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García Márquez, Gabriel 1928–
García Márquex is a Colombian novelist, short story writer, journalist, and screenwriter. Effectively combining imagination and corrupt reality, his novels often occur in a setting of political oppression and conflict. His invention of the town Macondo with its function as microcosm, and his use of interior monologue often elicit comparison to Faulkner. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 3, 8, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 33-36, rev. ed.)
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When the first edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude was published …, there was an immediate storm of critical attention and acclaim which has not yet subsided…. One Hundred Years of Solitude brings to the novel form a deep exploration of aspects of solitude, from the loneliness of power to sexual anguish, drawing heavily on the earlier ideas which had been suggested by Paz and Borges.
García Márquez's novel takes place in Macondo, a mythical town in Colombia, and the one hundred years represent both the life of the town from its founding to its collapse and the survival of the Buendía dynasty—from its founders, José Arcadio and Ursula, to the death of the last Aureliano Buendía…. García Márquez uses all the techniques of magic realism to give his town an enchanted yet real aspect: the Buendía family lives, dies, works, but is surrounded by ghosts, especially that of Melquiades, the old gypsy who first introduced them to the outside world. Melquiades has brought with him parchments, which off and on fascinate certain male members of the family, but are indecipherable to them. Only the last member is able to read them, and that in the moment of ultimate destruction.
In many ways, García Márquez's characters are embodiments of the aspects of solitude which Octavio Paz has pointed out in his essays. In "The Dialectic of Solitude," published in his work The Labyrinth of Solitude, Paz says, "Solitude is the profoundest fact of the human condition. Man is the only being who knows he is alone, and the only one who seeks out another…. Man is nostalgia and a search for communion." García Márquez's characters, particularly the series of male members of the family named Aureliano, have a profound sense of their solitude and vacillate between an attempt at communion and a return to total absorption in themselves. (pp. 254-55)
For both Paz and García Márquez, the deepest form of communion and the closest antidote to solitude is sexual love….
The most fascinating parts of García Márquez's work are those which describe in a kaleidoscopic fashion many aspects of love—as communion, as frustration, as a breaking away from accepted patterns. The love which furnishes a release from solitude is always a love which defies society and leads to ultimate destruction and the return of solitude. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, loves which are forbidden between members of the same family, between individuals of varying ages, between people of different social classes, are endowed with universal, mythic qualities. (p. 256)
But if love cannot permanently relieve solitude, what then is left? Paz believes that the essence of the feeling of solitude is "a nostalgic longing for the body from which we were cast out,… a longing for a place." The ancient belief, common to many peoples, is that that place is the center of the earth, "the navel of the universe." Usually this place is identified with the group's point of origin, real or mythical, and in turn with paradise. The path to this place is frequently viewed as a labyrinth. The labyrinth therefore fulfills a mythic need in a people: if the key to the labyrinth can be found and the labyrinth penetrated, redemption from solitude is at hand.
This connection between the labyrinth and solitude has been explored by another of the major thinkers of Latin America, Jorge Luis Borges, who, like Paz, is one of the major influences on García Márquez's work. In Borges's short stories, the deciphering of the labyrinth is a frequently recurring symbol for the search for redemption from solitude. But in Borges's stories the inhabitant at the center of the labyrinth is still locked in solitude, and the penetration of the maze may bring destruction to both the one who penetrates and the one whose solitude is violated. This solitude is not viewed as the desperation that is felt by those seeking to invade the labyrinth, but as a vague disquiet, a waiting. (p. 259)
The labyrinth in García Márquez's book is [the] set of unintelligible parchments…. (p. 261)
Aureliano grows to manhood as the family collapses and the house decays, finally to fall in love with the only remaining member of the family, Amaranta Ursula, whom he believes to be his sister but who is actually his aunt. Their child is born with a pig's tail. This circumstance does not disturb the parents greatly, as the child seems otherwise healthy, but the mother suddenly hemorrhages and dies. Aureliano flees the house and returns to find the child consumed by ants. It is at this moment that the parchments become clear to him. He realizes that the entire past of the family has been leading to this moment, fulfilling the prophecy written in the epigraph of the documents: "The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the aunts."
