The legacy of García Márquez: A patriarch, a conjurer of magic, a journalist

By Mariajosé Rodríguez-Pliego ’16

Opinions Editor

by Alexa J. Williams '14 Arts Editor

by Alexa J. Williams ’14
Arts Editor

In May 1967, Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez captivated the attention of readers with the opening lines of his novel “One Hundred Years of Solitude”: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when   his father took him to discover ice.” On April 17, these lines were Tweeted, posted in Facebook statuses and quoted in newspaper articles to commemorate the death of one of the most renowned and loved Latin American authors of all time. García Márquez had died in Mexico City at the age of 87 from lymphatic cancer.

New York Times Journalist Jonathan Kandell describes Márquez as a writer of “fiction rooted in a mythical Latin American landscape of his own creation.” More than a creator of fiction, however, Márquez was an observer and a listener who set down in paper the stories of the people and places around him.

In an interview with The Paris Review in 1981, Márquez stated, “The truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality.” Behind Marquez’s writing style, which some describe as bizarre due to his combination of the magical and the real, lies the author’s grandmother’s storytelling style and the everyday lives of Latin Americans. Behind most of the author’s stories and characters lie his family members, friends, and places that he lived in. His grandfather, a colonel whom Márquez described as his “umbilical cord with history and reality,” was the source of inspiration for the protagonist of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Colonel Aureliano Buendía. The setting for most of his novels and short stories, Macondo, is based on his birthplace, Aracataca. The violent massacre in the same novel actually took place in Ciénaga, Colombia the year after Márquez was born, when the Colombian army killed unarmed workers striking at a United Fruit plantation in what is now known as the Banana Massacre. As journalist Nicolás Medina Mora points out, “This reality is all too often overlooked, the second word in ‘magical realism’ conveniently forgotten.”

Márquez was raised in Aracataca, Colombia by his maternal grandparents. He began law school at the National University of Colombia, and became a journalist during his undergraduate years. His skill as a reporter is perhaps an influential force behind his stories, which are a product of meticulous observation, listening and note taking. In the mid 1950s, the author left his home country for Europe, after having infuriated Colombia’s dictator with a journalistic piece that revealed the story behind the survival of a navy sailor inaccurately portrayed by the government as a national hero. Márquez later declared that living in Europe helped shape his perspective on Latin American politics. He wrote his first novella, “The Leaf Storm,” in 1955 and moved to Mexico City in 1961. He lived on and off in the Mexican capital for the rest of his life. In addition to “The Leaf Storm” and “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Márquez’s works include the novels “Love in the Time of Cholera,” “The General in His Labyrinth” and “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” as well as his short story collections “The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother” and “Strange Pilgrims.”

 As with Carlos Fuentes, Julio Cortázar and Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez was a central figure of the Latin American literary boom of the 1960s and 1970s. The boom was a literary awakening in Latin America that moved writers to explore new ideas and forms of expression. The political turmoil of those decades, which included the Cuban revolution in 1959, the Chilean coup d’état in 1973 and the fall of Perón in Argentina in 1955, shaped the work of the authors of the boom. Inspired by writers such as Joyce and Faulkner, the Latin American writers of the boom explored the identity of their homelands and produced works that reshaped the world’s perception of Latin America. Among instability and violence, Márquez and his colleagues offered Latin Americans a mirror with which to better understand their identity and history. Chilean writer Isabel Allende, whose work is heavily influenced by Márquez’s writing, published a statement after Márquez’s death in which she affirmed that Gabriel García Marquez is the “voice that told the world who we are and showed Latin Americans our own image in the mirror of his pages. We are all Macondo,” referring to the shared culture of Latin Americans that Márquez captures in his work.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech of 1982, Márquez stated that he wanted to believe in the creation of a utopia, one where “no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.” Marquez has left behind him a mirror of Latin America, a trail of art and hope to be read and reread in an effort to understand a continent’s history and culture. In learning from his work, we should remember massacres and pain together with the strength of Úrsula Iguarán, the genius of Aureliano Buendía and the understanding of Pilar Ternera in order to move beyond Márquez’s mirrors into a continent that abandons cycles of stagnation and achieves progress.

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