Image by Festival Internacional de Cine en Guadalajara via Wikimedia Commons
“Our independence from Spanish domination did not put us beyond the reach of madness,” said Gabriel García Márquez in his 1982 Nobel Prize acceptance speech. García Márquez, who died yesterday at the age of 87, refers of course to all of Spain’s former colonies in Latin America and the Caribbean, from his own Colombia to Cuba, the island nation whose artistic struggle to come to terms with its history contributed so much to that art form generally known as “magical realism,” a syncretism of European modernism and indigenous art and folklore, Catholicism and the remnants of Amerindian and African religions.
While the term has perhaps been overused to the point of banality in critical and popular appraisals of Latin-American writers (some prefer Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier’s lo real maravilloso, “the marvelous real”), in Marquez’s case, it’s hard to think of a better way to describe the dense interweaving of fact and fiction in his life’s work as a writer of both fantastic stories and unflinching journalistic accounts, both of which grappled with the gross horrors of colonial plunder and exploitation and the subsequent rule of bloodthirsty dictators, incompetent patriarchs, venal oligarchs, and corporate gangsters in much of the Southern Hemisphere.
Nevertheless, it's a description that sometimes seems to obscure García Marquez's great purpose, marginalizing his literary vision as trendy exotica or a "postcolonial hangover." Once asked in a Paris Review interview the year before his Nobel win about the difference between the novel and journalism, García Márquez replied, “Nothing. I don’t think there is any difference. The sources are the same, the material is the same, the resources and the language are the same.”
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. That’s the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it.
García Márquez made us believe. One would be hard-pressed to find a 20th century writer more committed to the truth, whether expressed in dense mythology and baroque metaphor or in the dry rationalist discourse of the Western episteme. For its multitude of incredible elements, the 1967 novel for which García Márquez is best known—One Hundred Years of Solitude—captures the almost unbelievable human history of the region with more emotional and moral fidelity than any strictly factual account: “However bizarre or grotesque some particulars may be,” wrote a New York Times reviewer in 1970, “Macondo is no never-never land.” In fact, García Márquez’s novel helped dismantle the very real and brutal South American empire of banana company United Fruit, a “great irony,” writes Rich Cohen, of one mythology laying bare another: “In college, they call it ‘magical realism,’ but, if you know history, you understand it’s less magical than just plain real, the stuff of newspapers returned as lived experience.”
Edith Grossman, translator of several of García Márquez’s works—including Love in the Time of Cholera and his 2004 autobiography Living to Tell the Tale (Vivir para Cotarla)—agrees. “He doesn’t use that term at all, as far as I know,” she said in a 2005 interview with Guernica's Joel Whitney: “It’s always struck me as an easy, empty kind of remark.” Instead, García Márquez’s style, says Grossman, “seemed like a way of writing about the exceptionalness of so much of Latin America.”
Today, in honor and with tremendous gratitude for that indefatigable chronicler of exceptional lived experience, we offer several online texts of Gabriel García Márquez’s short works at the links below.
HarperCollins' online preview of García Marquez's Collected Stories includes the full text of "The Third Resignation," "The Other Side of Death," "Eva Is Inside Her Cat," "Bitterness for Three Sleepwalkers," and "Dialogue with the Mirror," all from the author's 1972 collection Eyes of a Blue Dog (Ojos de perro azul).
At The New Yorker, you can read García Marquez's story "The Autumn of the Patriarch" (1976) and his 2003 autobiographical essay "The Challenge."
Follow the links below for more of García Marquez's short fiction from various university websites:
"Death Constant Beyond Love" (1970)
"The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" (1968)
"A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings" (1955)
Visit The Modern Word for an excellent biographical sketch of the author.
See The New York Times for "A Talk with Gabriel Garcia Marquez" in the year of his Nobel win, an essay in which he recounts his 1957 meeting with Ernest Hemingway, and many more reviews and essays.
Finally, we should also mention that you can download Love in the Time of Cholera or Hundred Years of Solitude for free (as audio books) if you join Audible.com's 30-day program. We have details on it here.