He realizes that he and Amaranta Ursula had been seeking each other through the generation of the Buendía family "through the most intricate labyrinths of blood until they would engender the mythological animal that was to bring the line to an end." The center of the labyrinth is precisely this mythological animal, this child, the last of the Buendía line, who dies horribly and symbolizes the complete destruction of the family, rather than the hoped-for release from solitude. Aureliano desperately tries to finish deciphering the last page of the parchments as their prophecies are simultaneously coming true, "as if he were looking into a speaking mirror." He realizes, though, that he will never leave the room,
… for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable since time immemorial and forever more, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.
Gabriel García Márquez has indeed created in his novel Jorge Luis Borges's labyrinth. The labyrinth is confined in time to one hundred years of one family, and the repetition of family names in various generations is a way of working out various possibilities in various futures, a "garden of forking paths." But the novel … achieves internal coherence through the seemingly chronological passage of time, although the reader is aware that he is seeing over and over the mutations and interactions of only a few personalities. These interactions permit García Márquez to show us dozens of variations of solitude and to reveal to us what Borges and Paz and suggested: that man is always alone. (pp. 261-63)
Linda B. Hall, "Labyrinthine Solitude: The Impact of García Márquez," in Southwest Review (© 1973 by Southern Methodist University Press), Summer, 1973, pp. 253-63.
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García Márquez' mysterious caudillo, perhaps a composite or a specific individual like Juan Vicente Gómez, symbolizes the abuse of power as traditionally practiced in novels from Amalia to Carpentier's current El recurso del método. In his novel, which resembles El gran Burundún Burundá of his countryman Jorge Zalamea, García Márquez copies his own verbal mythology to describe a dictator whose life extends beyond a hundred years. Combining erotic fantasies, mystery and nightmare visíons, both real and imagined, he uses the oneiric, symbolic, temporal and atemporal to obfuscate his "reality." He uses plural address, interminable sentences, multiple person changes and points of view to reflect the bits and pieces of the rambling memory of the dying dictator.
Part of the recall involves a series of horrific scenes. His bosom companion, Rodrigo de Aguilar, who had once saved his life, is cooked and fed on a platter to his fellow conspirators. The dictator's wife and son are eaten by a pack of attack dogs trained for that specific purpose. Children, used in a scheme to win lottery prizes for the patriarca, are dynamited at sea.
A series of women affect his life. Leticia Nazareno, a novice nun spared from a general exile when the Church refuses to accept the sainthood of his mother, Bendición Alvarado, becomes his only wife and love. Newly wed Francisca Linero, whose husband the dictator has sliced to bits so he can enjoy her, lives to be ninety-six and is buried with honors, though he cannot remember why….
García Márquez mixes horror with black humor. The dictator dips food in private parts to add flavor and defeats a series of deposed dictators at dominoes. So great is his power that when he asks what time it is the reply is: "las que usted ordene mi general…."
García Márquez' vision of the lonely old dictator who dreams, sweats, and recalls serves him as a kind of exorcism. But, however sincere, the novel, a self-repetition, offers us one more version of the idle jabber which characterizes the latest works of many of the greatest Spanish American novelists of the day. (p. 557)
Kessel Schwartz, in Hispania (© 1976 The American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, Inc.), September, 1976.
