García Márquez, Gabriel 1928–
García Márquez, a Colombian novelist and short story writer, writes strange and richly textured fiction considered some of the most important now being written in South America. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36.)
In the hands of such writers as Gabriel García Márquez, [the novel] is "advancing in an opposite direction from reality"—like one of the armies in this his masterwork One Hundred Years of Solitude—by discovering such delirious carnivals of invention and such circuses of delightful performance that the truly "new novel" must be called Latin American and not French.
Of course there are people who prefer their circuses to be European, one-ring affairs, and García Márquez's prodigal book is not for them. It has enough characters with repeating, confusing names for a Russian novel and enough ghosts, necromancers, gypsies, cannibals, levitating priests and incestuous lovers for a side show, while its golden chamber pots, plagues of insomnia, rains of yellow flowers, flying carpets and even a guest appearance by the Wandering Jew and the ascension into heaven of a girl named Remedios the Beauty qualify it as one of the very best if not in truth the greatest show on earth.
Which is to say that One Hundred Years of Solitude is a book of wonders written by a man, who, like one of his characters, has an unbridled imagination that is always going "beyond the genius of nature and even beyond miracles and magic." But not to say that the book is merely a literary freak-out. Because what García Márquez frequently uncovers for us is the extravagance of the commonplace….
[Reality]—the one García Márquez deals with—is nothing less than the ethos of Latin America, and in order to make his discovery, in order to say the truth about the world he lives in, without resorting to the jargon of sociology or the nit-picking of analytic psychology, he has had, heroically, to invent a territory—Macondo—to conceive a people—the Buendías—and to inform his geography and population with a mythology—a Borgeséan Eternal Return. Explicitly inspired by Faulkner and his evocation of real life through the imaginary Yoknapatawpha County, García Márquez has single-handedly mythologized a whole continent in telling the multiple story of the Buendías, a story, first, of guilt and innocence in a prototypical endeavor to found a community; then, of subsequent generations confronting forces from the outside world (like railroads and banana plantations); and, eventually, of the family's deterioration from within and final obliteration. In a word, the story of Macondo and the Buendías is a résumé of the Ages of Man and as García Márquez remarks: "… the history of the family was a machine with unavoidable repetitions, a turning wheel that would have gone on spinning into eternity were it not for the progressive and irremediable wearing of the axle."…
[The] mania for metaphysics, which disfigures so much Latin American writing, does not obtrude here, where a vast, Gothic humor alleviates, for the reader at least, "the crushing weight of so much past."…
Call the book bizarre, certainly call it funny; analyze it as primitive myth but notice its colorful sophistication equal to one of Chagall's crowded murals—describe the work how you will, it looks as if García Márquez, while we have been worrying about the great American novel, may well have written the great novel of the Americas—and had a grand time doing it too.
Ronald Christ, "A Novel Mythologizes a Whole Continent," in Commonweal (reprinted by permission of Commonweal Publishing Co., Inc.), March 6, 1970, pp. 622-23.
Gabriel García Márquez is a storyteller, which, as Walter Benjamin has shown, is not the same thing as a short-story writer. It is a rare talent these days when oral literature has virtually disappeared and the only stories people want to hear are those that can be fitted on to a 22-inch screen. His new collection of tales inevitably recalls One Hundred Years of Solitude, partly because La increible y triste historia of the title is derived from an episode of that novel: the story of the fairground girl who has accidentally burned down her grandmother's house and has to pay off the interminable debt by prostituting herself to never-ending queues of soldiers and civilians. But this is only the kernel of a fable that manages to be both grim and funny and has all the apparatus of a fairy tale—the wicked grandmother, the obstacles to be overcome, the labours to be accomplished and the handsome suitor with his magic gifts.
Like Don Quixote, García Márquez's characters find themselves in a hybrid world in which the imaginary and the marvellous are weighted down by drab and sordid reality.
"The Marvellous and the Monetary," in The Times Literary Supplement (reproduced by permission), September 29, 1972, p. 1140.
