Gabriel García Márquez has passed

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Garcia MarquezGabriel García Márquez, one of Latin America’s most widely read and beloved authors, has died today.

El Gabo, as he was known to everyone, had strong links to Venezuela. Born and raised in the Colombian coastal region that shares so much cultural affinity with our own country, García Márquez actually lived in Caracas for a while, and had many friends in our country. When he received his Nobel prize dressed in a liqui-liqui, the traditional dress of the northern plains of South America, somehow we all felt deeply proud. I was just a kid, and I remember it.

Although always a man of the deep, deep left, García Márquez was not really a chavista. He never connected with Chávez the way he did with, say, Fidel Castro. Still, his piece on Hugo Chávez, written during the early years of his presidency, warned us of the dual nature of chavismo and of the man himself. It remains a must read.

I disliked his politics, and I must confess that I was not a huge fan of García Márquez’s writing either. I enjoyed some of his stuff (The General in his Labyrinth is a particular favorite), and did not like some of his most famous things (One Hundred Years of Solitude, or the first tome of his autobiography – just not my cup of tea). His most enthralling work, for me, remains News of a Kidnapping – raw, real, matter-of-fact yet utterly devastating.

Whatever you think of his writing, he was undoubtedly a giant in the continent. Few Latin Americans have ever reached the status of hemispheric icon the way Gabo did (Fidel? Gardel? Cantinflas?). He made magical realism a household term, one that outlives him both in literature and in our real life politics. His life was, for lack of a better word, garciamarqueana. RIP.

1 COMMENT

  1. Actually: Gabriel García Márquez didn’t creat the term realismo mágico, which was actually a word coined by a German long before the Colombia became active as a writer. There were other Spanish-speaking writers who developed this form…although as the Gabo explained in his Nobel Prize speech, it was actually our reality.

    Strange to re-read that speech now. Back then most South American countries were ruled by the milicos…but for Venezuela. Now it is only Venezuela which is basically ruled by those milicos.

    I did like his books a lot. He was one of those who renewed the Spanish language like few others in the XX Century (Darío? Cortázar?).

    • I don’t think mr Nagel said that Garcia Marquez invented magical realism, I think what he meant to say was that he popularized the style. From what little I remember of my literature class in high school, it was either a Colombian or a Mexican author 20 years before el Gabo that wrote the first story that contained magical realism.
      Nice of you to shed some light on that, thougth.

      • Well: Miguel Ángel Asturias was a well-known author who was clearly associated with Realismo Mágico and he preceeded the Gabo. Arturo Úslar Pietri was perhaps the first one to use the term in Spanish literature to refer to…Venezuelan short stories.

        In any case, this is a video where the Gabo explains the trick with the Crónica de una Muerte Anunciada:

    • So you read the two worst books in life….Ever…I treasure my books…and those I gave it away…the “general in his laberynth”made me not to read anything from him again

  2. For El general en su laberinto is his work book! He even mentions it himself at the epilogue!

    And on the flipside, 100 Years of Solitude is one of the best books ever written!

  3. Gabo was a journalist at heart. Chronicle of a Death Foretold begins with the “spoiler” (as should do news artciles) but you still read it to the end filled with intrigue. Many of his novels are about a something that everybody was seeing but nobody was telling the story. At least not in the way he did.

    A little nugget for Juan and others who liked Noticia de un secuestro: https://twitter.com/villamizar/status/456891712107839488

  4. Juan, I am glad you mentioned this here. He is a huge figure in literature. What I found remarkable about his autobiography was how close his fiction was to his experience. People call it magical realism, but it was mostly just his life and the life of his people, with a few twigs here and there. He drew on Borges, Faulkner…especially Faulkner I think- but he forged a style and a voice which is, like all the great ones, true to the particular time and place, but also universal.

    This guy made me want to learn spanish. Sheesh, now look where I find myself….

  5. “Over the weekend the vultures got into the Presidential Palace by pecking through the screens on the balcony windows, and the flapping of their wings stirred up the stagnant time inside, and at dawn on Monday the city awoke out of its lethargy of centuries with the warm, soft breeze of a great man dead and rotting grandeur.”

    Did anyone ever describe the end of a Latin American strongman better than this?

  6. The best of Latin American cheesy collective psyche is its willingness to think of Cheo Feliciano in the same terms as García Márquez. That well describes its magic realism on steroids.