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What is supremely interesting [in The Autumn of the Patriarch], and more so than anything in One Hundred Years of Solitude, is García Márquez's modus operandi, which a merely cursory description would have to call a voluptuous, thick, garish, centripetal weaving and re-weaving of quasi-narrative motifs that figure now as emblems, now as salient samples of all the stuff from which the world is made (at least the Caribbean one), now as earnests of a dominant presence who might be the dictator's wife Leticia, the dictator aping his double, the double aping the dictator's aping the double or the dead head of either or schoolgirls, or even an indeterminate chorus of voices all of whom have something to contribute to the burgeoning mythos of one distended career…. (pp. 76-7)
Hyperbole is the keynote, of course; even when it isn't on stage it is hovering, off, ready to be exploited. But what lodges in the mind after finishing the book is a technique I'd call horn-of-plenty bravura, not so much hyperboles amassed as Caribbean phenomena keenly registered nonstop, so that what you read is a flood, a crop, a spate, all the more poignant because, as often as not, it's the general's vision of "life without him," by and large going on as if he had never been…. A great deal of García Márquez's book, therefore, is construable as posthumous present, with the constant implication that, insatiable as it is, the observing eye takes in the merest fraction of available phenomena and has to make do with, in fact, next to nothing.
Such is my own reading of this technique, at any rate. Crammed with data, the book is a bulging elegy for the unseen, the not-experienced…. The evoked theme is ancient, a fusion of carpe diem and Husserl's "More than anything else the being of the world is obvious." Not that García Márquez lists things; he does, but he assembles them in such a pell-mell fashion that the movement from one item to the next becomes almost a narrative kinesis in its own right, while the items themselves, far from being mere entries in a stock-book, are epitomes of action: people, animals, plants, waves, clouds, captured in moments of characteristic and definitive doing. The effect is extraordinary, creating a textural narrative to counterpoint (even abolish) the story line…. Try to figure out what is happening and you end up with a better knowledge of event's context than of event itself. It just isn't that kind of novel. Its point is its precision-studded vagueness. Its content is a mentality, a sensibility. Its power is that of what I think radio technicians call side-band splash, when to receive one thing you must receive another. And that means the novel is all accretions, almost like a language being spoken century after century until, at some point, one asks: What was Indo-European like? When? What follows those questions is the work of sheerest hypothesis; such a proto-language must have been there spoken by such and such a people…. Much the same applies to the plot of this novel: you have to move toward it through what it has generated, and when you get there it has gone, and you are encountering an hypothesis of your own. (p. 77)
García Márquez's forte is that he always provides enough material in the next twenty syllables, and always in greater detail than most novelists can muster. Something Keatsian is going on here, in that he not only loads every rift with ore, he also evokes an obsolescent Hyperion trying to figure out why one set of gods has to give way to another. The book is an ode to "the uncountable time of eternity" that always comes to an end, whether we call it autumn or the general's reign…. At almost any juncture in the book there are … many different things going on; the compound ghost of the narrator speaks with mouth full. An effect of marmoreal amplitude is what you end with, not least because this is a book of no paragraphs, few sentences, and many, many commas, all toward a cumulative surge of the whole, Beckettian in rhythm yet full of all the stuff that Beckett leaves out, Nabokovian in its appetizing abundance yet quite without his mincing, dandyistic sheen.
It is such a book as, at the lowest level, would teach a fiction student how to write, what to keep on doing; every sentence, every phrase, has enough in it. At a much higher level, it's a book which raises the ghost of something truly unnerving: the chance that, after all is said and done, literature has nothing to say, no message, no interpretation, no answer, but only a chance to catalogue what the senses find and cannot do without. (pp. 77-8)
Paul West, "The Posthumous Present," in Review (copyright © 1976 by the Center for Inter-American Relations, Inc.), Fall, 1976, pp. 76-8.
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Though he is one of the wittiest and most exhilarating of contemporary Latin American writers, García Márquez has repeatedly created characters who live, to varying degrees, in a state of solitude. From the earliest work, Leaf Storm, to the wonderful novella No One Writes to the Colonel, to the masterwork One Hundred Years of Solitude, we find people existing not only in spiritual isolation but in physical isolation as well: Macondo, the author's miraculous mythical town—the setting of much of his work—has been "condemned" to solitude, and indeed is so remote from the rest of the world that it possesses its very own laws of nature and logic.
