Novelist Mona Simpson reflects on a legacy that extends far beyond ‘magical realism’
Reading “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” again, there’s a purity to this 1955 story. In the eight pages (in my battered edition of the Collected Stories) there’s only one tiny break in tone (the maiden-head on the tarantula) but I suspect that that’s because the image has been appropriated by Pixar. We think we see the shape of the story: the very old man is, in fact, mortal after all, like Nabokov’s Nina in “Spring in Fialta”. We expect to see him die. But no. After a terrible winter, new feathers begin to grow. The woman, in the kitchen cutting onions, watches the ancient angel clumsily try to teach himself to fly again. He succeeds, and as she watches him gain altitude and fly over the last of the rooftops and disappear into the sky, it feels to her like her victory and to us like all of ours.
Much has been said about García Márquez’s magic, less has been claimed for his realism, even less of his Christianity. But his aesthetic partners in what came to be called, crudely, “magical realism”, Julio Cortázar and Jorge Luis Borges, were profoundly urban and European (each of them grew up partly in northern Europe). García Márquez came to urban Continentalism late, with the exuberance of a boy from the provinces in the clean, stylish capital. He retained the wonderment of a provincial discovering the sophisticated world and the faith in the universe’s connected intentionality. He had the gift and the privilege of being sincere.
Image: García Márquez, May 1972. Photograph: Katherine Young
Interview conducted by Gene H. Bell-Villada in 1977 for publication in El Manifiesto — a now-defunct Colombian leftist journal.
Since we’re talking about characters, there’s something that makes me uneasy. In general your works typically have clearly defined characters that seem to fill every work, yet where the common people seem diluted, filling the work but on a secondary level, like extras.
Yes, the masses would need their writer, a writer who would create their characters. I’m a petit bourgeois writer, and my point of view has always been petit bourgeois. That’s my level, my perspective, even though my attitude of solidarity might differ. But I don’t know that point of view. I write from my own, from the window where I happen to be. About the masses I don’t know more than what I’ve said and written. I probably know more, but it’s purely theoretical. This point of view is absolutely sincere. And at no time have I tried to force things. There’s a sentence I’ve said and which even bugged my dad, he thought it a put-down. “What am I, ultimately? I’m the son of the telegraph operator of Aracataca.” And what my dad thought so pejorative, to me, by contrast, seems almost elitist within that society. ‘Cause the telegraph operator thought of himself as the chief intellectual of the town. Usually they were failed students, guys who dropped out of their studies and ended up doing that. In Aracataca, a town filled with peons.
But you’re insatiable. I’ve been talking about literature like I haven’t, oh, in years. And besides, I’m very shy when talking literature.
Yes, well, the thing is, there’s still The Autumn of the Patriarch. Sometimes it’s said you’re making a clean slate of your previous work.
Yes, it’s what I’ve said.
You also said in a report that it was your autobiography, secretly coded. In this regard it looks as if writing becomes more complex, less accessible to the mass public.
But over time it’ll make it to the mass public. The Autumn of the Patriarch is just sitting around waiting for people to catch up with it. You see, I think readers who’re caught unawares, who lack literary knowledge, can read Patriarch more readily than readers with literary backgrounds. I’ve seen it in Cuba, where the book exists out there on the streets. Uninformed readers aren’t put off, they’re put off less. The Autumn … is a completely straightforward novel, absolutely elementary, where the only thing I’ve done is break certain grammatical rules for the sake of brevity and concision, that is, in order to rework the matter of time. In a certain way, so that it won’t become something infinite. I don’t see anything odd about it. Besides, there are lots of works like that in the history of literature. I don’t see where the difficulty is.
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As the world pays tribute to Gabriel García Márquez, his books are flying off the shelves in Kolkata. The Times of India, Kolkata reports
Kolkata’s love affair with García Márquez is not new. Way back in 1971, when Manabendra Bandyopadhyay introduced him in the comparative literature syllabus at Jadavpur University, nobody had heard of the author, but he noticed an instant liking among students for ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’. “The first sign was that students read the text themselves, which was definitely not the case with someone like Joyce,” Bandyopadhyay said.
Four decades later, nothing has changed. Twenty-four-year-old Siddhartha Dey read ‘Solitude’ for the first time when he was in Class XII. He has re-read it 10 times. What brought Gabo so close to generations of readers so removed from him in geographical space?
For former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, it is García Márquez's epic canvas that drew his attention. Bhattacharjee, who calls himself a “die-hard fan” of García Márquez, has translated two of his novellas into Bengali - ‘The Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor’ and ‘Clandestine in Chile’. “Take ‘The Autumn of the Patriarch’, for instance. The sweep of the novel startled me. At that time, Latin America had seven-eight military dictators who exercised ruthless power. It could be the story of any of them - their despotic rule as well as their helplessness. Don’t forget this was the novel García Márquez said was closest to his heart,” said the veteran Marxist.