The virtues of originality become irrelevancies when an author can write as if his characters are living in the heart of an immense gallery of prophecy so that we feel things have to be because they were written before a story was written about them. A sense of gravity now fully holds our responsive attention because, at one level and through the experience of the story, we know that we ourselves are but fugitive survivors of a celestial conspiracy.
Señor [García] Marquez revealed the gift of a dream-like splicing of prophecy to narration in his first novella [Leaf Storm: And Other Stories], written when he was only 19 and recently translated into English by Gregory Rabassa. The scene, as in the author's highly-esteemed One Hundred Years of Solitude, is the Latin American town of Macondo: the time between 1903 and 1928. The narration begins with the town longing to lunch off the smell of the decaying body of a doctor who has hanged himself…. If the plot had been written by another, it might have been called trite; but as it is written, it is the linked fulfilment of prophecy….
Leaf Storm is the early novella (1955), and the rest of the book is made up with short stories written mainly in 1968. One is about a drowned stranger who is washed ashore and who makes the village women fall in love with his body so that they realise the narrowness of their own dreams, the dryness of their courtyards. Another is about a man who has been an embalmer of viceroys and who gave their faces such authority that for many years they went on governing better than when they were alive. Yet another tells of the plight of a very old man with enormous wings who was forced to live in a hen coop because he could work only useless miracles like making a blind peasant grow three new teeth.
The recent short stories, then, consciously exploit the virtues of originality, and they do so with conviction; but, although they propose aspects of genius, they are not to my mind as memorable as the simpler incidents in the crumbling town of Macondo, the town which God had declared unnecessary and thrown into a corner.
Oswell Blakeston, in Books and Bookmen, March, 1973, p. 73.
Leaf Storm is a collection of stories by the distinguished South American author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, a fine book for which I feel a sneaking lack of admiration. The seven fables—that seems to be the correct word for them—are undoubtedly rather beautiful in their death-obsessed way, but I felt as if I were reading them from behind glass. When I 'connected' I was impressed: 'Monologue of Isabel Watching It Rain in Macondo' is a truly haunting piece of writing. But, more often than not, I was outside the aquarium: mesmerized by the dazzling display, but baffled by what I never really discovered was its purpose…. Still, I am intrigued enough to want to read [the stories] again. But not just yet, and not before I have returned to the familiar, comfy, calamitous world of Western novelists.
Paul Bailey, in London Magazine, April/May, 1973, p. 168.
The nineteenth century is still whinnying with us if we accept the term "magic realism" to describe the work of Gabriel García Márquez or his contemporaries, or, for that matter, the work of any writer anywhere, at any time….
García Márquez has brought breadth to the telling of tales as we have known the art in our culture, new dimensions that give a hint of stellar time and the anachronic coincidences that make up our false sense of once-ness as far as the heavens, and other areas, are concerned. The limits of our own time become clear toward the end of One Hundred Years of Solitude as Aureliano Babilonia (Whore of Babylon?), who is also reading the book, finds out that time, the hundred years, the time of his dynasty, will come to an end with the end of the book. And we have a confusion between character and reader, broadening the possibilities, which is what Cervantes did—the book within the book, the book within itself, the infinite packages of Aunt Jemima flour. What Cervantes did that was new, and therefore a novel, was to overlap all sorts of coexistences, coincidences, of reader and character, even the coexistence in essence. The introduction of characters from other fiction is part of this, Don Álvaro Tarfe from Avellaneda's spurious second part. In García Márquez characters are purloined (or rescued) from other writers, Carlos Fuentes and Julio Cortázar, to name two….
What there is in the works of García Márquez that beggars our everyday feelings of reality is not so much the mystery of his "magic" as the larger-than-life tone that runs Rabelaisian through everything, even, and perhaps more so, in the face of inevitable death and destruction. The tales teem with that comprehensive quality that Ortega y Gasset called "vital reason," using Alexander at Gordia as the prime example of what he meant.
