By Simon Assaf
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Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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Issue 391

The death of Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez at the age of 87 marks the end of an era that transformed Latin American literature.

Marquez is renowned for a style of work known as Magical Realism, where the supernatural and the mundane merge. His books are a metaphor for imperialism, dictatorship and struggle.

Marquez, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, popularised a style that was steeped in Latin American artistic traditions at a time of deep social change and dashed hopes.

His best known work, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), is a ground breaking novel. Set in the remote jungles of the Colombian rainforest it is the story of seven generations of the Buendia family and its matriarch, Ursula Iguaran, who lives to the age of 130.

Macondo, the village that lives in solitude, exists in a time outside the real world, where elements of nature and life merge.

It is enchanted and terrorised by the magic of the modern world, brought to the village by travelling Gypsies, or by the sudden and unexpected appearance of a train that pulls up on track that was never laid.

The village survives its isolation until the arrival of two Americans, Mr Herbert and Mr Brown.

Impressed by the quality of bananas they are offered, the foreigners set up a plantation and turn on the locals, massacring a thousand workers when they go on strike.

The story of Macondo is one that describes Latin America under imperialism, civil war and dictatorship. But it is more than a simple political and social metaphor.

The setting and characters, and Marquez’s magical style, set the book apart. It is easy to detach yourself from the real world and get lost in the life of Macondo.

The success of One Hundred Years marked Marquez’s deepening development of the style of Magical Realism. His earlier books set the tone of what was to come.

In No One Writes to the Colonel (1961), a war hero is exiled to live in a village with his sick wife waiting for a pension he never receives.

The story is set at a time of fierce martial law where people have forgotten their own names and only one person is lucky enough to die of natural causes.

In Evil Hour, written in 1962, a town is sent into a state of crisis by rumours, which the corrupt mayor uses as a pretext to declare a state of emergency and crush his political opponents.

The book, originally entitled, This Town of Shit, established Marquez’s style which involved using parables to expose the repression and corruption of his native Colombia.

The Autumn of the Patriarch, written in 1975, reflected Latin America’s loss of hope following the 1973 coup that toppled Allende’s socialist government in Chile. It is the story of the eternal dictator ruling over a land blighted by cruelty and misrule.

Put in power by the British, the patriarch is forever indebted to imperialism. He is forced to sell the Caribbean Sea to the Americans who ship it to Arizona, leaving only a desolate shore.

As his power grows, so does his paranoia. He turns on his allies, even killing and serving up his defence minister at a banquet held in his honour.

The book, which Marquez wrote in Barcelona in the twilight of Franco’s rule, is told as the memoirs of the dictator who dies alone. As the population finally pluck up courage to enter the palace they find that his “whole body was sprouting tiny lichens and parasitic animals from the depths of the sea”.

Marquez said his inspiration for The Patriarch came when as a journalist he witnessed the coup that deposed Venezuelan dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez in January 1958.

The assembled reporters in the presidential palace were informed of Jimenez’s overthrow by an officer who “came out walking backward with a machine gun in his hand and mud on his boots”.

Aside from his fiction, Marquez kept up his journalism. In Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littin he tells the story of the secret return of a Chilean filmmaker exiled by the Pinochet dictatorship.

Littin secretly filmed life under the military Junta, escaping before his identity became known. The secret police seized and burnt Marquez’s books as punishment.
In his Nobel acceptance speech, Marquez said:

“Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.

“This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude.”

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