Gene H. Bell-Villada’s 1981 study of Jorge Luis Borges, entitled Borges and His Fiction: A Guide to His Mind and Art, helped introduce and explain the Argentine master and his works to North American readers. Noted for its attention to detail, its cogent analysis of Borges’ works, and its high degree of readability, the book has become a classic within the context of criticism devoted to Borges in particular and to contemporary Latin American fiction in general. As good, excellent, in fact, as Bell-Villada’s study of Borges is, however, his study of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Latin America’s most popular and most critically acclaimed contemporary author, and the recipient of the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature, may actually be better. Like the critic’s book on Borges, it is almost certainly destined to become a classic.
Garcia Marquez: The Man and His Work is divided into two essentially equal parts. In the first of these, entitled “Backgrounds,” author Bell-Villada presents a detailed examination of the personal, cultural, political, and literary contexts in which Garcia Marquez writes. In the second part, entitled “Works,” the critic provides clear description and indepth analysis of the Colombian writer’s fiction through El amor en los tiempos del colera (1985; Love in the Time of Cholera, 1988).
The “Backgrounds” section contains five chapters. The first, entitled “The Novel,” addresses the immense popularity of Garcia Marquez and his works, particularly Cien anos de soledad (1967;One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1970), and how the aforementioned novel fit (or rather, did not fit) into the “world situation of the novel” at the time of its publication. “The Country” provides background on Garcia Marquez’ native Colombia (with particular emphasis on his section of it), treating such divers topics as geography, dress, language, coastal legends, internal politics, the role of the Catholic church, the influence of the United States, and the national literary tradition (or rather, the relative lack thereof) from which Garcia Marquez sprang. “The Writer’s Life” is a detailed and revealing account of Garcia Marquez’ life, from his family background, to his work as a journalist, to his writing of One Hundred Years of Solitude, to his life and work after winning the Nobel Prize. “The Man and His Politics” focuses on the role politics, and particularly leftist politics, play in Garcia Marquez’ life and works. In “The Readings,” Bell-Villada discusses numerous writers and works which have influenced the Colombian author, including Franz Kafka, Greek tragedies, the Bible, Francois Rabelais, William Faulkner, and Virginia Woolf.
Six chapters compose the section entitled “Works.” The first of these, “The History of Macondo,” is a wide-ranging discussion of One Hundred Years of Solitude, covering such varied areas as plot, characters, the treatment of time, the presentation of both private and public thematic concerns, the use of the fantastic and of exaggeration, and narrative voice. The chapter which follows, “The Master of Short Forms,” provides description and analysis of Garcia Marquez’ short works, including El coronel no tiene qulen le escriba (1961; No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories, 1968) and the stories collected under the title La increible y triste historia de la candida Erendira y de su abuela desalmada (1972; Innocent Erendira and Other Stories, 1978). La hojarasca (1955; Leaf Storm and Other Stories) and La mala hora (1962; In Evil Hour, 1979) represent the main focus of “Juvenilia and Apprenticeship,” while “The Anatomy of Tyranny” is devoted to El otono del patriarca (1975; The Autumn of the Patriarch, 1975). “The Novelist of Love” presents a discussion of three of the Colombian author’s works in which love, in one guise or another, plays a significant part, including Cronica de una muerte anunciada (1981; Chronicle of a Death Foretold, 1982) and Love in the Time of Cholera. Finally, in “The Legacy” Bell-Villada assesses Garcia Marquez’ place in modern letters, placing particular emphasis on his influence on North American writers and their works, from Toni Morrison and her Song of Solomon (1977) to Paul Theroux and his The Mosquito Coast (1982).
The approach to Garcia Marquez and his works reflected in the above outline of sections and chapters is a logical and successful one indeed,...
(The entire section is 1899 words.)