Gabriel García Márquez had died at the age of 87. Despite Márquez’s leftism, One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of the most stunning pieces of literature I’ve ever read.
Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian novelist whose “One Hundred Years of Solitude” established him as a giant of 20th-century literature, died on Thursday at his home in Mexico City. He was 87…
Mr. García Márquez was a master of the literary genre known as magical realism, in which the miraculous and the real converge. In his novels and stories, storms rage for years, flowers drift from the skies, tyrants survive for centuries, priests levitate and corpses fail to decompose. And, more plausibly, lovers rekindle their passion after a half-century apart.
Here’s a cool anecdote about the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude:
No draft had more impact than the one for “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Mr. García Márquez’s editor began reading it at home one rainy day, and as he read page after page by this unknown Colombian author, his excitement grew. Soon he called the Argentine novelist Tomás Eloy Martínez and summoned him urgently to the home.
Mr. Eloy Martinez remembered entering the foyer with wet shoes and encountering pages strewn across the floor by the editor in his eagerness to read through the work. They were the first pages of a book that in 1967 would vault Mr. García Márquez onto the world stage.
Some more background on the book:
[Márquez] later authorized an English translation, by Gregory Rabassa [the standard, wonderful, English translation we here in the States read – Ed]. In Spanish or English, readers were tantalized from its opening sentences:
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Col. Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of 20 adobe houses built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”
“One Hundred Years of Solitude” would sell tens of millions of copies. The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda called it “the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since ‘Don Quixote.’ ” The novelist William Kennedy hailed it as “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.”
Mr. García Márquez was rattled by the praise. He grew to hate “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” he said in interviews, because he feared his subsequent work would not measure up to it in readers’ eyes. He need not have worried. Almost all his 15 other novels and short-story collections were lionized by critics and devoured by readers.
Márquez’s early years provided much of the inspiration for his most famous novel:
Gabriel García Márquez was born in Aracataca, a small town near Colombia’s Caribbean coast, on March 6, 1927, the eldest child of Luisa Santiaga Márquez and Gabriel Elijio García. His father, a postal clerk, telegraph operator and itinerant pharmacist, could barely support his wife and 12 children; Gabriel, the oldest, spent his early childhood living in the large, ramshackle house of his maternal grandparents. The house influenced his writing; it seemed inhabited, he said, by the ghosts his grandmother conjured in the stories she told.
His maternal grandfather, Nicolás Márquez Mejía, a retired army colonel, was also an influence — “the most important figure of my life,” Mr. García Márquez said. The grandfather bore a marked resemblance to Colonel Buendía, the protagonist of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” and the book’s mythical village of Macondo draws heavily on Aracataca.
In his 2002 memoir, “Living to Tell the Tale,” Mr. García Márquez recalled a river trip back to Aracataca in 1950, his first trip there since childhood.
“The first thing that struck me,” he wrote, “was the silence. A material silence I could have identified blindfolded among all the silences in the world. The reverberation of the heat was so intense that you seemed to be looking at everything through undulating glass. As far as the eye could see there was no recollection of human life, nothing that was not covered by a faint sprinkling of burning dust.”
Much of his fiction unfolds in or near Macondo, just as William Faulkner, whom he admired, invented Yoknapatawpha County as the Mississippi setting for some of his own novels…
He read intensely — the Americans Hemingway, Faulkner, Twain and Melville; the Europeans Dickens, Tolstoy, Proust, Kafka and Virginia Woolf.
“I cannot imagine how anyone could even think of writing a novel without having at least a vague of idea of the 10,000 years of literature that have gone before,” Mr. García Márquez said. But, he added, “I’ve never tried to imitate authors I’ve admired. On the contrary, I’ve done all I could not to imitate them.”…
Dozens of television and film adaptations were made of Mr. García Márquez’s works, but none achieved the critical or commercial success of his writing, and he declined requests for the movie rights to “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” The novel’s readers, he once said, “always imagine the characters as they want, as their aunt or their grandfather, and the moment you bring that to the screen, the reader’s margin for creativity disappears.”
I had to chuckle at the whack-a-mole that pops up in the NYT’s discussion of Márquez’s leftism:
He contributed his prestige, time and money to left-wing causes. He helped finance a Venezuelan political party. He was a strong defender of the Sandinistas, the leftist revolutionaries who took power in Nicaragua.
For more than three decades the State Department denied Mr. García Márquez a visa to travel in the United States, supposedly because he had been a member of the Colombian Communist Party in the 1950s but almost certainly because of his continuing espousal of left-wing causes and his friendship with Mr. Castro. The ban was rescinded in 1995 after President Bill Clinton invited him to Martha’s Vineyard.
Mr. García Márquez’s ties to Mr. Castro troubled some intellectuals and human rights advocates. Susan Sontag wrote in the 1980s, “To me it’s scandalous that a writer of such enormous talent be a spokesperson for a government which has put more people in jail (proportionately to its population) than any other government in the world.”
Although the NYT obit doesn’t mention it, there was the famous 31-year feud between the leftist Márquez and the right-leaning Mario Vargas Llosa, which in its earliest stages led to Márquez getting a black eye.