Last Updated on May 24, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3549
García Márquez, Gabriel 1928–
Colombian novelist, short story writer, and journalist whose works, including the monumental One Hundred Years of Solitude, are noted for their blending of the real and the surreal. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 3, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36.)
It is to be hoped that [One Hundred Years of Solitude] soon gets established as the Great Latin American Novel, for it will mean that Latin American literature will change from being the exotic interest of a few to essential reading, and that Latin America itself will be looked on less as a crazy subculture and more as a fruitful, alternative way of life. For this novel shines in its abundance—of obsession, eccentricity, fantasy, magic, myth, comedy, whimsy, political satire, archetypical beings, romances, folk tales, cycles, and tragedies—all in the amazing single, continuing story of the Buendía family, in the town of Macondo, Colombia, Latin America, the world. García Márquez restores storytelling to the anaemic, motivation-ridden context of the novel; and the combination of his sheer humanity and Rabassa's marvelous English recreation under the guise of translation establishes this work as a green milestone, which makes our fiction shrivel by comparison. The book is an imperative; its quality is that of restoring health—to dreams-in-life, to the language, to the reader. (p. 129)
The Antioch Review (© 1973 by The Antioch Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission of the editors), Vol. XXX, No. 1, 1970.
Gabriel García Márquez is a man who has so far dedicated his entire literary career to the writing of one novel. That is not to say that he has written only one book. It is rather that [all his earlier works] … can be seen now as warming up exercises for his masterpiece, Cien años de soledad ('One hundred years of solitude', 1967). Nearly all his works explore a remote, swampy, imaginary town called Macondo, a backwater in the Colombian ciénaga, the region where García Márquez was brought up. The richly charted town of Macondo is García Márquez's fictional 'world', his contribution to Latin American literature. Yet the Macondo whose hundred years of solitary history is recorded triumphantly in Cien años de soledad had to be built, brick by brick, in its creator's imagination. The earlier works serve this purpose of meticulous construction. For this reason I shall concentrate on the definitive novel. Indeed there is nothing of importance that can be said of it that cannot be applied to the previous works.
Of all contemporary Latin American novels, none has captured the public imagination more than Cien años de soledad. It has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in Latin America and Spain, and many more in numerous translations. In Latin America it appears, remarkably, to appeal to most people who can read. Enthusiasm for it comes readily from university professors, but also, for example, from ladies who normally read Spanish translations of Agatha Christie. The enthusiasm, moreover, appears to be genuine. Why?
The main reason for the book's success may be that it can be read on many levels, and there is a superficial level on which it can be read of very obvious appeal. For this town of Macondo that García Márquez has been inventing for so many years is an extraordinarily dotty place, populated by endearingly eccentric people whose antics are, above all, funny. The novel is full of comic caricatures. (pp. 144-45)
The dead-pan depiction of extraordinary people and extraordinary events is indeed one of the principle stratagems the book employs to achieve its comic effects. Events and personal characteristics are spectacularly exaggerated, made quite absurdly larger than life, yet in a style that takes the hyperbole for granted, as though it were a meticulous fact. (p. 145)
There is plenty of satisfaction to be derived from this book simply in the savouring of his joy in whimsy and much of the novel's appeal lies in the sense of liberation it inspires in one: liberation from a humdrum real world into a magical one that also happens to be funny. It also happens to be exotically tropical, of course, and part of the novel's success in France or Argentina, for example, may be due also to its differentness.
Yet the novel functions at far deeper levels. Like several other contemporary Latin American novelists García Márquez has discovered that it is possible to tell a compelling story in a novel yet also convey complex thoughts in it which do not disturb the story's rhythm.
A clue to one of the novel's more complex aims can be found in its occasional references to other Latin American novels…. For the moment it should be merely stressed that these references show that García Márquez is assiduously aware of other Latin American writers. We shall see that Cien años de soledad is almost as much a reading of them as an exercise in original creativeness.
