Few writers have produced novels that are acknowledged as masterpieces not only in their own countries but all around the world. Fewer still can be said to have written books that have changed the whole course of literature in their language. But the Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, who has died at the age of 87 after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease achieved just that, especially thanks to his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Since its publication in 1967, more than 25m copies of the book have been sold in Spanish and other languages. For at least a generation the book firmly stamped Latin American literature as the domain of “magical realism”.
Born in the small town of Aracataca, close to the Caribbean coast of Colombia, García Márquez (or “Gabo” as he was often affectionately nicknamed) always identified himself with the cultural mix of Spanish, black and indigenous traditions that continue to flourish there. Although later in life he lived in Paris, Mexico and elsewhere, his books returned constantly to this torrid coastal region, where the power of nature and myth still predominate over the restraints of cold reason.
Hm. It’s not necessary to oppose reason to nature and myth. One can value and draw on all three.
Journalism was to remain a passion throughout his life: time and again his fictional stories have their basis in tales he heard as a young journalist, as he explains for example in the introduction to the 1994 novel Of Love and Other Demons. At the same time, whatever fantastic elements are to be found in his novels and short stories, García Márquez learned from journalism the craft of story-telling, showing himself to be an astounding judge of pace, surprise, and structure. He was also immensely interested in the cinema. In Rome in the 1950s he studied at the Experimental Film School, and while living in Mexico in the 1960s wrote several film scripts. He also dabbled in television soap operas, arguing that this was the way to reach the broadest possible audience and satisfy their need for narrative.
By the mid-1960s, he had published three novels that enjoyed reasonable critical acclaim in Latin America, but neither huge commercial nor international success. His fourth novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, first published not in Colombia but in Argentina, was to change all that. It tells the story of succeeding generations of the archetypal Buendía family and the amazing events that befall the isolated town of Macondo, in which fantasy and fact constantly intertwine to produce their own brand of magical logic. The novel has not only proved immediately accessible to readers everywhere, but has influenced writers of many nationalities, from Isabel Allende to Salman Rushdie.
It was via Salman Rushdie, on Facebook, that I learned he was gone.