Gabriel Garcia Marquez
BORN: 1928, Aracataca, Colombia
GENRE: Novels, short stories, nonfiction
No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories (1961)
One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967)
The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975)
Love in the Time of Cholera (1985)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Marquez, Gabriel Garcia, 1982, photograph. AP Images.
Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez shares with many Nobel laureates in literature a concern for the common man, an ongoing faith in the human spirit, and a commitment to telling stories that are accessible to a broad audience. Many of Garcia Marquez’s works are considered examples of ‘‘magical realism,’’ a literary style that typically has a strong narrative drive in which the recognizably realistic mingles with the unexpected and inexplicable. Garcia Marquez is credited with helping reinvigorate the modern novel genre.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Early Life in a Small Village Culture. Garcia Marquez was born on March 7, 1928, in the northern Caribbean coastal region of Colombia in the town of Aracataca. He was the son of telegrapher Gabriel Eligio Garcia and Luisa Santiaga Marquez de Garcia (a pair whose star-crossed courtship Garciia Mairquez would later fictionalize in Love in the Time of Cholera). Garcia Marquez lived with his maternal grandparents for eight years after his father left home to seek better employment. The vast majority of the population in this impoverished and strongly Afro-Colombian region of the country was illiterate and, as a result, had a strong and vibrant oral culture. National newspapers did not yet circulate in this region, and much of the news from the outside world came to Aracataca and other small towns by means of vallenatos, popular music that told tales garnished with real people and events. Not surprisingly, the storytelling of his grandmother, the long decline of Aracataca, and the myths and superstitions of the townspeople all played major roles in shaping Garcia Marquez’s imagination and literary style. Garcia Marquez has acknowledged that the fictional town of Macondo, the focal point of his masterwork One Hundred Years of Solitude was based on Aracataca.
Journalism and Literary Circle amidst Political Violence. Life changed radically for many citizens of Colombia in April 1948 when political violence broke out in the streets of Bogota after the assassination of the presidential candidate of the Liberal Party, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan. Garcia Marquez was attending law school in Bogota at the time. After the university closed and his boardinghouse was burned down, Garcia Marquez moved to a more peaceful setting, the coastal city of Cartagena, where he took a job as a journalist. In 1950, he moved to Barranquilla and continued newspaper work. It was in Barranquilla that he befriended other young writers and became familiar with the works of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner, both of whom would influence his writing. Partisan violence spread across the nation from 1948 to 1956, and Colombia experienced a civil war identified as La Violencia, which led to more than three hundred thousand deaths.
Political Dissent. Garcia Marquez returned to Bogota in 1954, serving as a film critic and reporter for El espectador, and the next year his novella Leaf Storm (La hojarasca) was published. During this period he also gained political notoriety for his account in El espectador of the experiences of Luis Alejandro Velasco, a sailor who survived the shipwreck of a Colombian naval vessel in the Caribbean. This series of reports, later published as The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor (Relato de un naufrago, 1970), exposed the existence of contraband cargo onboard the ship and suggested the general incompetence of the nation’s navy.
Seeking to avoid governmental retribution, Garcia Marquez traveled throughout Europe during 1955, working as a foreign correspondent for his newspaper. In 1956, however, the military government of Colombia headed by Gustavo Rojas Pinilla shut down the periodical and, fearing reprisal if he should return, Garcia Marquez settled in Paris. During this time, many of his peers in Colombia were writing bloody accounts of La Violencia in the 1950s, but Garcia Marquez’s approach was different: he wrote stories that subtly alluded to political violence, with political conflict only a part of the general plot. In this way, Garciia Mairquez emphasized the human drama in a more universal way than had been the case in Colombian fiction of his contemporaries.
Anti-U.S., Pro-Cuba Writings. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Garciia Mairquez wrote journalistic pieces criticizing the U.S. government and celebrating the Cuban Revolution. Like many Latin American intellectuals of this period, Garciia Mairquez viewed the Cuban Revolution as a model for the Latin American nations establishing economic and cultural independence from the United States, which had since the turn of the century taken an aggressive role in Latin American politics. During the Cuban Revolution of 1958, Fidel Castro led a successful Communist insurgency against the U.S.- backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. Because this occurred during the height of Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, the United States government was greatly disturbed by the presence of a Communist nation just ninety miles from the American border. The United States attempted to facilitate the overthrow of the new Communist regime in 1961 by giving CIA backing to a botched, embarrassing invasion attempt known as the Bay of Pigs Invasion. One year later, the Soviet Union installed nuclear weapons on Cuba, sparking the Cuban Missile Crisis, one of the most perilous superpower showdowns of the Cold War. The crisis was resolved without violence, but relations between the United States and Cuba have been frosty ever since.
