Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014) – Umesh Kumar, Hyderabad

3248 is beyond words to describe the passing away of any human being, more or so a writer like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who casted such an everlasting spell of literary magic (realism), not only in his country and continent but around the world. His passing away has created a deep void both in the territories of literature and ideas. Affectionately known as Gabo throughout Latin America, this Columbian writer has more than fifteen highly acclaimed books, a Nobel Prize, a distinct technique of magic realism, a lifelong passion for journalism, robust left wing political ideas and the undying spirit to advocate realism, to his credit.

           As a leader of so called Latin American Boom, Garcia Marquez became well known for his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (OHYS) which, almost single handedly established his international recognition. Garcia Marquez is also a champion of ‘nativism’ since he wrote most of his works in Spanish. His works had such an impact that they were almost immediately translated into English and other world languages. The success of OHYS was such that Garcia Marquez was scared that rest of his work will be judged according to the bench mark set by this novel. Nevertheless, his other works such as The Autumn of the Patriarch, No One Writes to the Colonel, Love in the Time of Cholera as well as his memoir Living to Tell the Tale also managed to claim considerable amount of respect from critics and readers worldwide. The understanding of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s literary works is incomplete without understanding his personal, ideological, and political standpoints which have primarily shaped his canon.

The Personal and the Political

          Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born on March 6, 1927 in the small town of Aracataca. By identity he always identified himself as a cultural product of Spanish, black, and indigenous people who inhibited that place. In the absence of his parents, Garcia Marquez was nurtured by his grandfather (a war veteran and steadfast liberal) who narrated him stories of his heroic deeds in Columbia’s civil war in the nineteenth century and a grandmother who was deeply entrenched in superstition, ghost stories of dead and above all, magic. She was an excellent story teller and perhaps an imprint of it is seen in Garcia Marquez’s stories. From an early age, he was politically aware of the conditions of his existence since Aracataca being the site of infamous Banana Strike massacre of 1928, in which a United States (US) backed corporation, the United Fruit Company, gave direction to the Columbian army to open fire on workers’ peaceful demonstration thereby killing hundreds of them, that in turn, haunted the young writer’s archetypal memory and perhaps shaped his anti-imperial views towards US. According to Garcia Marquez himself, his political and ideological viewpoints were largely shaped by his grandparents, largely by his grandfather. In an interview, Garcia Marquez told his friend Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, “My grandfather the Colonel, was a Liberal. My political ideas probably came from him to begin with because, instead of telling me fairy tales when I was young, he would regale me with horrifying accounts of the last civil war that free-thinkers and anti-clerics waged against the Conservative government”. Such training influenced him and the same influence got translated into his literary writings. As a result, in early Garcia Marquez we see certain tendencies and conscious attempts to challenge the status quo of Columbian way of producing literature which was ideologically hijacked by the dominating US. The critique of US was one segment of his largely unimpressed attitude towards the patronising Europe.

Conscious Apathy towards Europe

All through his life, Garcia Marquez was largely unimpressed by the patronising attitude of the Europe through which it relegated the other cultures to ‘inferior others’. A mirror image of his views towards Europe can be traced from his speech titled The Solitude of Latin America, delivered as the Nobel Prize acceptance speech. In this speech Garcia Marquez makes a strong critique of European colonialism, colonial legacies and (de) terrorisation of Latin American cultures. During the speech, he was particularly harsh, rather skeptical of the European concept of modernity. According to him, the concept of modernity was invented in order to strengthen European and Western colonialism. Initially, during the Enlightenment phase, the Europeans invented the idea of modernity to compare themselves to the ‘others’ of the world. By baptizing itself as modern it automatically placed unknown cultures in the inferior or un-modern category. According to him: “Europe insist on measuring us with the yardstick that they use for themselves, forgetting that the ravages of life are not the same for all, and that the quest for our own identity is just as arduous and bloody for us as it was for them.” If we go a step further, not only towards the Latin American culture but Europe had the same agenda towards the South Asian cultures where it again emerges as the superior ‘self’. But, the question is, then, from where does Garcia Marquez derives this sustained critique of Europe when most of his fellow writers still considered Europe as the intellectual fountainhead  of their craft? Perhaps the answer lies in his individuality and staunch devotion to the left wing politics and socialist orientations. It seems he was the one, who knew, that in spite of its limitations, socialism has a language of justice.

