The great Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez said in his Nobel Prize lecture, “To oppression, plundering and abandonment, we respond with life”.
Everything he wrote was an affirmation of life, love and the irrepressible determination of human beings to keep on searching for Utopia.
An anti-imperialist and a pioneer of the genre of “magical realism”, Garcia Marquez encapsulated Latin America, particularly in the fictional village of Macondo, based on his hometown Aracataca
It was the setting not only for imaginary El Dorados and the shrinking fragile biospheres of the deep rainforests. It was also a place of terrible violence, of repression, of whole peoples made invisible by those who provided the written histories of this conquered world.
For the conquerors of every century who appropriated its wealth, its silver, its tin, its copper, its oil reinvented, each for their own age, a myth of virgin territories still in their natural and uncivilised state. They did not mention the massacres, the repressions, the exploitation which condemned those invisible peoples to so many “centuries of solitude”.
There is a passage near the beginning of Marquez’s masterpiece, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), in which the community established in this mysterious place sets out to discover its place in the world. They travel towards each of the points of the compass, only to find their way barred by mountains, swamps, seas and impenetrable forests.
So they return to the village to await some indication of the world beyond. In the wonderful short novel, Nobody writes to the Colonel, that takes the shape of a retired Colonel waiting for his military pension. That recognition never comes, yet hope never dies.
Garcia Marquez challenged and overturned the official version of Latin America’s history, with another narrative, that rejects the time of the colonial historians and the silences in their accounts.
He rediscovers another history in the stories and legends that the popular imagination retains in defiance of the official silence. Theirs is another time, a concentrated present that accumulates the collective experiences and draws strength from them.
When the workers striking against a banana company in Colombia were murdered and their bodies taken away under cover of night, they were “disappeared”. Like so many others who fought back, their names were erased and their bodies buried in unknown graves.
But in One Hundred Years of Solitude they are reborn. Miraculously saved from death, they reappear as giants and rise to the sky in a cloud of yellow butterflies.
In his Nobel acceptance speech Garcia Marquez celebrated the power of poetry. But that poetic vision was not only to be found among published poets but in the popular imagination, which took back its history, absorbed it into its own language and experience.
It made that “world turned upside down”, as the journalist Eduardo Galeano called the world distorted by imperialism, the inspiration for its future struggles to create a new utopia. As Garcia Marquez put it, “A new and sweeping utopia of life, 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”.