Sometimes García Márquez seems deliberately to be invading the 'territory' of other writers. There are scenes which could almost have been written by Alejo Carpentier, others which could almost have been written by Borges or by Juan Rulfo. (pp. 146-47)
Messages to Borges are numerous in Cien años de soledad, and there are many others directed at Alejo Carpentier. What, then, is their purpose? Is García Márquez merely engaged in some Nabokovian game to be deciphered by some Latin American Mary McCarthy? I don't think so. I believe that he is attempting to suggest to his readers that one of the novel's fundamental aims is to tell us something about the nature of contemporary Latin American writing on which we shall see that it acts as a kind of interpretative meditation. For the novel places many of the obsessions of contemporary Latin American writing in an illuminating context.
This it does in particular with regard to fantasy, which we have noted is one of the central ingredients of contemporary Latin American fiction. In the works of Borges, Bioy Casares, Sábato, Cortázar, Rulfo, Jose María Arguedas, Asturias, and Juan Carlos Onetti, to name but a few, fantasy is spectacularly evident. Why? It would seem to be one of the roles of Cien años de soledad to suggest several plausible reasons.
In the first place, the novel shows how there can be no continental agreement on what is real and what is fantastic in a continent where it is possible for a palaeolithic community to reside at an hour or two's flight from a vast, modern city. Backwardness of course need not be palaeolithic. A wholly isolated village in a Colombian swamp with religious beliefs almost unchanged from those imparted by the Spanish medieval Church is sure to have an appreciation of reality somewhat different from the one entertained by the inhabitants say of Bogotá. The Assumption of a local girl, the ability of a local priest effortlessly to levitate, a rain of yellow flowers—all these things are less astonishing for the people of Macondo than the 'modern inventions' that reach the town from time to time, such as ice, magnets, magnifying glasses, false teeth, the cinema, and the railway. One's distinctions between fantasy and reality therefore depend a great deal on one's cultural assumptions. And in an isolated community, such distinctions are likely to be perceived from a particular ex-centric perspective, should one wish, arbitrarily perhaps, to take modern Western civilization as a centre of reference. (pp. 147-48)
For the Government and for the Americans reality is something then that you can cavalierly fabricate at your own convenience. So who can blame a mere citizen of Macondo for believing in the Assumption of a local beauty? And who can blame García Márquez for choosing to liberate himself from official lies by telling his own lies, or otherwise for choosing to exaggerate the Government's lies ad absurdum? Many of the fantasies of Cien años de soledad are indeed absurd but logical exaggerations of real situations. (pp. 148-49)
Has the novel … any universal interest at all? I think it has, in the first place for the simple reason that Latin America has no monopoly of biased historians and mendacious politicians. Similarly, with regard to the dependence of our perception of reality upon cultural assumptions, it may be conjectured that an inhabitant of a Cotswold village has a view of what is real that is different from that of, say, the Queen. The differences may be greater in Latin America than in Europe. But in the end García Márquez may be writing a hyperbolic parody of a continent that looks itself from Europe like a hyperbolic parody—of things that are nevertheless all too familiar. (p. 150)
Borges demonstrated that even the most realistic writing is fictive because all writing is. He showed, in his poem 'El otro tigre', that a tiger evoked in a poem is a very different thing from the beast that paces the jungles of Bengal. So if you cannot reproduce a real tiger in a book why not write about a tiger with three legs, say, that reads Sanskrit and plays hockey? Both are fictive, but is one necessarily more fictive than the other, or less real within the fictive reality of a book? We may know that yellow flowers do not suddenly pour from the sky to carpet the streets in normal life but we cannot deny that they do in Cien años de soledad and, because they do, we have to recognize that they are a legitimate part of that book, of the world that book seeks to create and which is signified in its language. It follows, of course, too, that that world, the world of Macondo, is neither bigger nor smaller, lasts neither longer nor shorter than the sum of the book's pages. Macondo is the book, and when the book ends, so does Macondo. (p. 151)
History, in the end, is words; events in the past are confined to the words written about them. Since we cannot 'remember' events that took place centuries ago, we must rely entirely on what is written about them. Those events are what is written about them. (p. 156)
Colombia's past is as much a fiction as Cien años de soledad, all the more so of course because it is contained in words that were written … [sometimes] with the deliberate aim to deceive. So the final pages of Cien años de solidad, by showing us how Macondo can exist only within the pages of the book that depicts it, also symbolizes the fact that Colombia's past only exists within the books that have been written about it. Like the history of Macondo, the history of Colombia is a verbal fiction. The 'city of mirrors (or mirages)' is in the end a symbol of a 'country of mirrors (or mirages)'. (pp. 156-57)