Devotion to the Left

          As a writer and public intellectual, Garcia Marquez was never shy of his political stand. He believed writers have public obligation to speak on political issues. His outspoken attitude towards politics developed due to his life long association with journalism. Early on in his career, he took journalism as a vehicle to aid revolutionary ideas, later culminated in founding a left wing magazine Alternativa which promoted and disseminated socialist ideas. His faith in socialist ideas lead him to support Cuban revolution with Fidel Castro at the helm, for which he was heavily criticised by fellow Latin American writers. They were concerned about lack of intellectual space for writers in such a situation. To this, Garcia Marquez reverted back and claimed that his close friendship with Castro also secured the release of so many writers and political prisoners from the island. Further, his continuous criticism of US imperialism, its involvement in Columbia and other Latin American countries coupled with his own left wing politics found him labeled as ‘subversive ‘and was denied a visa by US government. This ban, however, was later lifted by Bill Clinton’s government who, in an ironical scenario, proclaimed that OHYS is his favorite novel! In spite of many hurdles and repressive structures, Garcia Marquez spoke throughout his life the ideas that he believed in. The criticism and exile did not deter him. His ideas, both fictional the real ones travelled him beyond his country and continent and in a way made him transcendental.

The Real and therefore Transcendental

          Gabriel Garcia Marquez once said: ‘There is not a single line in all my work that does not have basis in reality’. His style of magic realism was also dipped in reality where the most frightful and most unusual things are branded together in a symbiotic relationship. Yet, if we wish to keep away the style and only consider theme and subject, Garcia Marquez helped us to connect with the larger Latin American history, its people and their culture. Not only did he connect us with the ‘outer’ but also, so many times, gave a pinch to our private self and helped us to search who we are. His varied portrait of characters which depict anger, frustration, disgust, love, lust, incest, solitary confinement, frustration and anxiety of waiting for someone and above all the condition of human existence is as real and true as it could be. The delineation of this reality comes to the fore when we read him and realize that what he is saying is real. Perhaps, a great writer is someone who tells us what we already know since we do not have the courage, skill and language to express that knowing.

          Garcia Marquez never claimed to have invented Magic Realism; rather he finds it in the very tradition of Latin American literature. Nevertheless, the subtle usage of this style had many followers from Salman Rushdie to Ben Okri to contemporary Chinese fiction, which in many ways made him a household name, at least in the departments of literature across the globe. Though, sharply outspoken in his public and literary life, Garcia Marquez is remembered as a generous, humble and warm person in his private life. Married to Mercedes, his childhood love for more than Forty years, he had two sons to survive by. During his lifetime, he accounted for the difficulties and hardships which come inevitably with international success. Given an opportunity, he preferred to be himself in his private domain especially during the culminating years of his life.

          And more, Garcia Marquez believed in dreams, dreams of equality, mutual respect, respect for difference and above all, a possible utopia, which probably springs from his left leanings. As he iterates the same in his Noble acceptance speech: “tellers of tales who, like me, are capable of believing anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to undertake the creation of a minor utopia: a new and limitless utopia wherein no one can decide for others how they are to die, where love can really be true and happiness possible, where the lineal generations of one hundred years of solitude will have at last and forever a second chance on earth”.

          Gabriel Garcia Marquez has passed away and we all try to recount what he was to the world and his people. But do we have enough vocabulary to map out a life which was lived to the core? Perhaps, we can only try.


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