality rooted in the mindset of his surroundings. 

For years, García Márquez had been writing and publishing fiction, including short stories in Latin American journals and a handful of longer works, including "Leaf Storm," which was published in 1955. But it wasn't until 1967 with the publication of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" that he broke through to a wide audience. 

The novel is set in Macondo, a town founded by the patriarch of the Buendia family, José Arcadio Buendia. Over the generations, members of the family are set upon by ghosts and visions, fall in love, dream of riches and fight in wars. Natural events take on supernatural aspects -- rains that last years, plagues that create memory loss. It is a tapestry of almost biblical proportions in which reality and spirit swirl and merge, a world unto itself -- as well as a commentary on the politics and history of the world at large. 

"The narrative is a magician's trick in which memory and prophecy, illusion and reality are mixed and often made to look the same. It is, in short, very much like Márquez's astonishing novel," wrote The New York Times in a 1970 review upon the release of the English translation by Gregory Rabassa. 

One Hundred Years of Solitude remains the novel for which Marquez is known.  It is one of the must read novels, and I have to admit I have not gotten to it.  If it’s not on your list of reads, put it on.  Perhaps I will place it on my next year’s list of reads. 

García Márquez's style and impact have been widespread.

He is credited with spearheading "el Boom," attracting attention to a generation of Latin American writers, including Vargas Llosa and Mexico's Carlos Fuentes. Magical realism is now an accepted genre, to the point that some critics believe it has been overused. 

And he prompted a focus on Latin American politics -- protesting the 1973 CIA-aided coup in Chile, calling attention to corruption and free speech issues in South America and around the world. 

He never gave up journalism. 

"I've always been convinced that my true profession is that of a journalist. What I didn't like about journalism before were the working conditions," he told The Paris Review. "Now, after having worked as a novelist, and having achieved financial independence as a novelist, I can really choose the themes that interest me and correspond to my ideas." 

He was one of the most honored -- and highly respected -- authors on Earth, particularly in parts of the world where literature is taken as seriously as politics. 

What is meant by “el Boom” is the incredible burst of creativity in the novel form that came from South America in the second half of the 20th century.  Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, and others could one day rank with the great French novelists of the early part of the 19th century or the great Russian novelists of the latter half of the 19th century. 

However, Marquez is not free of controversy, not to his writing, which is universally acclaimed, but of his political sympathies.  Yes, he was critical of right-wing dictatorship in Chile as noted above, but he was a big supporter and apologist for Fidel Castro and communist Cuba.  Here is a critical obituary from National Review Online, by the Cuban poet and human-rights activist, Armando Valladares.   

All dictators and murderers have had staunch defenders — Stalin, Hitler, and Fidel Castro. 

Perhaps the most heinous in that fauna supporting dictatorships are writers, poets, and artists. I’ve been saying for decades that an honest intellectual has a commitment to society: Tell the truth, fight for respect and human dignity, and do not lie or skip over the historical reality and thereby abuse the privilege of reaching millions of people. 

This is one of the biggest crimes in the case of the late Gabriel García Márquez. He put his pen at the service of Fidel Castro’s tyranny, supporting torture, the concentration camps, and the murdering by firing squad of whoever dared to oppose the Communist regime. García Márquez used to say that the only country in the Americas that respected human rights was Cuba. 

As Vallardes goes on to say, Marquez did more than just support Castro with his pen.  But you will have to go and read the rest if you are interested.   

I do wish to leave this post on a positive note.  Marquez, rightly or wrongly, will be remembered for his fiction and his contribution to the art of the novel, of which he will be considered one of the greatest.  One cannot fathom from the outside the political extremes that South America experienced, and frankly continues to experience.  Those extremes may partly have been the reason for the creative burst of el Boom.  May Gabriel Garcia Marquez be forgiven of his sins and rest in peace.


  1. Manny, I knew nothing of this man but God Bless his soul just the same and God Bless you also.