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Notes From the Hill: Remembering Gabo

by Tom Green
When the news came down 10 days ago that the great writer Gabriel Garcia Márquez had died in Mexico City, the social media world lit up with expressions of sadness and dismay that the famous novelist was dead. My reaction was slightly different, since he had lived to a ripe old age, which it seemed to me was the primary thing he wished for his characters to do. And his work, so singular and so unique and as fabulous as the fabulist stories he wrought, was certain to endure and live on far beyond his 87 years on this earth. Instead of sadness, I felt a moment of celebration and recognition, though I did pour a little on the ground for him, as we Irish say.
I first read Márquez as a college student, when for a class on Latin American literature we were assigned his magnum opus, One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was the book that in 1967 launched Márquez onto the world literary stage. The novel, as a form, has existed since the 1700s, but rarely has it found its fullest expression than in this novel that traced the history of one family. Much of the literary criticism has focused on how Márquez essentially managed to rewrite the history of Latin America; or, more broadly, that he created something essentially biblical in scope, and rewrote a history of all people from a Latin American perspective.
I remember my professor explaining all the allegorical powers that Márquez possessed. But what struck me the most was not the largeness of the canvas he worked on, which I saw clearly, but how amazingly he was able to render both the greatness and infinity of life while also narrowing his lens to focus on the very stuff of ordinary humans and, in particular, the nature of love, both romantic and familial.
To this day, I remember reading the scene when Ursula discovers her son is dead. To wit:
A trickle of blood came out under the door, crossed the living room, went out into the street, continued on in a straight line across the uneven terraces, went down steps and climbed over curbs, passed along the Street of the Turks, turned a corner to the right and another to the left, made a right angle at the Buendía house, went in under the closed door, crossed through the parlor, hugging the walls so as not to stain the rugs, went on to the other living room, made a wide curve to avoid the dining-room table, went along the porch with the begonias, and passed without being seen under Amaranta’s chair as she gave an arithmetic lesson to Aureliano José, and went through the pantry and came out in the kitchen, where Úrsula was getting ready to crack thirty-six eggs to make bread.
“Holy Mother of God!” Úrsula shouted.
John Gardner once wrote that the job of the novelist is to create the fictional dream. His concept was that if a writer could skillfully build the dream, that within it, readers would believe whatever they were told. No writer did this as well as Márquez. A woman’s son dies and his blood flows like a river back to her. What could be more powerful, more beautiful? This description illustrates perfectly Márquez ’s gift and why he is credited with being the father of the school of magical realism, inspiring writers like José Saramango, Isabel Allende, Toni Morrison and others to push the boundaries of what can happen in fiction.
One of those writers, Salman Rushdie, summed it up perfectly in an essay after Márquez’s death, when he said, “He was the best among us.”
Márquez the man, known as Gabo to his friends, was as complicated a person as his fiction was on the page. He was politically active his whole life and involved in leftist causes, and had a lifelong friendship with Fidel Castro, whose oppressive dictatorship and crackdowns on free speech appear contrary to everything Márquez cared about as a writer.
Personally, I’ve never been interested much in the actual lives of great writers, other than trying to understand how and when they work. That’s not to dismiss those complexities, but more of a cautionary statement against the deification of novelists, who, like athletes, in my opinion, should be admired for how they perform and not necessarily how they chose to live or what they may or may not have stood for. And time itself will tell—perhaps another hundred years—Márquez ’s true influence on our culture. My best guess is that his stature only increases with time, and the words he so carefully laid down, the stories he so carefully and, yes, magically, told, will not be forgotten. Instead they will flow endlessly and immortally like some great river from the past, teaching us about ourselves.