The Autumn of the Patriarch … is García Márquez' most intense and extreme vision of isolation. In this fabulous, dream-like account of the reign of a nameless dictator of a fantastic Caribbean realm, solitude is linked with the possession of absolute power. The author has worked with this theme before—notably when tracing the career and increasing loneliness of Colonel Aureliano Buendía in One Hundred Years of Solitude—but here it receives the grand treatment.
Yet the book is in no way a case history or a psychological portrait of a dictator. It is, rather, a rendering in fantastic and exaggerated terms of a particular condition of might and isolation. As such, it is essentially plotless, though it is stuffed with enough anecdotes and incidents for several novels. When, at the beginning of the book, an unidentified party breaks into the decaying presidential palace and discovers the lichen-covered body of the patriarchal general who has governed the country for well over two centuries, a flood of memories of his incredible reign is released, and it is these memories, both collective and individual, flowing in free-associative, temporally jumbled repetition, that form the entire novel. (pp. 620, 622)
No summary or description of this book can really do it justice, for it is not only the author's surrealistic flights of imagination that make it such an exceptional work, but also his brilliant use of language, his gift for phrasing and description. As with One Hundred Years of Solitude, the reader is repeatedly surprised by the grace and ease with which an image is recorded, a phrase is turned.
And yet one must note, regretfully, that for all its brilliance The Autumn of the Patriarch is a difficult book to stay with for an extended length of time, difficult not because of the sentences that run on for pages or the absence of paragraphs, but because of an overabundance of riches. At times, the marvelous details accumulate so rapidly that the reader is simply overwhelmed by them. He seeks relief, a subdued passage in which to rest, but the author does not accord him that opportunity. At times, García Márquez' passion for inflation causes him to create a tale that is, even in a fantastic context, a shade too strained and whimsical—such as the account of the two thousand children kidnapped by the government to prevent them from revealing their role in the general's crooked lottery.
Still, of course, it is that very same passion for the absurd and the exaggerated that is responsible for the innumerable grand, witty passages we find—for example, the general discovering the hidden sentiments of his staff through the graffiti in the palace bathroom, or the account of a traitor who is served as a main course to the general's staff ("Major General Rodrigo de Aguilar entered on a silver tray stretched out on a garnish of cauliflower and laurel leaves … embellished with the uniform of five golden almonds for solemn occasions"). Here and elsewhere throughout this unique, remarkable novel, the tall tale is transformed into a true work of art. (p. 622)
Ronald De Feo, "The Solitude of Power," in National Review (© National Review, Inc., 1977; 150 East 35th St., New York, N.Y. 10016), May 27, 1977, pp. 620, 622.
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The Autumn of the Patriarch translates into words an image that haunted Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was the image of an old man wandering aimlessly through the wasting rooms of a palace. It was an image of death and decay. The Patriarch is an ancient dictator whose exact title is General Of The Universe even though his domain is a poor Caribbean country, dependent upon the charity of world powers. His Autumn is the personal decay that preceeds his death. And his death is the focal point with which the novel begins, returns and ends. Each chapter begins with a different stage of discovering the general's corpse and backtracks to a different stage of the moral/physical decay that leads to such an end….