Asked about his experience of translating the author, Bhattacharjee said he is fascinated by the interplay of fact and fiction. “Both the books that I translated are based on real incidents, that García Márquez, as a journalist, came to know of. I was particularly interested in ‘Clandestine in Chile’ as it told the story of a film director’s lifelong efforts to expose the horror of military dictatorship. During my research, I found out that Pinochet was the first ruler to implement so-called neo-liberal economic policies,” he said.
And what about García Márquez’s Leftist leanings? The Marxist leader chuckles. “If you have the US system and the Latin American reality at the two ends of the spectrum, García Márquez was left of centre, no doubt. He never took an anti-communist stance as, for example, Mario Vergas Llosa did in ‘The Bad Girl’. But at the same time, I must tell you, the Soviet failed to satisfy Marquez. He was anti-Soviet.”
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A lie is more comfortable than doubt, more useful than love, more lasting than truth.
Gabriel García Márquez knew how to let the story float from the fragment of reality into an unknown but magical terrain, writes Salil Tripathi
The resource that Garcia Marquez relied on is what many of us have: the folklore, the legends, and the stories our grandmothers tell us. Garcia Marquez listened intently to those stories, and painted a vivid landscape peopled with ordinary folk caught in grotesque circumstances, and emerging out of intractable situations as if a miracle had occurred.
The massacre which plays such a central role in One Hundred Years of Solitudewas not something Garcia Marquez had dreamt up. It had occurred in Cienaga near Santa Marta back in 1928, soon after his birth, when workers had gone on a strike at the banana plantation of the United Fruit Company.
A month later the Colombian government sent troops and the massacre followed. The Colombian government was acting under American pressure. There are no records of how many people died—estimates range between 47 and 2,000, and later, as the story got told more often, the number rose to 3,000. That’s the figure Garcia Marquez used—not because he was an alarmist, nor because he was a radical, and certainly not because he wanted to incite further violence, but because he was a fabulist, and what interested him were not simply the facts, but also the deeper and larger truth. Magic reality was not fantasy; it was never a fairy tale.
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He taught us how to live with loss, and he told us, over and over again, that other utopias are possible, writes Greg Grandin
Political violence was not new to Latin America, but these counterinsurgent states executed a different kind of repression. The terror was aimed at eliminating not just opponents but also alternatives, targeting the kind of social-democratic solidarity and humanism that powered the postwar Latin American left. Hundreds of thousands of people were disappeared and an equal number tortured. Hundreds of communities were, like Macondo, wiped off the face of the earth.
It is this feverish, ideological repression, meant to instill collective amnesia, that García Márquez so uncannily anticipates in One Hundred Years. “There must have been three thousand of them,” says the novel’s lone survivor of the banana massacre, referring to the murdered strikers. “There haven’t been any dead here,” he’s told.
A year and a half after García Márquez published that dialogue, a witness to the October 2, 1968, Tlatelolco massacre in Mexico City cried, “Look at the blood… there was a massacre here!” To which a soldier replied, “Oh lady, it is obvious that you don’t know what blood is.” Hundreds of student protesters were killed or wounded that day by the Mexican military, though for years the government denied the extent of the slaughter. Even the torrential downpour in One Hundred Years is replicated at Tlatelolco: as Mexican tanks rolled in to seal off the exit streets, one witness recalls that “the drizzle turned into a storm…and I thought that now we are not going to hear the shooting.”
There’ll never be another like Gabriel García Márquez, and when his friend Fidel Castro soon dies, they’ll say the same thing about him. The two have been linked together for years, and not just because every article about García Márquez published in English, including now his obituaries, are obligated to mention that he never gave in to demands to denounce Castro’s authoritarianism. García Márquez recognized such demands for what they were: credentialing rituals (the United States, he said in 1990, has an “almost pornographic obsession with Castro. The U.S. Press has made him into a devil”).
Rather, the bond between the two men was deep and organic; one explains the other. They were born a year apart, both in Caribbean provinces dominated by US plantations. Coming of age steeped in the heady social-democratic populism of mid-century Latin America, both were rebels against form. Castro revolted against Latin America’s highly stylized tradition of political declamation, made even more rigid when performed by urban Cuban Stalinists, developing an oratorical style that García Márquez once described as capable of inducing “an irresistible, blinding state of grace.”
Image: Gabriel García Márquez in 1984. Photograph: Ben Martin (Credit)
Gabriel García Márquez on Fidel Castro, the Soviet Union, and creating “a government which would make the poor happy.” The interview was published in the March-April 1983 issue of New Left Review.
Do you remember where and when you read your first political texts?
