No doubt a reflection of one’s own age, I fear this blog is in danger of becoming a series of obituaries. Not long ago it was Lou Reed, then Tony Benn, and I could easily have rambled on about Tom Finney even though his playing days were before I was born and he seemed the closest thing my Dad had to a hero. And now Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
I was in my second year at university when an Italian girlfriend introduced me to his work. She was already in her mid-twenties, and she seemed even more sophisticated and worldly a few weeks later when it was Marquez who won the Nobel prize. It was a time in my life when I was first encountering the wider world. Before then I’d never been outside England, and at school English Literature had never caught my imagination – endless analysis of “character development” – but I’d recently discovered Kafka and Grass’s Tin Drum and would soon be a huge fan of Faulkner. I ended up reading one book after another, until I’d devoured everything he had written – or at least that I could find in Cambridge’s book shops and university library. As it’s a copyright library, that did mean everything.
I immediately took to Marquez’s flights of fantasy, always cut through with sharp reality – a priest who raised money for the village church by learning to levitate, until the soldiers came and beat him with their rifle butts. It’s interesting that this intercutting of the idyllic with polemics is highlighted in the Guardian’s 1970 review of his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude:
The villagers are … astonished to find in the cinema that “a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears of affliction had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one.”
There is no agreement among the inhabitants of Macondo on the exact location of the borderline between fantasy and reality. Yet not even Macondo’s most obsessed lunatics are so arbitrary in their deployment of fantasy as the Colombian Government and its ally, American capital.
Thus a strike in a banana plantation that an American company establishes in Macondo is discouraged by the company lawyers’ assertion that its workers simply do not exist: ‘The banana company did not have, never had had, and never would have any workers in its service because they were all hired on a temporary and occasional basis.
When the workers finally do strike they are all shot and their bodies are secretly whisked away from Macondo by train at night. Yet a solitary surviving witness of the incident is not able to convince anyone that the slaughter ever occurred, and future generations of Colombian children are to read in their school textbooks not only that there was no slaughter, but indeed that there was never even a banana plantation in Macondo.
Sounds familiar? Certainly this passage reminded me of the little green men who weren’t in Crimea.
If you don’t know his work, try 100 Years of Solitude itself. It’s not heavy-going, unlike some big L literature, or just dip into some of his short story collections. Look for the story Big Mama’s Funeral, or No-one Writes to the Colonel.
I’d read somewhere that he had Alzheimer’s, but in his last moments, wouldn’t it have been great if García Márquez had looked back and remembered a distant afternoon in Macondo?