Garcia Marquez: More than just a magic realist
NEW YORK (AP) — Magic realism was only one of his gifts. From crime stories and village folklore to romance and satire, Gabriel Garcia Marquez brought poetry to virtually every popular genre.
The Nobel laureate and international literary statesman, who died Thursday at age 87, completed just six novels, four novellas, a few dozen short stories and a handful of nonfiction works during a half-century of publishing. But he drew upon an unpredictable range of influences and mastered styles that made him the most complex and most straightforward of literary authors.
Much of the world learned of him through his expansive classic “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” but he could also turn out brief, tense stories, such as “Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” a novella published in Spanish in 1981 and in English two years later. The opening lines, not unlike the celebrated passage that begins “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” set a deadly mood worthy of the best thrillers.
“On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on,” Garcia Marquez wrote. “He had slept little and poorly, without getting undressed, and he woke up with a headache and a sediment of copper stirrup on his palate, and he interpreted them as the natural havoc of the wedding revels that had gone on until after midnight.”
For “Love in the Time of Cholera,” a 1980s best-seller which many critics ranked just behind “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” Marquez openly drew upon soap opera and romance. Through a plot he defined as one of frustrated love, a man and woman too young to marry at 20 and too old to marry at 80, he wove in politics, history, economics and the mysterious rules of male desire.
“It was in those days that he devised his rather simplistic theories concerning the relationship between a woman’s appearance and her aptitude for love,” Garcia Marquez wrote. “He distrusted the sensual type, the ones who looked as if they could eat an alligator raw and tended to be the most passive in bed.
“The type he preferred was the opposite: those skinny little tadpoles that no one bothered to turn around and look at in the street, who seemed to disappear when they took off their clothes, who made you feel sorry for them when their bones cracked at the first impact, and yet who could leave the man who bragged the most about his virility ready for the trashcan.”
Garcia Marquez reigned over both the external and the internal, public ceremony and private delusions and disappointments. “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” a devastating and exhausting portrait of a Caribbean dictator published in the mid-1970s, was described by Garcia Marquez as a “poem on the solitude of power,” complete with vultures barging into the presidential palace.
“No One Writes to the Colonel” was a sympathetic novella about a military man long overdue to receive his pension. The author’s celebrated short story “Big Mama’s Funeral” starts like a fairy tale (“This is, for all the world’s unbelievers, the true account of Big Mama”), captures the ways of a small community with the intimacy of an ancient folktale and defines the workings of political power with a thoroughness you might find in a book by Robert Caro.
“No one knew the origin, or the limits or the real value of her estate, but everyone was used to believing that Big Mama was the owner of the waters, running and still, of rain and drought, and of the district’s roads, telegraph poles, leap years, and heat waves, and that she had furthermore a hereditary right over life and property,” he wrote.
“When she sat on her balcony in the cool afternoon air, with all the weight of her belly and authority squeezed into her old rattan rocker, she seemed, in truth, infinitely rich and powerful, the richest and most powerful matron in the world.”