RIP: Gabriel García Márquez

Marquez-Gabriel-adv-obit-slide-LP84-superJumbo-v5The Nobel Prize-winning author passed away at his home in Mexico City. He was 87.

Mr. García Márquez was a master of the literary genre known as magical realism, in which the miraculous and the real converge. In his novels and stories, storms rage for years, flowers drift from the skies, tyrants survive for centuries, priests levitate and corpses fail to decompose. And, more plausibly, lovers rekindle their passion after a half-century apart.

Magical realism, he said, sprang from Latin America’s history of vicious dictators and romantic revolutionaries, of long years of hunger, illness and violence. In accepting his Nobel, Mr. García Márquez 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.”

Like many Latin American intellectuals and artists, Mr. García Márquez felt impelled to speak out on the political issues of his day. He viewed the world from a left-wing perspective, bitterly opposing Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the right-wing Chilean dictator, and unswervingly supporting Fidel Castro in Cuba. Mr. Castro became such a close friend that Mr. García Márquez showed him drafts of his unpublished books.

He was obviously a titan, but I can’t help share this post about how English-speakers can never fully appreciate his literary gifts:

García Márquez would choose a word over another because it was close and familiar, or wildly improbable, or deadpan and irrefutable. It’s nearly impossible to recreate this in another language because A) we’re not Nobel laureates, and B) the history, music, or emotion words carry is wrapped up in the context from which they are delivered. García Márquez captured Colombian reality from the inside out, with the precision of a journalist, and the clarity of vision of a poet. “I dare to think that it is this colossal, roaring reality, and not just its literary expression, that this year merited the attention of the Swedish Academy,” he said in that Nobel acceptance speech. “All creatures of that boundless, frenzied reality 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.”

García Márquez’s was a life that was lived to be told, as he said, complete with dictator friends and lifelong literary foes. He lived to tell the tale of Colombia, of Latin America, to tell it back to us like his grandmother did and like our grandmothers still do, while they can. He explained it to us and to the rest of the world, and for a moment they listened—but few understood, and I don’t blame them. It was Colombians, in the end, he was writing for; he told us our own stories back to us in the language and the music of our mothers, lovers, and friends, and we felt less alone because we had our own solitude to turn to.

I’m ashamed to admit I only made it two-thirds of the way through 100 Years of Solitude. It’s one of the only canonical literary books I’ve ever not finished.

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