Last Updated on May 24, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3302
García Márquez, Gabriel 1928–
Colombian novelist, author of One Hundred Years of Solitude. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36.)
[Only] García Márquez has succeeded in giving Colombia imaginative existence in fiction….
Thanks to García Márquez, the most interesting spot in Colombia today is a tiny tropical village called Macondo, which is not on any map. Macondo, set between dunes and marshlands on one side and an impenetrable sierra on another, is a decadent, dusty little coastal town, like thousands of others in the heart of the hemisphere, but also very special, at once strange and familiar, specific and general, immediate as an insight, remote as an image of a forgotten landscape. Its visible lines chart a secret course. It is one of those places a voyager reaches without ever leaving home, sure to arrive before he sets out. Macondo is everywhere, and nowhere. Those who travel there take an inner trip to a port of call that is part of the hidden face of a country…. History is about to catch up with Macondo. The bad omens are multiplying. Not long ago birds fell from the sky. Macondo—Colombia's Jefferson, Mississippi, with a touch of the small-town tedium of Winesburg, Ohio—is on the eve of a final holocaust. García Márquez captures and fixes the moment. Nothing has happened yet. But in a sense everything has. The night before—a long wake—is a clear premonition of the morning after….
If he tells a story, it is less to develop a subject than to discover it. Theme is less important than wavelength. His facts are provisional, valid not as statements but as assumptions, what he feels today he may discard tomorrow. If in the end not everything adds up to a net result, it is perhaps because we must subtract, not add, to reach a final balance. His world has no beginning or end, no outer rim. It is centripetal. What holds it together is inner tension. It is always on the verge of taking concrete shape, but remains intangible. He wants it that way. Its relation to objective reality is that of an eternally fluctuating mental portrait where resemblances at any given moment are striking but tenuous. Because García Márquez never fully defines his terms, their possibilities remain inexhaustible. A single source has fed all his books, which grew side by side in him like different aspects of a single basic image. In fact, El Coronel No Tiene Quien le Escriba, Los Funerales de la Mamá Grande, and La Mala Hora were all more or less written together, each an echo of the others, a hint containing its sequel or, inversely, deriving from it. Thus in the beginning there was meant to be only one book, La Mala Hora, which would be all-encompassing….
Having struck a rich vein, García Márquez has been tapping it ever since. He realizes the dangers of such a procedure, but the compulsive need to tell and retell the same stories, to go over the same material again and again, wringing new shadings out of it each time, is something of an umbilical force with him. He constantly rereads his books. He can quote at length from them. He knows them almost by heart. To keep them alive and burning, he has to review them every day, ceaselessly retreating along familiar landmarks, in hopes of finding a way around them. But he always circles back to the starting point. There seems to be no way out….
Everything he has written to date, he says, he already knew or had heard before he was eight. It takes him years to be able to draw on the residues of his experiences. They have to settle first. And he lets them take their time. To transpose he must first restore. It is delicate work, for which there is no sure method. He plays by ear. Things seem to come to him from nowhere, out of the haze of a past at moments withheld, at others full of missing places and people. If he invents anything, it is almost by mistake….
[García Márquez] relation to Hemingway is platonic; a matter of general stylistic tendency. The Faulknerian glare has been neutralized. It is not replaced by any other. From now on García Márquez is his own master. He has pared himself down to the bone. There are no spare parts in Coronel. Everything is done with "a minimum of words." Clarity, precision, understatement, a deceptive simplicity, seduce where rhetoric never could. There is an air of unspoken things, sudden inklings, heavy silences, all wrapped in an apparent negligence that defines by omission, always calling attention to what would seem to have been overlooked. A single breath of mystery blows through the book, which is barely a hundred pages long, but shrouded in luminous shadows….
In García Márquez environment reflects inner stress. Setting is character. If the moods of his people are closely tuned to the cycles of nature, it is because seasons are mental phases and outer temperature is a correlative of the climate of the soul…. The image is in the eye. Without sacrificing precise sociological observation, at which he excels, García Márquez individualizes, thereby humanizing, his characters. They are valid as types, but also distinct as people. If he tends occasionally to duplicate certain traits—his widows, doctors, and colonels are not always sufficiently differentiated from other stock members of their respective categories—it is not out of documentary concern but because his emotional and imaginative range is limited. A common subjective vision animates all his creations. The roles they play—whether as stars, stuntmen, or understudies—all derive from a single mental repertory….
The history of Macondo, as recorded by García Márquez, reads like a journal of the plague years. There was blight, bust, and banditry in La Hojarasca, malice and moral cataclysm in Coronel. The mischief continues in Funerales. If the birds that fall on the widow Rebeca's fence recall the rats in Camus's La Peste, it is, says García Márquez, because "that is the book I would have liked to write." The plague as a symbol of the complete disruption of established values in a country chronically on the verge of anarchy appears in full force in La Mala Hora.
Luis Harss and Barbara Dohmann, "Gabriel García Márquez, or the Lost Chord," in their Into the Mainstream: Conversations with Latin-American Writers (copyright © 1967 by Luis Harss and Barbara Dohmann; reprinted by permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.), Harper, 1967, pp. 310-41.