This is the vitality that comes out of the dust of what supposedly has died, a true cycle. It is the vitality seen in the works of Nikos Kazantzákis, especially Zorba the Greek….
The feeling of magic might well come from the tropicality (a possible defining term, but let us be spared any more of such things) of the region described, which is also larger than life to chilly and indrawn highlanders. García Márquez is rather cruel with his mountain people, showing them as the bringers of puritanical austerity (Fernanda del Carpio) and even death itself as a Christmas gift (her father). The cold, wizened death we have come to expect traditionally in contrast to the warmth of life exemplified by Zorba's heaving in one last breath at the window before lying down again to die. With death and destruction all around, García Márquez's tropical people, his positive characters, always seem to keep on running until they drop. The great scandal of Senator Onésimo Sánchez in "Death Constant Beyond Love" is not that he has shut himself up with the Frenchman's daughter, but that he has done so in order to die passively.
In many ways García Márquez has fended off his critics and analysts by always doing what is exactly right, not thinking about what is right. This trait of his writing seems to have a touch of magic about it and yet it always rings so true, so real, hence magic realism. But it is not that: it is reality in its several dimensions, the ones we are hard put to explain without recourse to naked formulas. He has returned to the roots of reality, which are the roots of the novel as it was conceived by Cervantes. But he has gone much deeper and given us the Roc once more. That is the nature of his ancient art.
Gregory Rabassa, "Beyond Magic Realism: Thoughts on the Art of Gabriel García Márquez," in Books Abroad, Summer, 1973, pp. 44-50.
What is especially surprising in these texts [that is, the stories written by García Márquez before about 1950], in contrast with the later writing [from Leaf Storm to date], is their intellectualism. Cold and humorless—the first of them written under the devastating influence of Kafka, and the last under the influence (no less devastating) of Faulkner—they reveal a world of extreme sophistication, of mannerisms, of literary tics. The truth of the matter is that García Márquez has not yet come to grips with his literary vocation, for that vocation is in the making. He is already a rebel, to be sure, but not the revolutionary who, on returning to Aracataca [García Márquez' birthplace in Colombia], with his mother, discovers the collapse of a world that had given him life, and who becomes conscious of a reality which he will dedicate himself thereafter to redeeming (exorcizing) with his pen. He is quite clear on this point: though unsure of the dates, he is able to recall that the trip to Aracataca with his mother took place when all of these stories, with the exception of "La noche de los alcaravanes" (The Night of the Curlews), had already been written. The new experience strengthened his nascent vocation, opened his eyes to the raw material of his art and transformed the diligent reader and servant of Kafka and Faulkner into a writer who would, in turn, have them serve him in the creation of his own special world.
Although the literary interest of these tales is minimal, they do arouse curiosity as portraits of the emotional and cultural life of the adolescent who, by the end of the forties, far removed from his beloved tropics, was resigning himself to a career in law and discovering—with awe—the great novelists of modern times. Ten short stories appeared that would never be gathered together as a book. Almost invariably they were given enigmatic titles: "La tercera resignación" (The Third Resignation), "Eva está dentro de su gato" (Eve inside her Cat), "Tubal-Caín forja una estrella" (Tubal-Cain Forges a Star), "La otra costilla de la muerte" (The Other Rib of Death), "Diálogo del espejo" (Dialogue in a Mirror), "Amargura para tres sonámbulos" (Bitter Sorrow for Three Sleepwalkers), "Ojos de perro azul" (Blue-dog Eyes), "Nabo" (Nabo), "Alguien desordena estas rosas" (Someone Has Disturbed the Roses) and "La noche de los alcaravanes" (The Night of the Curlews). The first five were written in Bogotá between 1947 and the middle months of 1948 and the remainder in Cartagena and Barranquilla.