    • because of connections …
      Gabo, like Chávez whom he interviewed in 1999, loved Fidel. He also donated the proceeds of his Nobel prize in literature to Vzla’s communist party. It was at that point, that the great man of literature lost a little of his lustre — in my eyes. But speaking of leftist affiliations, let’s not forget that Mario Vargas Llosa also had his flirtatious moments with ‘la Revolución Cubana’ … (see p. 21 of the link for Gabo nació en Caracas …)

      • Indeed, the Gabo remained a captive of the extreme lefty crap. In that sense I have to say he was an enabler.
        Mario Vargas Llosa distanced himself well and fair enough. And for that he was demonized among the eternal lefties. I think the only error Vargas Llosa made then was to even try to run for president. You simply should never do that in such a position.

      • allow me to quote the babalu

        “He was a great novelist, but a despicable human being.

        Anyone who counts Fidel Castro as a close friend has to be a moral monster, a degenerate, and among the most despicable of human beings.”

        If we want the rest of Latino America to understand our cause against the maduro/cabello/chavez dictatorship we should empathize and extend our solidarity to those who suffered under other forms of dictatorships in the region, by not celebrating and mourning the passing of those who supported the castro-communism and other dictatorship in Latam, that said person was skillful doing something is irrelevant a monster is a monster period.

        Trust me if you know who he really was you wouldn’t be mourning a monster.

        • Castro is a moral monster , absolutely ruthless, egocentric megalomaniacal, deceitful and lacking in any kind of moral scruples , The man who once stated that it was a shame that during the missile crisis Kruschev hadnt started WW III by launching a missile attack on the US (which socialist dignity demanded), the end humanity be dammed , and yet he also has an extraordinarily forceful intelligence and character

          .I happen to have known people who knew him as a very young man ( cuban exiles) and what they told me of his stamina and personal forcefulness is outstanding , then I heard on Miami tv the testimony of people from their hometown who knew Fidel and Raul from early youth and spoke of both sons relationship with their mother and the story that comes out is that Fidel was a cold hearted bastard while his brother was in contrast very attached to his mother and remained very attached to her memory even after her death .

          According to Plinio Apuleyos biography of el Gabo , the latters politics were totally different from those of Castro , who followed a version of Stalins brand of communism which Gabo found totally abohrrent except of course that he lived at a time when the Cuban Revolution was heavily romanticized by Latin American liberals and he felt attracted to the Imagery the Revolution proyected Castro is known to have a taste for good literature and it would not be surprising that this led to a friendship based basically on Castro’s fondness for Gabo the writer and Gabos nostalgic fealty to his old youthfull illusions and feeling good about being befriended by an intelligent admiring and world reknowned man (however cruel )

          Plinio Apuleyo suggests that Gabo also allowed himself to be befriended by Castro because he was then able to intercede on behalf of many victims of Castros persecution and allow them to leave the island and save their lives. . Its nothing new for men of intellectual or artistic genius to have mediochre (rather than actually evil) moral characters that incongrously make them the object of both admiration and tempered scorn !!

          • “The man who once stated that it was a shame that during the missile crisis Kruschev hadnt started WW III by launching a missile attack on the US.”

            That was Che, not Fidel.

          • No Rory , that was Fidel himself , Heard it live from his own lips in a tv interview and in documentaries . In any event wouldnt surprise me if Che also said it !!

        • People are not one dimensional. One can be an extraordinary person in some aspects of human life and terrible in others. GGM may have had bad company, but what an extraordinary writer he was.

          One can only hope to develop an skills as he did.

          • The problem he just didn’t had bad company as you said, is that he constantly praised The Castro brothers even though he knew exactly who they really are.

            Well sorry but I don’t share your hope, that could be your aspiration, not mine, perhaps not many people. Hitler was a great speaker, yet do I want to have his skills, I don’t think so, his skills were not used for good, but to create the most terrible act against humanity. Same for GGM, he only used his skills only when it suited his political stance.

        • No matter how many valid points are involved, I generally take with a yellow grain of salt the adolescent comment and bizarre technique of merging babalublog’s opinion (“If you really, really want to vomit, or are hankering for a crippling aneurysm that would allow you to collect disability checks from Social Security, continue reading HERE.”) into the body of text, written by the object of derision (GGM) whose work was published in mainstream media (the Guardian).

  7. Me da asco la sangre subir por la acera, no se mucho, pero no! se debe pegar al perro!, escribir, cansa el puño, no se si Macondo Espera, que se libere… no mas arlequines! pero siempre tendemos! burlnadose del pueblo y durmiendo con el o al revés! la vida

  8. Juan, 100 years of solitude is a book best appreciated at a distance. I couldn’t understand it at all when I lived in Venezuela. Once I moved to Europe it suddenly it all made perfect sense and the beauty of the book was revealed to me. It’s worth trying it again.

