With the death of Gabriel García Marquez last week, a colossal figure of hispanic literature passed into history. One of the chief exponents of the Fantastic as a literary movement, and likely its most famous, Marquez left behind a collection of writing that entirely deserves its place among the greatest examples of the written word.
I was always struck by the intelligence behind the wit of Marquez’s writing. Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) is far more than the generic ‘magical realism’ it is often billed as. It is at once a potted history, cultural reflection, fantasy and anthropological study on the people of Columbia.
For those who have never read Marquez, a wonderful entry-level tale is Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a death foretold). Of all his work, this is the piece that most clearly straddles the line between reportage and fiction – the realism, and the fantastical elements that come with the telling.
In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work.
It is, like much of his work, written in a deadpan manner, delivered like the best jokes.
I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face.
While Marquez enjoyed playing down his status as an intellectual, there was a keen eye behind the humour that tells a story with a much greater depth than simply satire.
Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry.
It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while 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.
La Vanguardia in Spain recently released a chapter of an unreleased García Marquez tale – En Agosto nos vemos (We’ll meet in August). There is no word on an English translation; in the meantime, here is a snippet:
He returned to the island on 16th August on the two o’clock ferry that afternoon. He wore a tartan jacket, vaquero trousers, low-heeled, plain shoes with no socks, a satin parasol and, as his only luggage, a beach bag. At the taxi rank at the dock he was directed towards an old car eaten away by saltpetre. The taxi driver received him as an old acquaintance and took him jolting and jerking through a village stricken with poverty, with adobe houses with palm leaf roofs and white, sandy streets facing an burning sea. The driver had to take evasive action to avoid the fearless pigs and the naked children, which he negotiated with a bullfighter’s finesse. At the far end of the town he headed up an avenue lined with regal palm trees, where there were beaches and tourist hotels, situated between the open sea and a lagoon populated by blue herons. Finally, he stopped at the oldest and most derelict hotel on the street.