The dominant theme in almost all of these is death. Sometimes the events of life are narrated from within death; sometimes death is viewed from within life; sometimes there are recurring deaths within death. Most of the stories reach for a setting outside the limits of time and space, within an abstract reality. Throughout, the narrative perspective is subjective and internal: the world of life, or death, is viewed by a consciousness which in narrating narrates itself. Objectivity is lacking even in those stories which spring from an objectively real anecdote, like "Bitter Sorrow for Three Sleepwalkers" and "Nabo." Apart from these two, all are rooted firmly in an imaginary reality, by degrees which range from the mythic and legendary ("The Night of the Curlews," a tale inspired by a popular superstition) to the truly fantastic. The consistency of this fictional reality is more than anything else psychological: actions, which are few, are dwarfed by bizarre sensations, extraordinary emotions, impossible thoughts. It is what the characters feel or think that is being related; almost never what they do.
An atmosphere of nightmare and neurosis pervades these tales, in which dreams and self-duplications are often important themes. The phenomenon of the double self first appears in "The Other Rib of Death" and "Dialogue in a Mirror"; here we catch an early glimpse of the great theme of recurring names, personalities and destinies of One Hundred Years of Solitude. The last of these stories, however, introduces a concrete element which allows it to be set directly within the "history" of the fictional reality: its curlews belong to a world which is already that of Leaf Storm. This may explain why "The Night of the Curlews" is the only one of the ten stories "resurrected" by One Hundred Years of Solitude….
A pattern which we might term metaphysico-masturbatory is repeated in various of these ten tales: a solitary character tortures himself with thoughts of ontological disintegration, self-duplication and extinction. Naturally, not all of the stories follow the same lines, nor is their quality uniformly nil….
["Someone Has Disturbed the Roses"] is the most successful of the ten stories—the best written and the most skilfully constructed. Despite its magical or fantastic air, it has a number of picturesque details drawn from an objective reality, certain of which will reappear in the Macondo of Leaf Storm (the "bread and aloe leaves" at the entrance to the house, the "wooden pegs" in the dead boy's eyes). In addition, the boy-sitting-in-a-chair-waiting is, as we know, the nuclear image of Leaf Storm: this is the plight which the narrator-grandchild has to suffer throughout the novel. Little by little, the amorphous reality of the early tales is beginning to take on a recognizable shape. It has begun to move within fixed limits, the same limits that will govern its development, its growth and regrowth in future years.
"The Night of the Curlews" is the dividing line between the prehistory and the history of the fictional reality…. The story is told not as an objectively real experience, but rather as one belonging to an imaginary reality: the note of mystery and surprise is intense, and innuendos are relied upon almost to excess. From a narrative standpoint the story is interesting in that it is presented almost entirely in dialogue—a technique by no means common in the work of García Márquez. Moreover, it is here that the curlews make their first appearance in the fictional reality; they will become a permanent part of the author's landscape from the first novel on. Of the ten stories, this one alone would be cannibalized by One Hundred Years of Solitude—just as if García Márquez wished to emphasize that only in this text had he begun in earnest his life as a substitute for God.
Mario Vargas Llosa, "A Morbid Prehistory (The Early Stories)," in Books Abroad, Summer, 1973, pp. 451-60.
The explosive success of One Hundred Years of Solitude has had a curious effect on the reputation of García Márquez's earlier works, especially the short stories. The growth of the mythography of Macondo has produced a bulk of work which treats García Márquez's entire published work like a single body of material with One Hundred Years of Solitude at the center feeding on all the others, which are examined only for what they can clarify of the vast novel. The short stories are dismissed as fragmentary or ignored except for the information they give about people or places in the novels.
This sort of mining is often helpful and usually legitimate. It can clarify details of Macondo and its environs, although we are in danger of overdoing the Faulknerian analogy, and it is doubtful whether establishing detailed physical or geographical specifics of Macondo is as important as some have believed. But comparisons can be useful in other areas. One is in the understanding of the development of García Márquez's mythical world; a careful comparison of all the texts could enlighten the world vision lying behind the fictions. Another source of enlightenment would be a careful stylistic comparison of different versions of the same episode….