To speak of a land of enchantment, even in reference to a contemporary novel, is to conjure up images of elves, moonbeams and slippery mountains. Along with the midgets and fairies, one can expect marvelous feats and moral portents, but not much humor and almost certainly no sex. The idea, it would seem, is to forget the earth. At least that is one idea of enchantment.
It is obviously not shared by the Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, who has created in "One Hundred Years of Solitude" an enchanted place that does everything but cloy. Macondo oozes, reeks and burns even when it is most tantalizing and entertaining. It is a place flooded with lies and liars and yet it spills over with reality. Lovers in this novel can idealize each other into bodiless spirits, howl with pleasure in their hammocks or, as in one case, smear themselves with peach jam and roll naked on the front porch. The hero can lead a Quixotic expedition across the jungle, but although his goal is never reached, the language describing his quest is pungent with life….
Near the end of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" a character finds a parchment manuscript in which the history of his family had been recorded "one hundred years ahead of time" by an old gypsy. The writer "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." The narrative is a magician's trick in which memory and prophecy, illusion and reality are mixed and often made to look the same. It is, in short, very much like [García] Márquez's astonishing novel.
It is not easy to describe the techniques and themes of the book without making it sound absurdly complicated, labored and almost impossible to read. In fact, it is none of these things. Though concocted of quirks, ancient mysteries, family secrets and peculiar contradictions, it makes sense and gives pleasure in dozens of immediate ways….
[García] Márquez creates a continuum, a web of connections and relationships. However bizarre or grotesque some particulars may be, the larger effect is one of great gusto and good humor and, even more, of sanity and compassion. The author seems to be letting his people half-dream and half-remember their own story and, what is best, he is wise enough not to offer excuses for the way they do it. No excuse is really necessary. For Macondo is no never-never land. Its inhabitants do suffer, grow old and die, but in their own way….
He has … written a novel so filled with humor, rich detail and startling distortion that it brings to mind the best of Faulkner and Günter Grass. It is a South American Genesis, an earthy piece of enchantment, more, as the narrator says of Macondo, "an intricate stew of truth and mirages."
Robert Kiely, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1970 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 8, 1970, pp. 5, 24.
When Gabriel García Márquez's utterly original "One Hundred Years of Solitude" came out here in 1970, I read it—I experienced it—with the same recognition of a New World epic that one feels about "Moby Dick."…
Above all, the "New World" as a subject requires an indifference to the ordinary laws of space, time and psychology that enforce realism. No one who has read "One Hundred Years of Solitude" will ever forget the sensation of tripping on sentences that in the most matter-of-fact way described what happens under the pressure cooker of total "Newness." Verily, there has been nothing to compare the New World with but the New World itself.
Gabriel García Márquez comes from Colombia, a country whose 20th-century history has been dominated by the civil wars that are the background of everything he writes….
He has extraordinary strength and firmness of imagination and writes with the calmness of a man who knows exactly what wonders he can perform. Strange things happen in the land of [García] Márquez. As with Emerson, Poe, Hawthorne, every sentence breaks the silence of a vast emptiness, the famous New World "solitude" that is the unconscious despair of his characters but the sign of [García] Márquez's genius….
[García] Márquez is not a Protestant romantic of the time when it seemed that all the world would soon be new. He is a dazzlingly accomplished but morally burdened end-product of centuries of colonialism, civil war and political chaos; a prime theme in all his work is the inevitability of incest and the damage to the germ plasm that at the end of his great novel produces a baby with a pig's tail. He always writes backwards, from the end of the historical cycle, and all his prophecies are acerb without being gloomy. The farcically tragic instability and inhumanity of the continent where Nature is still too much for man and where the Spanish conquest is still unresolved, dominate his work. What makes his subject "New World" is the hallucinatory chaos and stoniness of the Colombian village, Macondo, through which all history will pass. What makes [García] Márquez's art "New World" is the totally untraditionalist, unhindered technique behind this vision of the whole—from the white man's first scratches in the jungle to the white man's inability to stave off the sight of his own end.
"Leaf Storm and Other Stories" was [García] Márquez's first book, begun when he was 19. In some of these beautiful early stories—"The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World," "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings," "The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship,"—[García] Márquez's typical double vision of the natural world as inherently a fable, a story to be told and retold rather than something "real," expresses itself with perfect charm.
In each of these stories [García] Márquez takes a theme that in a lesser writer would seem "poetic," a handsome conceit lifted out of a poem by Wallace Stevens but then stopped dead in its narrative tracks. [García] Márquez manages to make a story out of each of these—not too ambitious, but just graceful enough to be itself. He succeeds because these are stories about wonders, and the wonders become actions. [García] Márquez as a very young man was already committed to the subject of creatures working out all their destinies. In every [García] Márquez work a whole historical cycle is lived through, by character after character. And each cycle is like a miniature history of the world from the creation to the final holocaust. [García] Márquez is writing that history line by line, very slowly indeed in each piece of writing (the slowness of pace is part of his manner, his mystique; he sees things in a long-held, eerily powerful light).