As we say farewell to one of the world's greatest writers, we can remember him not only as a writer of "magical realism," whatever that phrase may mean, but as a teller of complicated, wondrous, and sometimes painful truths, in whatever form he happened to find them.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
Gabriel García Márquez’s fiction is characterized by a thread of common themes, events, and characters that seem to link his work together into one multifaceted portrayal of the experiences of Latin American life. From the influences of his early childhood, when he learned from his grandmother how to tell the most fantastic stories in a matter-of-fact tone, to his later observations of the oppression and cruelties of politics, García Márquez captures the everyday life of the amazing people of coastal Colombia, with its Caribbean flavor, as well as the occasional resident of the highlands of Bogotá. He has an eye for the details of daily life mixed with humor and an attitude of acceptance and wonder. His characters experience the magic and joy of life and face the suffering of solitude and isolation but always with an innate dignity. García Márquez’s vision touches real life with its local attitudes and values, and in the process it also reveals a criticism of politics, the church, and U.S. imperialism, as they contribute to the Latin American experience.
García Márquez’s body of work portrays a complete reality breaking out of conventional bounds. Characters from one story regularly show up or are mentioned in another, while his complex mix of fantasy and reality reveals a consummate storyteller capable of bringing to his work the magic of his non-European world. His impact as a writer lies in the fact that although his work describes the Latin American experience of life, it also goes beyond to reveal a universal human experience.
Ojos de perro azul
García Márquez’s earliest stories have a bizarre, almost surreal, tone, reminiscent of Franz Kafka. Collected in Ojos de perro azul, these stories represent an experimental phase of García Márquez’s development as a writer. They exemplify his new, or strange, realism, extending the reality of life into and beyond the experience of death. “La tercera resignación” (“The Third Resignation”), for example, deals with the thoughts and fears of a young man in his coffin. “Nabo, el negro que hizo esperar a los ángeles” (“Nabo, the Black Man Who Made the Angels Wait”) tells of a man who is locked in a stable because he goes insane after being kicked in the head by a horse.
In “Isabel viendo llover en Macondo” (“Monologue of Isabel Watching It Rain in Macondo”), published the same year as his first novella, Leaf Storm, García Márquez captures the atmosphere of a tropical storm through the eyes of his protagonist. Here, the world of Macondo, used in Leaf Storm as well and made world-famous in One Hundred Years of Solitude, is presented amid the suffocating oppressiveness of tropical weather. Here as later, nature itself is often a palpable force in the fiction of García Márquez—often exaggerated and overwhelming in order to reflect the reality of Latin American geography and the natural forces within it. The repetition underscores the monotony of the continuing deluge, and the theme of solitude is reflected in the imagery as well as in the personal relationship of Isabel and Martin: “The sky was a gray, jellyish substance that flapped its wings a hand away from our heads.”
No One Writes to the Colonel
After demonstrating his ability to capture the tropical atmosphere, García Márquez shows himself capable of capturing a portrait in words with his well-structured novella No One Writes to the Colonel. The central character is a dignified man with a deep sense of honor who has been promised a military pension. Every Friday, he goes to the post office to wait for mail that never comes, and then he claims that he really was not expecting anything anyway. He is a patient man, resigned to eternal waiting and hope when there is no reason to expect that hope to be fulfilled. “For nearly sixty years—since the end of the last civil war—the colonel had done nothing else but wait. October was one of the few things which arrived.” His other hope is his rooster, which belonged to his son, who was executed for handing out subversive literature, but since he is too poor to feed the rooster, some townspeople work out an arrangement to provide food until after the big fight. The political background is introduced subtly as the story opens with the funeral of the first person to die of natural causes in this town for a long time. Violence, censorship, and political repression are a given, as is the pervasive poverty. The colonel continues passing out the literature in his son’s place and waiting for his pension. His dignity sustains him in the face of starvation.
The dialogues between the colonel and his practical wife of many years are woven through the...
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