In my secondary school in Zipaquirá. It was full of teachers who’d been taught by a Marxist in the Teachers Training College under President Alfonso López’s leftist government in the thirties. The algebra teacher would give us classes on historical materialism during break, the chemistry teacher would lend us books by Lenin, and the history teacher would tell us about the class struggle. When I left that icy prison, I had no idea where north and south were, but I did have two very strong convictions. One was that good novels must be a poetic transposition of reality, and the other was that mankind’s immediate future lay in socialism.
Did you ever belong to the Communist Party?
I belonged to a cell for a short time when I was twenty, but I don’t remember doing anything of interest. I was more of a sympathizer than a real militant. Since then, my relationship with the Communists has had many ups and downs. We’ve often been at loggerheads because every time I adopt a stance they don’t like, their newspapers really have a go at me. But I’ve never publicly condemned them, even at the worst moments.
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In the Macondo of Gabriel García Márquez, imagination is used to enrich reality, not to escape from it, writes Salman Rushdie while paying rich tribute to the author.
But, to say it again: The flights of fancy need real ground beneath them. When I first read García Márquez I had never been to any Central or South American country. Yet in his pages I found a reality I knew well from my own experience in India and Pakistan. In both places there was and is a conflict between the city and the village, and there are similarly profound gulfs between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, the great and the small. Both are places with a strong colonial history, and in both places religion is of great importance and God is alive, and so, unfortunately, are the godly.
I knew García Márquez’s colonels and generals, or at least their Indian and Pakistani counterparts; his bishops were my mullahs; his market streets were my bazaars. His world was mine, translated into Spanish. It’s little wonder I fell in love with it — not for its magic (although, as a writer reared on the fabulous “wonder tales” of the East, that was appealing too) but for its realism. My world was more urban than his, however. It is the village sensibility that gives García Márquez’s realism its particular flavor, the village in which technology is frightening but a devout girl rising up to heaven is perfectly credible; in which, as in Indian villages, the miraculous is everywhere believed to coexist with the quotidian.
Photo credit: Gamma Rapho
García Márquez’s great work, light and deep at the same time, has stayed with us, as have his ideas, his insights and his images, writes Ruchir Joshi
Gabriel García Márquez has written about many things, love, memory, nostalgia, landscapes devastated by human greed, workers massacred by murderous corporations, memories of planned massacres wiped out by the rain of amnesia, whole seas belonging to a country sold off to other countries, and we can remember with pleasure or terror some image or insight of his. Today, two days after the laundry line of time flies him up and away from us, I keep thinking of the simple observation that is at the core of his fiction, the one he makes after spending time with a lot of power-hungry men: “A very powerful person, a dictator, is surrounded by interests and people whose final aim is to isolate him from reality; everything is in concert to isolate him.”
Photograph by Andrej Palacko (Source)
Nobel lecture by Gabriel García Márquez delivered on December 8, 1982
Latin America neither wants, nor has any reason, to be a pawn without a will of its own; nor is it merely wishful thinking that its quest for independence and originality should become a Western aspiration. However, the navigational advances that have narrowed such distances between our Americas and Europe seem, conversely, to have accentuated our cultural remoteness. Why is the originality so readily granted us in literature so mistrustfully denied us in our difficult attempts at social change? Why think that the social justice sought by progressive Europeans for their own countries cannot also be a goal for Latin America, with different methods for dissimilar conditions? No: the immeasurable violence and pain of our history are the result of age-old inequities and untold bitterness, and not a conspiracy plotted three thousand leagues from our home. But many European leaders and thinkers have thought so, with the childishness of old-timers who have forgotten the fruitful excess of their youth as if it were impossible to find another destiny than to live at the mercy of the two great masters of the world. This, my friends, is the very scale of our solitude.
In spite of this, to oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life. Neither floods nor plagues, famines nor cataclysms, nor even the eternal wars of century upon century, have been able to subdue the persistent advantage of life over death. An advantage that grows and quickens: every year, there are seventy-four million more births than deaths, a sufficient number of new lives to multiply, each year, the population of New York sevenfold. Most of these births occur in the countries of least resources - including, of course, those of Latin America. Conversely, the most prosperous countries have succeeded in accumulating powers of destruction such as to annihilate, a hundred times over, not only all the human beings that have existed to this day, but also the totality of all living beings that have ever drawn breath on this planet of misfortune.
