The colonel died yesterday. Gabriel García Márquez may have passed away in a hospital in Mexico City, but for many who affectionately called him Gabo, he simply walked into the forest of his Macondo. I call him the ‘colonel’ because if there ever was a general of realismo mágico it was Juan Rulfo, who minted the phrase ‘Latin American Boom’, and whom Márquez revered and said inspired his 1967 masterpiece, Cien años de soledad. I don’t think Gabo would disagree with me.
Márquez memorized Rulfo’s 1955 novella Pedro Páramo until he could recite the text in full. Prior to Páramo, in 1953, Juan Rulfo had produced a slim collection of short stories, El llano en llamas (The Burning Plain or The Plain in Flames, in English). In the pantheon of Latin American literature, Rulfo would become a living legend, an influential essayist, and a highly respected photojournalist of the Mexican landscape; but Borges and Márquez are the two names most associated with ‘magical realism.’ Márquez would credit his grandparents with having planted the seeds for his love of storytelling, but he placed Rulfo next to Cervantes within the canon of Spanish-language literature.
Readers either love or hate Gabo’s style, but nobody denies his imagination. In my opinion, the difference between a good writer and a great writer is that their work gets better and better with each new work; the writer takes chances. Track Gabo’s short stories from the late forties on into the sixties, and you’ll find that the writing becomes uniquely Gabo – disorienting narrative threads, dislocated point of views and unnamed speakers; and then there are the erotic, poetic and surreal elements, and the touches of the sinister. His short stories, going into the sixties, enabled him to write One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Márquez would resent the success of One Hundred Years of Solitude like an excellent actor fears becoming typecast. He feared (erroneously) that all his later works, any attempts to take his imagination elsewhere, would be compared to Solitude. That he would receive the Nobel Prize in 1982 for the novel seems to have solidified his fears, for he was rumored to have said to his wife Mercedes after the phone call: “¡Estoy jodido!”
“I am screwed.”
In order to appreciate the magnitude of the man’s writing chops, I think it is really necessary to see him as a curious blend of Hemingway and Faulkner. Gabo had said in interviews that he knew he wanted to be a writer from a young age. There is no doubt that he had worked hard to fulfill that ambition. The question becomes an issue of influence and model that either helps or damns the young writer. I find in Gabo’s writing, depending on where you look, a curious blend of the two aforementioned writers.
Márquez was first and foremost a journalist. Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, serialized for El Espectador newspaper in 1955, is a newspaperman’s coverage of a sailor lost at sea, and News of a Kidnapping (1996), is about a Medellín Cartel kidnapping that reads like an episode of 24. These two works use Hemingway’s journalese, with clean, uncomplicated sentences. Faulkner, on the other hand, with his mythmaking, ability to show love, sanity and insanity, and cruelty through sprawling sentences, haunts all of Márquez’s novels. His choice of diction when he turned to Faulkner is what allowed Gabo to enjoy mass appeal.
Rulfo wrote realismo duro, a hard realistic style that is closer to Hemingway had Papa written noir or investigative journalism, as Steinbeck did. Márquez would create a magical realism that combines Hemingway’s insistence for the truest sentence, accessibility, and combined it with his own gift for allegory. Gabo spoke out against General Pinochet’s right-wing overthrow of democratically elected Allende in 1973. His friendship with Fidel Castro, which he claimed was a common love for literature and not political sympathy, resulted in the United States’s banning him for a decade under the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952. He supported the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. It was not until 1995, when President Clinton invited him, did Márquez visit the United States.
Márquez chose allegory to criticize Latin American politics, where others used realismo duro, the hard style in cinema and literature. The Brazilian film, Tropa de Elite (Elite Squad, in English) shows the Rio that tourists do not see. Paulo Lins’s novel City of God (Cidade de Deus, in Portuguese) is another example. In choosing allegory, he elevated national and regional issues, with their particular flavors, and questioned the roles of history and violence on a universal level. Remember how the massacre of the 3,000 banana workers in Solitude is publicly denied? In refusing to moralize and provide a verdict, he gave millions of readers his humorous wink of an eye.
Gabo the writer revised ruthlessly. He purged Chronicle of a Death Foretold until it had 1 adverb. Love in the Time of Cholera has none. The result is an intoxicating, fertile world that has snakes in the trees and crabs everywhere on the ground. People make love on the ground next to the ants. The ants also come for the child. A storm will erase the fictional Macondo out of existence. The village existed for 108 years. Gabo’s will last longer.
He was true to his words. He will be missed.