The magic and the real: García Márquez

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Father of magical realism. Friends with the Cuban communist leader, Fidel Castro. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. Gabriel García Márquez is arguably the most well-known Latin American author in history whose writing pushed boundaries in ways that have made readers reconsider the nature of humanity and human existence.

Born in 1927 in Aracataca, Colombia, Márquez started his early career as a journalist, travelling all over the world. From Paris to New York, Mexico City to Spain, Cuba to Colombia, Marquez’ writing reflects his experiences and his wide knowledge of various cultures. During his time in Paris, Márquez read the novels of British and American modernists whose subversions of narrative style largely shaped his own works. Alongside these transnational influences, Márquez’ writing was also rooted closer to home, drawing inspiration from stories about his hometown and the experience of his maternal grandfather, a colonel in The Thousand Days War between 1899-1903. In his short story collection, No One Writes to the Colonel, Márquez combines the realms of the domestic and the military, exploring the disparities between rich and poor, village and town life. Using the perspective of a naïve colonel, Márquez unveils the consequences of unchecked ambition at both a local and global level.

Borne of these literary and personal influences was One Hundred Years of Solitude, a masterpiece in its own right, that established Márquez as a literary innovator and father of his trademark magical realism style. Amidst the social politics of the small town of Macondo and the complex framework of the Buendía family genealogy, readers are taken on an intense journey where the line between the commonplace and fantastical is blurred in Márquez’ exploration of passion, lust, and greed. Taking inspiration from historical events in Colombia, war and societal strife mix with lived experience, infused with elements of magic. Yellow flowers raining down at the death of a character; magic carpets flying at fairs; pig tails upon children born in incestuous circumstances; rain that lasts almost five years. The coexistence of the real, over-exaggerated, and magical reconceptualises the fundamental human emotions of love and grief through reshaping readers’ perception of reality.

Márquez’ own experiences of political unrest in midcentury Latin America underpin his experimentation with reality

Across his oeuvre, which includes such notable works as Love in the Time of Cholera, The General in His Labyrinth, Memoirs of My Melancholy Whores, No One Writes to the Colonel, this interrogation of reality is central in his style. As well as the subversiveness of his magical realism style, Márquez’ own experiences of political unrest in mid-century Latin America underpin his experimentation with reality and realism through his works. Known as La Violencia, civil war broke out in the 1940s between liberals and conservatives in Colombia, coinciding with the time Márquez started writing. Later in his life Márquez played a role in ensuring diplomacy between groups across national borders. With these experiences we can see his perception of the felt isolation, violence, and injustice of Colombia and across Latin America. Combining exaggerated events with realistic descriptions, Márquez ensured politics remained present in his work and was something with which his readers were always confronted.

The coexistence of the real, over-exaggerated, and magic reconceptualises the fundamental human emotions of love and grief through re-shaping readers’ perception of reality

Despite Márquez’ death in 2014, the importance of his writing endures. From China to Canada, his work has been translated and read by millions, always leaving its mark. His lessons on the power of love, lust, greed, and the importance of examining lived experiences, remain influences to global writing today and will continue to do so for decades to come. As the first Colombian ever to win a Nobel Prize, Márquez established a place for Latin American writers in a literary canon in which they were previously excluded. Beyond his reshaping of conventional narrative form and style, Márquez reshaped what we consider to be ‘literature’: who it is written by, in what language, and who it is for. We have to question whether the writing of Isabel Allende, Junot Díaz, Julia Alvarez, and Claudia Piñeiro would have come to the fore, had it not been for the genre-defying, convention-shattering, and foundational writing of Gabriel García Márquez.

Image credit: Jose Lara via Wikimedia Commons

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