As a result of his pro-Cuba writings and a visit to Cuba (which led to a lifelong friendship with Fidel Castro), Garcia Marquez has had difficulty most of his adult life in acquiring visas to visit the United States; for many years, he was on a State Department blacklist of leftist intellectuals.
A ‘‘Boom’’ in Latin American Literature. The 1960s were the years of the internationally recognized ‘‘Boom’’ of the Latin American novel. The Mexican Carlos Fuentes, the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, the Argentine Julio Cortazar, and Garcia Marquez—these Latin American writers ‘‘who have given to its literature a maturity and dignity it never had before,’’ to quote John Sturrock in the New York Times Book Review.
When One Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien anos de soledad ) was published in 1967 by the Argentine publishing house Sudamericana, its impact was swift and broad. Critics from Argentina to Spain immediately heralded it as one of the major novels to have been published in recent years. Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, himself a Nobel laureate, was quoted in Time as calling the book ‘‘the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since the Don Quixote of Cervantes. With the novel’s publication, the Boom was at its height in Latin America and gaining an unprecedented international respect.
International Celebrity After One Hundred Years of Solitude. Following the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude and its international success, Garcia Marquez assumed the lifestyle of an international celebrity, with homes on several continents. When Garcia Marquez received the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature, he returned to Colombia a national hero, and the entire country celebrated. Because of his popularity after receiving the Nobel Prize, he was named an ambassador for the Colombian government and political groups within Colombia. Though Garciia Mairquez was most vocal about his progressive agenda in the 1970s (his 1975 novel The Autumn of the Patriarch was, for example, a pointed critique of Latin American dictatorships), he was a more moderate political voice for the downtrodden in the 1980s and 1990s. He promoted dialogue among such diverse political forces as the United States, Cuba, and France.
After being treated for lymphatic cancer in 1999, Garciia Mairquez continued writing and published Memories of My Melancholy Whores in 2004.
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Garcia Marquez's famous contemporaries include:
Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986): Argentine short story writer and fellow magical realist, known for his intricate and interwoven plotlines.
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980): French writer and existentialist philosopher.
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954): Mexican surrealistic painter, who was also involved in politics with her husband, muralist Diego Rivera.
Fidel Castro (1926-): Controversial Latin American revolutionary and president of Cuba.
Isabel Allende (1942-): Chilean writer and magical realist most known for her novel The House of the Spirits.
Works in Literary Context
Because of his training as a journalist, Garcia Marquez smoothly incorporates social and historical elements into his fiction, a skill that allows him to promote the central themes of his work: violence, solitude, and mankind’s need for love and companionship.
Journalistic Influence. Although known as a novelist, Garciia Mairquez began his writing career as a reporter and still considers himself to be one. The Reference Guide to World Literature asserts that the evolution of Garcia Marquez’s individual style is based on his experience as a correspondent. In addition, this same experience has led Regina Janes and other critics to compare the Colombian to Ernest Hemingway, a famous American journalist- turned-novelist. Critics have also pointed out the similarities between Garcia Marquez and William Faulkner, the American novelist famous for his books about the Deep South.
Magical Realism. The term ‘‘magical realism’’ has become somewhat controversial in literary criticism because it has been perhaps too liberally applied. In a basic sense, magical realism in fiction is marked by realistic settings and everyday scenes in which sometimes the illogical, impossible, or miraculous occurs. However, Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude is considered quintessential^ magical realist. The novel is on the one hand a perfectly realistic fictional chronicle of Macondo—a microcosm of Colombia and, by extension, of South America and the world—from its harmonious beginnings under founder Josei Arcadio Buendia to its increasingly chaotic decline through six generations of descendants. But in addition to reflecting the political, social, and economic ills of South America, the novel is filled with fantastic events, including a baby born with a pig tail and flocks of yellow butterflies that follow certain characters. The genre continues to be popular in Latin American literature, as it allows writers to blend the hard political and economic realities of their home regions with the folklore of their cultures and the often wild, grand natural landscape of their countries.
COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE
Many writers have experimented with magical realism, a blend of reality and fantasy in a literary text. The result is insight— often clever, sometimes comical—into the nature of reality itself. Other works of magical realism include:
The Metamorphosis (1915), by Franz Kafka. In this famous work of magical realism, the main character awakens to find himself transformed into a giant insect.
The House of the Spirits (1982), by Isabel Allende. In this novel by the Chilean writer, the main character inhabits a house full of ghosts while she tries to understand her complex family tree.
Green Grass, Running Water (1993), by Thomas King. A novel by a Cherokee writer featuring a mythical reality inhabited by one of a quintessential magical realist figures, the trickster Coyote.
Ceremony (1977), by Leslie Marmon Silko. This highly acclaimed novel tells the story of a Native American veteran's return to his New Mexico reservation after World War II.
Life of Pi (2001), by Yann Martel. In this novel, a young boy named Pi is shipwrecked and must survive on a raft somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Pi's only companion is a tiger named Richard Parker.