Gabriel García Márquez was a master weaver of tales, and a supreme architect of bridges, for through his tales he enabled the people of the North to see the South, writes Kavita Panjabi
Marquez Brought to us lived the Struggles and resilience of ordinary people in a world as beleaguered as ours. His novels and novellas, stories, memoirs and journalistic writings opened up for us another world In Which We Could see ourselves, as we had never been able to in the pages of any novel western. We Understood the seriousness of the loss of memory culture under colonialism as stylized by him in the hilarious mock-amnesia plague, When people in Macondo begin marking all objects and animals With Their respective names, to a point When the cow has a sign hanging on it, indicating it was a cow That had to be milked and every morning to get the milk to be mixed with coffee to make coffee with milk! We thrilled, amidst our own Struggles for worker’s rights, at the fact That his depiction of the banana company massacre in One Hundred Years of Solitude actually served to restore to Colombian history books the suppressed knowledge of the 1928 United Fruit Company massacre of over a thousand workers. We saw Apu’s wonderment at the train in Pather Panchali reflected in the washerwoman of Macondo, who, seeing a steam engine pulling a train for the first time in her life, exclaimed That it was “Something frightful, like a kitchen dragging a village behind it . ” The political intrigues, cycles of violence, labor strikes, joint family disputes, delightful Between grandparents and grandchildren bonds, surreptitious passions and passionate activists jumped out of the pages of his books and echoed the realities of our own lives.
As a writer, I was interested in power, because it summarizes all the grandeur and misery of the human being.
The Telegraph, Calcutta Editorial
No one will write to him any more since Gabriel García Márquez has moved to a space that he now occupies with his exemplars, Sophocles, Cervantes, Kafka, Faulkner and, of course, Borges. But what he himself wrote will continue to enrich the lives of all those who belong to that most select club in the world, the Readers Club. Any reader who encountered that unforgettable first line of One Hundred Years of Solitude (“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice”) knew immediately and almost instinctively that he was in touch with greatness. García Márquez brought magic to his craft. This is not only because he created — many would say revived and immortalized — the genre that goes by the name of magic realism but also because he was a master storyteller who conjured up tales from his own past and the past of the enchanted continent that he inhabited. Storytelling is almost embedded in the human condition — as García Márquez once memorably said, “Fiction was invented the day Jonah arrived home and told his wife that he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale.’’ Human beings love to tell stories and to listen to stories. García Márquez entered the wonderful world of stories and their retelling and revelled in it. His genius lay in the bond of trust that he created between himself and his readers: none of his readers bothered about the willing suspension of disbelief. He created a world that was his own but from which radiated memories, history, fairy tales, modes of narrative and above all the joys of the imaginary. The reader wandered with the writer in the labyrinth, happy to be lost in wonder.
Image courtesy: elmundo.es
The more power you have, the harder it is to know who is lying to you and who is not. When you reach absolute power, there is no contact with reality, and that’s the worst kind of solitude there can be. A very powerful person, a dictator, is surrounded by interests and people whose final aim is to isolate him from reality; everything is in concert to isolate him.
In a piece from the New Statesman published in March 1974, Gabriel García Márquez explores Allende’s record in Chile, his rivals’ dealings with the United States and the rise of his successor – the army general Augusto Pinochet.
It was towards the end of 1969 that three generals from the Pentagon dined with five Chilean military officers in a house in the suburbs of Washington. The host was Lieutenant Colonel Gerardo López Angulo, assistant air attaché of the Chilean Military Mission to the United States, and the Chilean guests were his colleagues from the other branches of service. The dinner was in honour of the new director of the Chilean Air Force Academy, General Carlos Toro Mazote, who had arrived the day before on a study mission. The eight officers dined on fruit salad, roast veal and peas and drank the warm-hearted wines of their distant homeland to the south, where birds glittered on the beaches while Washington wallowed in snow, and they talked mostly in English about the only thing that seemed to interest Chileans in those days: the approaching presidential elections of the following September. Over dessert, one of the Pentagon generals asked what the Chilean army would do if the candidate of the left, someone like Salvador Allende, were elected. General Toro Mazote replied: “We’ll take Moneda Palace in half an hour, even if we have to burn it down.”
One of the guests was General Ernesto Baeza, now director of national security in Chile, the one who led the attack on the presidential palace during the coup last September and gave the order to burn it. Two of his subordinates in those earlier days were to become famous in the same operation: General Augusto Pinochet, president of the military junta, and General Javier Palacios. Also at the table was Air Force Brigadier General Sergio Figueroa Gutiérrez, now minister of public works and the intimate friend of another member of the military junta, Air Force General Gustavo Leigh, who ordered the rocket bombing of the presidential palace. The last guest was Admiral Arturo Troncoso, now naval governor of Valparaíso, who carried out the bloody purge of progressive naval officers and was one of those who launched the military uprising of September 11.
That dinner proved to be a historic meeting between the Pentagon and high-ranking officers of the Chilean military services. On other successive meetings, in Washington and Santiago, a contingency plan was agreed upon, according to which those Chilean military men who were bound most closely, heart and soul, to US interests would seize power in the event of Allende’s Popular Unity coalition victory in the elections.
Image: The last known photograph of Allende alive, La Moneda Palace, 1 April 1973.