The upsetting narrative sequence may remind us of the subtlest imaginations of the 20th-century. But I would guess that [García] Márquez owes this technique to his vision of the mad repetitiousness of history in his country. A harsh mysteriously arid peasant village like Macondo experiences everything in his work, over and over again, like those characters in "One Hundred Years of Solitude" who promptly reappear after dying.
Alfred Kazin, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), February 20, 1972, pp. 1, 14, 16.
In his remarkable, energetic novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, [García Márquez] carefully balanced reality and fantasy to make the improbable and the impossible occurrences in the town of Macondo appear quite natural and commonplace. When, for example, the author told us that a baby had been born with a pig's tail, we accepted the event because it happened in such an earthy, human, "real" world, and because the author recorded it so casually.
In this new collection of short stories [Leaf Storm, and Other Stories],… García Márquez always includes details that give reality to the fantasy, help us believe in the unbelievable….
García Márquez seems to be saying …: Why not, why couldn't it happen, don't fantastic things happen in the world, isn't our world as unpredictable as the world I have created?
García Márquez's early work, which is in a much quieter vein (see his other collection of short stories, No One Writes to the Colonel), is represented in this volume by "Nabo" and "Leaf Storm." In both of these early stories, however, there are mysterious elements that foreshadow the fantasies to come….
Throughout this collection, the wit is in evidence that made One Hundred Years of Solitude such a delight….
But for all the brilliance of these tales, Leaf Storm is a little disappointing. The title story, though it has memorable passages, seems too long and, despite the shifts in narrators and the jumbled time scheme, somewhat static and flat. The narration lacks the drive of One Hundred Years of Solitude. The recent stories are much livelier. But perhaps the reader who comes to Leaf Storm after reading the masterwork has already been so thoroughly initiated into García Márquez's odd world that he must find the fantasy of the shorter works disappointing. In any case, it does seem that for García Márquez a change of pace is now in order. He has already written a great novel. One would not want him to become a mere vendor of miracles.
Ronald De Feo, "Portents, Prodigies, Miracles," in Nation, May 15, 1972, pp. 632-34.
Gabriel García Márquez is one of those writers who enchants us as he deals with those perennial forces that rule our lives and cast us hither and thither. He also represents a highly encouraging phenomenon in world literature, which has been designated as the South American boom in literature. In an age when more and more often we hear that the novel is dying or dead, as the fish in the sea and life in Lake Erie, under the threat of Menschendämmerung it is worthwhile, I feel, to find such a countercurrent of fantasy and to bewingedly reflect thus upon the human lot awhile, and refreshed, thence to renew our efforts and even gingerly resume taking arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing….
García Márquez does not fail to deal with the dark forces, or give the impression that the life of human beings, one by one, should be ultimately tragic, but he also shows every moment pregnant with images and color and scent which ask to be arranged into patterns of meaning and significance while the moment lasts….
It seems to me that García Márquez marries realism and objectivity with a most singular sense of the fantastic and delicious fabulating gifts, often employing surrealistic clairvoyance to paint frescoes full of moral indignation and anger protesting against oppression and violence, degradation and deceit. Extolling pride, he clearly depicts certain ludicrous, even grotesque aspects, such as quixotic bravery and intransigent single-mindedness of purpose. It is a joy to encounter a poet who revels in his seductive powers as García Márquez does. And yet he is so exact in his formulation and precise in his composition. In juxtaposing the twin elements of humor and tragedy García Márquez often achieves contrapuntal heights where language and image are thoroughly fused….
García Márquez has invented a fantastic imaginary country of his own with its pertinent mythology of persons and events, recurrent in all his books, linked by allusion, with themes taken up and carried from one book to the other and elaborated upon, causing García Márquez's mythological world to emerge and expand, addicting readers to a fantasy and humor that titillates the imagination and makes the reader eager for more. Nor should we forget its ubiquitous poetry.
Thor Vilhjálmsson, "Presentation of Gabriel García Márquez," in Books Abroad, Winter, 1973, pp. 10-11.
The Uruguayan critic Ruffinelli titled his review of Eréndira "El milagro otra vez." He is right. García Márquez has done it again. Reading these stories … is sheer pleasure. Reportedly, six were originally written for children but "got older"; "Eréndira" is quite long, almost a short novel, and admirably written: Vargas Llosa calls the texts "experiments in search of a new language" and a "transition between Cien años … and the future García Márquez." They appear to be spinoffs from the materials that went into Cien años: the same abundant inventiveness, magic and humor….
It has been said that Eréndira is García Márquez's goodbye to Macondo (the location of Cien años and the earlier novels of the author), before he finishes his ever more anxiously awaited next novel, "El otoño del patriarca." Quite so, for these stories exude a degree of maturity (although I find that "Eréndira" suffers from occasional ruptures and a tendency to meander) characteristic of the end of something. A splendid collection.
Wolfgang A. Luchting, in Books Abroad, Winter, 1973, p. 115.
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