The novel's built-in reminders that what one is reading is a fiction, its disturbing suggestions that life may be no less of a fiction, its vision of the world as endless repetition, its deployment of messages to other writers, particularly of messages that deliberately confuse 'fact' and 'fiction', its conversion of writing into a sort of 'reading' of other literatures—all these things are Borges's familiar stamping ground. Yet García Márquez is no plagiarist, not only because his novel, in its every detail, feels so different from Borges's work, there being little similarity between García Márquez's Caribbean exuberance and Borges's rather English understatements, but also because though García Márquez follows Borges very closely, he somehow modifies him and throws fresh light upon him. As he does with contemporary literature of fantasy in general, he provides him with a very Latin American context. Cien años de soledad is a very Latin American reading of Borges, for it discovers Borges's relevance to Latin America—the relevance of his cyclical vision of time to the cyclical nature of Latin American history, the relevance of his sense that life is a dream, a fiction, to the dream-like nature of Latin American politics, the relevance of his sense that the past is inseparable from the fictive words that narrate it to the tragic fact that Latin America's past is inseparable from the deliberately distorted words that have claimed to record it, the relevance, finally of Borges's demonstrations that our perceptions of things depend on our previous assumptions about them to the fact that in a continent shared by so many cultures there can be no common continental perception of anything. (p. 163)
D. P. Gallagher, "Gabriel García Márquez," in his Modern Latin American Literature (copyright © 1973 by Oxford University Press; reprinted by permission), Oxford University Press, 1973, pp. 144-63.
["The Autumn of the Patriarch" is] a stunning portrait of the archetype: the pathological fascist tyrant….
The book, as is to be expected from García Márquez, is mystical, surrealistic, Rabelaisian in its excesses, its distortions and its exotic language. But García Márquez' sense of life is that surreality is as much the norm as banality. "In Mexico surrealism runs through the streets," he once said. And elsewhere: "The Latin American reality is totally Rabelaisian."
And so his patriarch, the unnamed General (his precise rank is General of the Universe) of an unnamed Caribbean nation, lives to be anywhere between 107 and 232 years old [and] sires 5,000 children…. (p. 1)
The novel is unendingly bizarre and fevered, but ultimately not difficult. Yet it is difficult to enter: a densely rich and fluid pudding that begins at the end and makes Faulknerian leaps forward and backward in time. Sentences at times run on for three pages, with dialogue neither quoted nor paragraphed. García Márquez has compounded the problems by making the novel a puzzle of pronouns, consistently changing narrative points of view in mid-sentence. (pp. 1, 16)
The narration is largely within the General's mind, but García Márquez also enters other minds with brief intensity, often speaks in the collective voice of all people in the blasted nation; and so, through relentless immersion of the reader in these exquisitely detailed perspectives, he illuminates the monster internally and externally and delivers him whole.
As with "One Hundred Years of Solitude," the reader also bathes luxuriously in panoramic prose, this work even more poetic than the last. There is no conventional plot, only chronologically scrambled episodes that take the General from birth to death through an unspecified modern era in which the king and queen of Babylonia co-exist with closed-circuit television….
A reader grows somewhat weary at times over the excesses, the repetition and predictability of certain sections … and there is a yearning for some pithy understatement. But García Márquez is as exorbitant as Melville and Dostoyevsky. He believes not only that excess is good for you, but that it is essential, that a book must have an immensity about it in the same way life is enormous—and dense and mysterious and as repetitiously predictable as the General's vengeance for an affront. How else, his novel implicity asks, could the story of interminable dictatorship be told?
This novel, of necessity then, has none of the life-celebrating quality that made "One Hundred Years of Solitude" so universally embraced. There is nothing to celebrate in the General's long and tortured life. He is given endless opportunity to persuade us that his anguish and grief and bafflement are real. But we are never persuaded. He is not even pitiable. He is a spectacle, the embodiment of egocentric evil unleashed, maniacally violent, cosmically worthless and, despite pretentions to eternity, as devoid of meaning as anything else in an absurd world. His main contribution to life, finally, is fear; but fear such as thunder, cancer or madness may provoke, fear based on irrational possibility, on the oblique ravages of a diabolical deity.