In 1972 García Márquez published "The Incredible and Sad History of Candid Eréndira and Her Wicked Grandmother"; although the volume is subtitled "Siete cuentos" (Seven Short Stories), the title story is far too long to be considered a short story. The other six show an increasing reliance on sheer fantasy as a major element. The exception is "Death Constant beyond Love," a psychological study of the awakening to lust at an unfortunately advanced age of Senator Onésimo Sánchez. Setting and characters are reminiscent of Macondo, but there is little of the accustomed fantastic laughter. The remaining five short stories all involve a total rupture with objective reality as we know it; they deal with a world in which the most extraordinary fantasy is accepted without question or surprise….
With these stories, García Márquez is exploring beyond One Hundred Years of Solitude in the relations between objective reality and fantasy, not as opposed fictive worlds, but as undifferentiated parts of a totality of existence. This is implicit in One Hundred Years of Solitude, which has a notoriously unrealistic perspective. García Márquez has entered, at least temporarily, what Northrop Frye has called the world of romance, a world quite different from that of the novel. This is obvious in "The Incredible and Sad History of Candid Eréndira and Her Wicked Grandmother" … [a] work [which] suggests a new direction for García Márquez, a direction implicit in the short stories.
Frank Dauster, "The Short Stories of García Márquez," in Books Abroad, Summer, 1973, pp. 466-70.
The constant use of foreshadowing and premonition stands out as one of the basic structural elements of One Hundred Years of Solitude. All such elements, including cyclical reiteration, paradox and parallelism, are tightly interwoven with the main themes of the book; as a consequence, they can be studied as integral parts of the "story" as well as of the "discourse," where syntactic and semantic aspects are interrelated. A major portion of the book obeys the rule of ambiguity … more generally referred to as "magic realism" when applied to the Latin American novel and short story.
The realm of the fantastic … lies between the real-explicable and the supernatural, with a continuous fluctuation of boundaries and an uncertainty intensified by the total absence of the narrator's guiding point of view. García Márquez suggests that this will also be a characteristic of his book: on the first page, stressing the importance of imagination in José Arcadio Buendía, the founder of Macondo, he writes, "his imagination always went beyond the genius of nature and even beyond miracles and magic." He causes the whole story to "float" by disrupting the natural temporal sequence and making even spatial relations uncertain. The constant intertwining of the real and material with the fantastic and spiritual fosters ambiguity and permits a myth to be born….
Ambiguity in the novel is further intensified by the transposition and confusion of senses and sensations….
Such devices as synesthesia, oxymoron and the like in most cases allow more than one interpretation…. [The] fantastic often originates in hyperbole and metaphor—both of which abound in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Structurally, the fantastic element helps to create and maintain suspense; its semantic function … is its very presence in the work. And what could be more fantastic in the case of One Hundred Years of Solitude … if not the fact that it is a story of a story told in reverse? An unusual aspect of it—with a distinctly twentieth-century flavor—is that it contains within itself not the account of its writing, but rather one of its reading and interpretation. Thus, all events in the novel gain added significance as clues for a final deciphering. A structuralist can easily discover a careful system of signs and codes in this never-totally-revealed universe full of premonitions.
Biruté Ciplijauskaité, "Foreshadowing as Technique and Theme in One Hundred Years of Solitude," in Books Abroad, Summer, 1973, pp. 479-84.
The connection of One Hundred Years of Solitude's last three pages with Borges's fiction is not casual. Where else can one find texts which contain similar magic and textual connotations? Where else can one find a similar profusion of fantasy and hyperbole? Only in Borges does one find the same labyrinths made of unending or circular time, the secret scriptures of gods, cities obliterated by time to their very ashes, immortal men forever trapped in the lines of a text which turns upon itself in such an obsessive, oneiric way.