  9. Generally, I found GGM’s magical realism a little too ‘enredado’ in novel format. For that reason, I trudged through ‘100 años de soledad’, ‘Amor en los tiempos del cólera’, etc. But there was one short story that tickled my fancy: Un Señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes. THE BEST! Resulta que cae del cielo un angel de cuarta edad, en el patio trasero de la casita de Pelayo y Elisenda, su mujer….. Not knowing what to do, the couple put the homeless and practically toothless man in the gallinero, before hurrying to tell the town priest of the news. On arriving, the man of the cloth starts talking in Latin to the ancient behind chicken wire, in order to test whether he is, indeed, an angel. Pelayo and Elisenda, no fools, prepare for the inevitable crowds, along with admission fees… Just wonderful. I think I’ll read it again. Highly recommend (from La Increíble y triste historia de la cándida Eréndira y de su abuela desalmada. Siete Cuentos. Hispánica Nova Barral Editores).

  10. Too much deserves to be said about the man and his work that can fit in a blog comment, so I ll just refer to the term magical realism which was a term that before GGM became known was associated with the work of Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier ,a truly extraordinary writer . Mr Carpentier also lived in Venezuela in the 50;s working for an Advertising Agency . I attended a lecture which he gave years later when he had become Castro’s embassador to Venezuela were he explained the origin of the term :: He was invited by a group of friends to a yatch expedition exploring the coasts of Venezuela , a storm was coming and he wanted to describe it first hand it so he took his note book and sat in the bow of the yatch and started writing, As he wrote he was impressed by the wonderful magical quality of the things he was describing and which yet were absolutely real, he then coined for himself the term of magical realism to refer to the experience of a writer writing realistically what he saw about him and yet feeling that he was enveloped in a kind of magical setting .

    He was an elderly man , formally dressed in suit and tie, speaking with calm deliberation in a slight french accent who absolutely avoided any political references in his speeches , he could easily pass for being the french ambassador to Venezuela . After his vision of latin american magical realism he wrote a splendid book , El Reino de este Mundo about the slave uprising in Haiti which was a perfect literary representation of the idea of magical realism . When GGM books started coming out the term was already in use and started to be applied to the books of GGM as well !!

    I was a life long devotee of GGM and devoured everything he wrote with great relish. although advanced age cause his literary talents to flag a bit towards the end of his writing career for years he surprised us with a stream of extraordinary novels of the highest literary standard . I am amazed that anyone would find fault with any of his novels, they were all gems of the first order .

    Little known is that for a year after the rise of Castron he was an employee of the cuban press agency without having developed any close friendship with Castro ( as told by Plinio Apuleyo ) , he was in fact more known for having a good relationship with Che Guevara . As Castro made his govt more like a model stalinistic police state he purged the agency including GGM who was left jobless with wife and children in NY.

    By then he had intimely abjured any belief in the virtues of Soviet Socialism but thought that the Cuban revolution had to be given some slack because it represented such a break from traditional military dictatorships that prevalied in L. America. It was only years later that he developed a close friendly relationship with Castro that lasted until the date he died. He claimed to his friends that thanks to his playing along with Castros Revolution he had in fact helped many dissidents to scape from Cuba into freedom .

    His politics in any event take not one whit away from the singular merits of his literary work .!! .

    • Correction : He lived in Caracas from 1945 to 1959 and published El Reino de Este Mundo in 1949 . It was in the prologue to the latter book that for the 1st time he wrote about the concept of the ‘real maravilloso’ , which later became ‘realismo magico’ . At the end of the lecture I attended some boys in the audience shouted their welcome to ‘the representative of the glorious Cuban Revolution ‘ , he totally ignored the words and quietly left the rostrum to mix with the audience.for a few minutes before leaving the lecture hall.

      There is an overlap between his years in Caracas and those of El Gabo , quite sure that GGM read Carpentier , not sure he ever met the man while in Caracas. Carpentier was already a recognized figure in L. American literature when GGM had yet to publish his first important work .