The Autumn of the Patriarch is a novel of style. And it is a style that I generally dislike. A style in which sentences run on for three pages, and in which there are no paragraphs. Dialogue is not indicated by quotes. Pronouns change in mid-sentence. And the narrative point-of-view is in constant flux. I used to think that I disliked this style because it seemed to violate principles which make English intelligible to no apparent advantage. I have come to think that it is an extremely difficult style and this is the first time I have seen it handled properly.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez ignores many conventions of the English language which are meant to provide structure and coherence. But he is so skillful that his novel is not difficult to understand. It is bizarre; it is disorienting. But it is not difficult. Moreover, it is appropriate to the chaos and decay of the general's mind and of his world. (p. 3)
The narrative is predominantly from the general's point-of-view but it drifts in and out of other people's thoughts and reactions with a change in pronoun indicating this drift; "… she sat down on the sofa opposite him, where the gush of his fetid body odor would not reach her, and then I dared to look at him face to face for the first time spinning the glow of the rose with two fingers so that he would not notice my terror …" Just as people do not think in sentences and paragraphs, but in trains of thought that conclude and springboard into related trains of thought, so the sentences of the novel flow. They do not express a single idea, but a single chain of ideas and resemble a highly contrived flow-of-consciousness. (pp. 3, 10)
As you would suspect from the style, The Autumn of the Patriarch is a psychological portrait. Or, more accurately, it is a psychological expose. It is the expose of a fascist dictator….
This portrait is a particularly successful one. Much of the narrative takes place in the general's mind; it wanders through what he thinks and what he sees. It does not describe how he sees the world; it is how he sees the world. From here, the point-of-view shifts to other people's reactions to him. In other words, the general is a specimen, x-rayed and viewed from all sides. On the whole, it is an objective view. He is not seen as an evil or good person. He is just seen….
It would be redundant to say that The Autumn of the Patriarch presents the general as a symbol. But few writers are as blatant about it as Marquez. He presents the general as a plains person, born far from the smell of the sea—the sea being a universal symbol for life. His greatest treachery is selling that sea to the gringos in exchange for the security of his power. Symbolically, he is selling, betraying life itself. And, in particular, he is betraying the life of his country and of its people. Unless you accept this symbolically it will make little sense to you….
The plot is insignificant. What there is consists of episodes from the general's life that are out of time sequence and that focus on the psychologies involved rather than on the events. It records the inevitable decay of the general. But simply because it is inevitable, there is little mystery or suspense.
There is one caveat. Although The Autumn of the Patriarch is not difficult to understand, it can be difficult to read. The style is dense and rich. It is packed with "uselessly precise detail', uselessly complete descriptions and repetition. The repetition is particularly rampant. It sometimes seems that every few pages the general takes time out to wander through his palace checking the locks. Even the imagery, which is quite striking (tiptoing like an evil thought, soft boiled dreams, a postcard heart), is overdone. The result of all this resembles a cluttered closet. (p. 10)
Wendy McElroy, in World Research INK, 11722 Sorrento Valley Road, San Diego, Calif., September, 1977.
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Since ["One Hundred Years of Solitude"] and since its successor, "The Autumn of the Patriarch,"… García Márquez has felt doubts about what he is doing. His is the old quandary of the "committed" writer: should he continue to luxuriate in exile, writing books mocking the stagnation and repression of his native continent, or would it not be more honorable to attempt something practical in order to remove them? García Márquez hankers after political activism, to make propaganda for the many as against an exclusive art for the few. But literature needs him. He will do more good for his socialist cause by continuing to write fiction, guilty conscience and all, than by demagogic pamphleteering. He is one of the small number of contemporary writers from Latin America who have given to its literature a maturity and dignity it never had before. That in itself is good propaganda….
["Innocent Eréndira"] is in García Márquez's most beguiling manner: ruthless, fantastic and eventful. The stories [which form the remainder of the collection], on the other hand, mostly are not. They are makeweights here, the ambitious but as yet uncertain and over-abstract tales of a writer too young to recognize that even the most imaginative fiction needs to be filled with things as well as strange thoughts. Indeed, García Márquez's own imagination is now at its most prodigious when he allows his characters no obvious thoughts at all….
["Innocent Eréndira"] is about exploitation and what makes exploitation so distressingly easy—the subhuman resignation that has much to answer for in García Márquez's unhappy world. Eréndira [the story's protagonist] is criminally passive. She has the family gift of being able to work even in her sleep and is victimized by nature and human nature alike, being in every sense too dumb to tell the difference.
John Sturrock, "Shorter Márquez," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1978 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), July 16, 1978, p. 3.