BY GISELA HEFFES
With the death of “Gabo,” the nickname for the widely known writer Gabriel García Márquez, a whole generation of the 20th century’s finest writers seems to be vanishing. The author of one of the most extraordinary novels ever written, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (1967), passed away April 17 and left a sense of emptiness and sadness for both readers and literary critics.
I read García Márquez for the first time in high school, again when studying at the University of Buenos Aires and again in graduate school at Yale. How can we ever forget the amazing characters that inhabit his unique worlds? The Buendía family genealogy, Remedios the Beauty fading in the sky after ascending in the later afternoon or the eccentric Melquíades, who predicts the fate of the family, tightly bound to the story of “Macondo,” the imaginary town where the novel develops. While his work is mostly known by the so-called “magic realism,” García Márquez also wrote chronicles, journalism and memoirs and also had been in charge for many years of the EICTV (Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV / International School of Film and TV) in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba. This school, founded with Argentine filmmaker Fernando Birri and Cuban producer Julio García Espinosa, has formed and developed many generations of students from Latin America, Asia and Africa.
García Márquez was a part of the Latin American “boom” generation, in which writers such as Argentine Julio Cortázar, Mexican Carlos Fuentes, Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa and Paraguayan Augusto Roa Bastos explored the limits of literary imagination and created a new genre that combined beautiful literary styles with a most dramatic — and sometimes humorous — assessment of Latin American history, politics and social problems. In García Márquez’s case, his narrative illustrates the most prominent aspects of Latin American modernity, such as experimentation with popular topics, writing and deconstruction of the patriarchal tradition, a typically peripheral intent of both dominating universal literature — a characteristic that is very typical in Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges — and narration and its opposites. García Márquez’s texts are usually closed, dated historically and aspire to totality. I have written on García Márquez’s literary production as a “classic” — especially “One Hundred Years of Solitude” — for its realistic character and its historical connection, its capacity to synthesize several aspects of human life such as love, tradition, politics and a wide range of different conflicts as well as aesthetic features that emerge in the novel.
When García Márquez received the Nobel Prize in 1982, the Swedish Academy highlighted the significance of “his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts.” However, one of the most significant aspects highlighted by the Swedish Academy to understand García Márquez’s legacy and impact in the international cultural arena are his trajectory as a writer and his social and political commitments. It is noteworthy that his work has triggered all sorts of approaches from the most disparate positions and perspectives.
One paradigmatic example is the perspective from Vera Szeckacs, García Márquez’s translator to Hungarian, who established an analogy between Macondo and Hungary in their equally bloody history, shared peripheral condition underlined by the permanent waiting for “progress,” and their solitude. García Márquez’s literary production has been compared with all possible books, musicals, colonial chronicles, plays and world nations. However, I agree with García Márquez when he once stated irreverently or sarcastically that no literary critic would ever be able to transmit the real vision of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” until he or she rejects the most evident premise that the novel lacks completely of seriousness. It will be, of course, the task of his readers to determine the accuracy of this statement. In the meantime, we will rejoice reading one of the most engaging and beautiful writers of the past century.
—Gisela Heffes is an assistant professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.