The book is a supreme polemic, a spiritual exposé, an attack against any society that encourages or even permits the growth of such a monstrosity. Garcí Márquez objectifies the monster and at novel's end attempts to explain it as the consequences of the General's incapacity to love….
But the monster is not reducible to a single cause, any more than civilization is explainable through the invention of the wheel…. Could lovelessness alone explain such blood-drenched misanthropy?
The incapacity to love seems to stand, rather, as another fact of the General's life, like the whistle of his hernia, or the seed of his unknown father, or his discovery that a lie is more comfortable than doubt. And these facts, under the hand of this master novelist, accumulate not to explain anything simply, but to embody a most complex and terrible vision of Latin America's ubiquitous, unkillable demon. (p. 16)
William Kennedy, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 31, 1976.
The Autumn of the Patriarch is a novelist's revenge for the political abjection of his native continent. The subject is grey, and basic: the tyranny of a nameless Latin American republic by its vicious, decrepit president; but the form of Gabriel García Márquez's novel is sophisticated and its language is luxuriant to a degree. Style and subject are at odds because García Márquez is committed to showing that our first freedom—and one which all too many Latin American countries have lost—is of the full resources of our language. The Patriarch does not like writers, they are the one class of person whom, even when launched on a rare and sinister fit of clemency, he refuses to amnesty. "They've got fever in their quills", is his paranoid belief, "so that they're no good for anything except when they're good for something." The fever here is in the flushed, anarchic prose of García Márquez, a man who wants socialist revolution in Latin America and who now says he is giving up fiction for blunter forms of incitement.
The unhappy republic of The Autumn of the Patriarch is perfectly unreal, a grim confusion of facts and fantasies. It is more fantasy than fact because the Patriarch—or General—has kept it in such ignorance and isolation that data are hard to come by; it is underdeveloped in every way imaginable, morally, culturally and economically. It is a fact that the General is a bestial and vindictive man, but the rest is mostly rumour. He is a one-man dynasty: having captured power—we are not told how—from the bickering caudillos of some distant federal past, he hangs on to it for roughly two hundred years. He is far too regressive to stomach anything as risky or progressive as chronology: his rule is one of equal terror and lethargy….
The book amounts to a sort of demented obituary notice, a breathless report of the Patriarch's feats and the absurd legends that go with them. It is not the report of an individual but of a nation: the "I" who now and again takes charge of the narration is an unstable, migratory presence, identifiable with all classes and conditions of a suffering population.
The novel relies—too heavily in the end—on García Márquez's will to invent the alternately bizarre and satirical circumstances of a monstrous life. As with that earlier epic of stagnation, One Hundred Years of Solitude, some of the inventions are vivid and surprising….
The General is a grotesque, recognizable by his hugely herniated testicle in its jangling truss, his solitary gold spur, his denims. And García Márquez would have done well to stop there, to leave him as an empty bundle of instincts, without an inner life. But he has tried to give him a psychology too, and this means that The Autumn of the Patriarch is also going to be read as an explanation of such regimes. It is not a good explanation. The General has a fixation on his mother and, when she dies, on mother-substitutes; he is lonely and insecure; he cannot, above all, stand very much reality. He behaves like a murderous, autistic child, and gets no obvious pleasure from his authority beyond the easy, instant satisfaction of his elementary lusts.
There is a strongly optimistic ending to the novel. The General may have kept reality out for all these years but he never killed it; it was always there, threatening him, outside the defences of his palace. It is exclusive to the people, who can now celebrate their deliverance; truth and reality are free to return. As an insight into political pathology, this is worryingly primitive. Why should the powerful, or even the tyrannical, have any weaker a hold on reality than their victims? Unlike the Patriarch, they may be both happy and gregarious men. In this novel, tyranny is identified as a disease of the tyrant's personality and not of the body politic, which is surely defeatist.
The merely wishful conclusion apart, however, The Autumn of the Patriarch is the desperate, richly sustained hallucination of a man rightly bitter about the present state of so much of Latin America.
John Sturrock, "The Unreality Principle," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd., 1977; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), April 15, 1977, p. 451.
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