Works in Critical Context
Tribune Books contributor Harry Mark Petrakis described Garcia Marquez as ‘‘a magician of vision and language who does astonishing things with time and reality. He blends legend and history in ways that make the legends seem truer than truth. His scenes and characters are humorous, tragic, mysterious and beset by ironies and fantasies. In his fictional world, anything is possible and everything is believable.’’ In addition, the critic asserted: ‘‘Mystical and magical, fully aware of the transiency of life, his stories fashion realms inhabited by ghosts and restless souls who return to those left behind through fantasies and dreams. The stories explore, with a deceptive simplicity, the miracles and mysteries of life.’’
One Hundred Years of Solitude. One Hundred Years of Solitude is Garcia Marquez’s best-known contribution to the awakening of interest in Latin American literature. According to an Antioch Review critic, the popularity and acclaim for One Hundred Years of Solitude signaled that ‘‘Latin American literature will change from being the exotic interest of a few to essential reading and that Latin America itself will be looked on less as a crazy subculture and more as a fruitful, alternative way of life.’’ Similarly enthusiastic was William Kennedy, who wrote in the National Observer that ‘‘One Hundred Years of Solitude is the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.’’
The Autumn of the Patriarch. In The Autumn of the Patriarch (El otono del patriarca, 1975), Garcia Marquez uses a more openly political tone in exploring the isolation of a political tyrant. ‘‘In this fabulous, dreamlike account of the reign of a nameless dictator of a fantastic Caribbean realm, solitude is linked with the possession of absolute power,’’ described Ronald De Feo in the National Review. Some critics, however, found both the theme and technique of The Autumn of the Patriarch lacking. Newsweek’s Walter Clemons considered the novel somewhat disappointing: ‘‘After the narrative vivacity and intricate characterization of the earlier book [The Autumn of the Patriarch] seems both oversumptuous and underpopulated. It is—deadliest of compliments—an extended piece of magnificent writing.''
Love in the Time of Cholera. Another blending of fable and fact, based in part on Garcia Marquez’s recollections of his parents' marriage, Love in the Time of Cholera (El amor en los tiempos del colera, 1985) ‘‘is an amazing celebration of the many kinds of love between men and women,'' according to Elaine Feinstein of the LondonTimes. In relating both the story of Fermina Daza’s marriage and her later courtship, this ‘‘is a novel about commitment and fidelity under circumstances which seem to render such virtues absurd,'' recounted Times Literary Supplement contributor S. M. J. Minta. Although the basic plot is fairly simple, some critics have accused Garcia Marquez of over-embellishing his story. Chicago Tribune Books contributor Michael Dorris remarked that ‘‘it takes a while to realize this core [plot], for every aspect of the book is attenuated, exaggerated, overstated.’’ Still, the book is seen as Garcia Marquez’s being true to himself. As New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani described it, Love in the Time of Cholera ‘‘has revealed how the extraordinary is contained in the ordinary, how a couple of forgotten, even commonplace lives can encompass the heights and depths of grand and eternal passion.’’
Responses to Literature
1. The term ‘‘magic realism’’ was coined by German art critic Franz Roh in 1925. For Roh, it was synonymous with post-expressionist painting (1920-1925) because it revealed the mysterious elements hidden in everyday reality. Garcia Marquez has claimed more than once that he is merely a ‘‘realist’’ who describes the everyday reality of his nation and of Latin America. Considering the fact that Garcia Marquez has always been more interested in writers who invent reality (Kafka, Faulkner) rather than those who merely describe it, why do you think Garcia Marquez would make such a claim about his own work? Support your answer with examples and elements present throughout Garciia Mairquez's body of work.
2. Many of Garcia Marquez’s works span long periods of time. Why do you think he chooses to portray his characters in terms of decades instead of days or weeks? Compare his use of time as a literary device to that of other writers and conclude what method is most effective. Provide specific examples to support your argument.
3. Besides Faulkner, name other writers who set their works so steadfastly in one location. Does this literary technique seem to limit or expand the scope of those works? Provide specific examples to support your argument.
Balderston, Daniel, and Marcy Schwartz, eds. Voice-Overs: Translation and Latin American Literature. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002.
Bell, Michael. Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Solitude and Solidarity. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.
Brotherson, Gordon. The Emergence of the Latin American Novel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
Dolan, Sean. Gabriel Garcia Marquez. New York: Chelsea House, 1994.
Gallagher, David Patrick. Modern Latin American Literature. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1973.
Guibert, Rita. Seven Voices. New York: Knopf, 1973.
Harss, Luis, and Barbara Dohmann. Into the Mainstream: Conversations with Latin-American Writers. New York: Harper, 1967.
Pritchett, V.S. The Myth Makers. New York: Random House, 1979.
Wood, Michael. Gabriel Garcia Marquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.