Strange Pilgrims

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Gabriel Garcia Marquez won the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature for a body of fiction that combined fantasy with reality in a style known as Magic Realism. His most acclaimed and most popular work has been the epic novel CIEN ANOS D SOLEDAD (1967; ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE, 1970). In addition to full length novels and novellas, Garcia Marquez has published three short story collections. STRANGE PILGRIMS was originally published in Spanish as DOCE CUENTOS PEREGRINOS in 1992, and constitutes the author’s fourth short fiction collection. Garcia Marquez indicates in the prologue that the first story idea came to him sometime in the early 1970’s. He kept notes and fragments of ideas, but was unsure what form any of the ideas would eventually take. It took many years and many incarnations before the ideas took shape and became the twelve stories of STRANGE PILGRIMS.

At the end of each story, Garcia Marquez dates when he began the particular story. STRANGE PILGRIMS is the author’s first book since the fine novel EL GENERAL EN SU LABERINTO (1989; THE GENERAL IN HIS LABYRINTH, 1990). Whereas the locale of the stories in his previous collections was invariably Latin America, in the current collection, the reader finds Garcia Marquez’s Latin American characters doing their best to survive on European soil. In the opening story, “Bon Voyage, Mr. President,” a deposed Latin American president must travel to Geneva to seek medical advice concerning a mysterious ailment. An ambulance driver, who happens to be a fellow countryman, takes his opportunity to ingratiate himself with the former leader, hoping to turn their friendship to his advantage. The aging ex-president is not wealthy as thought, but destitute, and must be supported by his newfound acquaintances. Garcia Marquez observes that the stories of STRANGE PILGRIMS are thematically linked by “the strange things that happen to Latin Americans in Europe.” As in the opening story, the remaining stories of the collection resonate with seemingly common events that take on magical and absurd implications as the Latin characters attempt to come to terms with a foreign environment.