Student Writer | Joshua Rice
Upon his death in 2014, Gabriel Garcia Marquez was declared to be ‘the greatest Colombian who ever lived’ by then president of Columbia, Juan Manuel Santos. A central pillar of the Latin American renaissance of the 1960s, Marquez enjoyed several decades of literary fame. Marquez became renowned for going beyond surrealist literature, which transports the reader to another world, to build upon the foundations of the genre that would come to be called magic realism. Magic realism keeps us within our world but adds magic or fantastic elements which are woven into the narrative in a way that downplays their extraordinary nature. Magic realism is often associated with Latin America, with the writings of Borges and Allende, and the artist Frida Kahlo. Following this, it has developed into a genre which is frequently used to express the views of authors or artists on the margins of the dominant culture, most notably in the English language by Salman Rushdie. Gabriel Garcia Marquez used magic realism to make sense of the world he found himself growing up in, where newly formed Latin American states were developing at an unbelievable speed, where cultures of the new world and the old world collided to create new identities, and where the cultures of ancient and untouched empires grappled with the Catholicism of Europe.
Marquez’s magnum opus is the 1967 novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. It is a piece of magic realism that explores the events that surround the Buendia family through several generations. It follows their attempt to establish a new town, Macondo, in the rainforests of Columbia, but their inability to escape from the ghosts of their previous lives. The town is the epicentre of fantastic and mysterious happenings including a plague of insomnia, the wondrous inventions of the gypsies who bring new technologies to the town, and the massacre of the striking workers of the town’s banana plantation. Many of these events mirror aspects of Columbian history.
The banana plantation massacre explores the fragility of the truth. Jose Arcadio Segundo, the only survivor of the event, reports back to the townspeople what has occurred, but they refuse to believe such a malicious act could have been carried out under their noses. Therefore, the massacre was forgotten to history and the persecutors go unpunished.
If I am honest, the book is like nothing I have read before. It has been said it is worth learning Spanish in order to read this work in its original form. The stunning complexity of the interwoven narratives makes the book special, and the surprise ending is enough to warrant a complete rereading. But the real beauty of Gabriel Garcia Marquez is found in his ability to make miracles appear believable, and the believable to appear miraculous.