Borges's fiction helps to understand a decisive aspect of One Hundred Years of Solitude, i.e., the simultaneity of its times. The key lies in one of its sentences. Upon discovering the parchments, Aureliano understands that "Melquíades had not put events in the order of man's conventional time, but had concentrated a century of daily episodes in such a way that they coexisted in one instant" (p. 421). Melquíades had created an Aleph made of time. In Borges's story of the same title, the Aleph is made of space: "'The Aleph?' I repeated. 'Yes, the only place on earth where all places are—seen from every angle, each standing clear, without any confusion or blending'" (The Aleph, p. 23). A few pages later, when the narrator finally sees the Aleph, he says, "I saw the Aleph from every point and angle, and in the Aleph I saw the earth and in the earth the Aleph and in the Aleph the earth …" (p. 28). The coexistence of one hundred years in a single moment of time makes Melquíades's book into an emblem of the Aleph. As in Borges's story, the book contains the world and the world contains the book, in a mirror-like way.
Emir Rodríguez Monegal, "One Hundred Years of Solitude: The Last Three Pages," in Books Abroad, Summer, 1973, pp. 484-89.
Gabriel García Márquez's most recent book is a collection of five short stories and a novella [published] in Mexico in 1972 with the title La increíble y triste historia de la cándida Eréndira y de su abuela desalmada (The Incredible and Sad History of Candid Eréndira and Her Wicked Grandmother)…. [The] collection has an internal unity of its own, and like the rest of García Márquez's works, it returns to and expands themes, events and characters that appear in his previous work….
In his previous collections of short stories, Nobody Writes to the Colonel (1961) and "Big Mama's Funeral" (1962) García Márquez had kept the element of fantasy subordinate to the total reality—psychic and physical—of the characters. In One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) he used fantasy to underscore the reality and the historical veracity that were the basis of his fiction. Most recently, the emphasis has shifted completely: the fantastic has become the ordinary, it is everyday life, or it has been reduced to the ordinary by being completely absorbed in deadening routine, repeated events and memories of other, similar occurrences in the realm of the fantastic. Vargas Llosa says that in these stories: "what is imaginary dominates supremely, it reduces what is real and objective to something very secondary, and it often eliminates it…." A close reading of the stories reveals, however, that it is the real and objective, or its accouterments, that do away with the element of fantasy, which is itself presented as part of the substance of daily life….
It seems that these stories take a different direction from previous collections, and One Hundred Years of Solitude, in that they rely on the fantastic. The characters, not unlike those of the novel, live immersed in their own world of wonders, which have become not individual oddities but something very much like "social eccentricity," where fantasy is the rule, the dominant and organizing force of their lives. Reality, whether it be objective or literary—as in the case of other works, recognizable literary characters or topoi—are disruptions of such life, fissures in the narrative world. That is why the characters feel compelled to account for its incongruity within their lives by turning it into what it is not. Thus an angel becomes a chicken, a ghost-ship a visible wreck, the tempting young woman a discarded and untouched reminder of death. Fiction in this instance incorporates reality into fancy, and not vice versa as in earlier works, in order to make the former more believable, more congruous with the fantastic modes that characterize these people's lives. There is a total reversal of functions in that fantasy is the ordering principle, yet there is attention to causality, for every miracle has to be accounted for in terms of beginning and end, it has to be "completed"—as in the case of the drowned giant—inscribed in history, even if the latter is measured in somewhat local terms: before the smell of roses appeared or after; when the rains left some manta rays floating in the superhumid air et cetera. Even the language partakes of this reversal, and set phrases acquire an incongruous ring, as when people are buried in water while they long to return to dust. Fantasy has indeed taken over, as Vargas Llosa has aptly said, but it seems to me that in doing so its nature is changed, for it has become equivalent to life. As we have tried to point out, not only has it succeeded in trivializing wonder, but it has also made them quite ordinary and accountable.
Marta Morello Frosch, "The Common Wonders of García Márquez's Recent Fiction," in Books Abroad, Summer, 1973, pp. 496-501.