    • That was interesting Mr. Bass. Writers are to a certain extent amoral beasts. They develop and plunder their closest relationships for material. I am sure GGM, a great observer of the caudillo, got more out of Castro than Castro got out of GGM. To take a more extreme and different example, when Gunter Grass, a fellow Nobel Laureate and “magic realist” (whatever that means, and I think it means not a lot), announced to the world that he had been in the Waffen-SS, it was far too late for millions of people to say he was not a pleasure to read and not an artistic genius…

      • agree on all points, Canuckles. No surprise that the journalist and the novel writer share certain moralities, when it comes to producing work that whets the appetite of readers, for new-found material, even gossip — well presented.

  11. como si la izquierda y derecha en latam fuese mas que basura de la guerra fría, tristes viejos y pobres jóvenes… ni hablar del derecho al voto!

  12. On the subject of so-called magic realism, a precursor of the trend was the Cuba writer Alejo Carpentier’s El reino de este mundo (The Kingdom of this World). A novel about the Hatian Revolution and about the reign of Henri Cristophe in particular. Carpentier wrote and finished the novel in Caracas in 1949, if I’m not mistaken. For those interested in contemporary Colombian novels, have look at Juan Gabriel Vasquez’s The Sound of Things Falling (El ruido de las cosas al caer) – A good read and a different sort of realism.

  13. “The truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.” [Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Paris Review, 1981]

  14. I am appaled by the comments I have been reading. One of the most important writers EVER has just died. Venezuela had the incredible chance to open him the path towards stardom with the Romulo Gallegos and what are venezuelans discussing? Wether he was left wing or not! So is he a good writer only based on his political views?

    This is as absurd as the people that denied Mario Vargas Llosa his Nobel for many years because he was considered right wing and political incorrect.

    • It is not because he was left winged. It was about why he approved or became silent in front of the murder of thousands upon thousands of innocent people and the brutal repression of a regime because it was his friend’s regime or one carried out by a group claiming to hold an ideology he claimed to believe in.

      And that is a huge difference. I differentiate between the writer – a great man – and the human. In the case of the human being I give García Márquez much less points. And that has to be said.

  15. El Pais of Spain wrote a piece where it pointed out that the XX century saw the appearance of two Literary giants of Latin american literature , Borges and Garcia Marquez , both of similar stature , but one got the Nobel and the other didnt . Not mentioned in the article is that both authors were accused of befriending authoritarian figures . Borges was non political but conservative leaning and Garcia Marquez a conspicuous Castro sympathizer..

    Borges once spoke of the day he lost the Nobel : he had been invited to Chile to give some lectures , once there Pinochet had him invited through his hosts to the Presidential palace , Borges didnt want to raise waves and out of courtesy to his hosts he accepted the invitation and appeared in a photo shaking hands with Pinochet. He knew then that he would never get the Nobel and he didnt , meanwhile Garcia Marquez publicly befriended Castro , a dictator no less sanguinary than Pinochet and moreover who never allowed an election that might turn him out of power ( as Pinochet ultimately did) .

    This shows how politics is played in the Swedish Academy , in the Glitterati circles of Europe , if a writer is seen in a picture with a right wing dictator he is denied the prize that his literaty talents earn him , if he is seen embraced for years with a cruel communist dictator , all is forgiven .!!

    In my view if a prize is awarded to reward great literary talent , then a persons political sympathies dont count, unfortunately there is a tendency in many circles to apply a double standard which sees association with left wing dictators as acceptable or even admirable while ostracising literary talents which are associated with conservative dictators !! This reveals a deeply dishonest attitude.!! ,

    • Clemente Y Bartolo, the Argentine comic strip with a duck not named Donald, once commented on Borges’s not winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. It went something like this: “What a shame Borges didn’t win the Nobel Prize this year. But we Argentines haven’t done that badly in the Nobel Prize department. After all we have won the Nobel Prize for Soccer/Football. And for YEARS we have won the Nobel Prize for Inflation.” [I lost my copy of that strip, and haven’t been able to find it online, so my memory will have to serve.]

      It is also of interest that Jorge Luis Borges got into trouble in Peronist Argentina with his refusal to put up a poster of the Perons in the SADE offices- a refusal to pay homage to the caudillo. Contrast that stance with that of Gabo who, while he had a more sensible attitude towards Venezuela’s 21st-century caudillo, had no problems with paying homage to Cuba’s caudillo.

      Your point about the double standard is well taken.

  16. One hundred years of solitude is a masterpiece ! Love in time of cholera a magnificent novel and Cronica de una muerte anunciada the best example of a story which ending is foretold. Gabo was a genius, no doubt.
    His politics, secondary.
    His Chavez vision (as told in Rory Carroll book, I have not read the original) revealing !

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