Half a century has gone by since a group of distracted readers opened in Buenos Aires a novel by an unknown author and they started reading these rather hallucinating lines: “Many years later, facing the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía would recall that far-off afternoon in which his father took him to see the ice.” One Hundred Years of Solitude had been born.
Around that time Gabriel García Márquez was 40 years old and he was not a wonder boy. He had worked in journalism for almost two decades in his native Colombia and published without much luck two novels: Leaf Storm (1955) and In Evil Hour (1962). He had also brought to light No One Writes to the Colonel (1961) and the book of short stories Big Mama’s Funeral (1962), but their mastery would only be recognised after the success of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Thanks to the risk that Francisco Porrúa, the director of Sudamericana in Buenos Aires, decided to take, an emblematic novel came to fuel the fire of the American literary boom that had already been nurtured with La muerte de Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes (1962), La ciudad y los perros by Mario Vargas Llosa (1962), Rayuela by Julio Cortázar (1963) and Paradiso by José Lezama Lima (1966), just to cite some of the most famous.
However, One Hundred Years of Solitude did not limit itself to being a success for critics, or a theme of conversation for an illustrated elite in the cafés of Buenos Aires, Bogotá or Barcelona. It would become a cult book for that entelechy that is called the common reader. The book used language in a deceitfully simple way; the action flowed told very much in the mode of popular narrators and did without all elaborate literary styles.
The world of Macondo was very familiar for the Latin American public: banana republics, wars between liberals and conservatives, illiterate military. However, those elements, present in the narrative of the Continent since the previous century, now came seasoned with a special ingredient, a magic realism that erased all the limits between history and fiction, between the plausible and the delirious, but, above all, told with that naturalness used by the women of any point of America to tell the most thrilling tall stories. Those of us who witnessed for the first time the ascension into the heavens of Remediosthe Beautiful can perfectly understand what that means.
Afterwards the well-informed critics would insist that García Márquez followed William Faulkner in creating an imaginary region that summed up the problems and features of a much bigger space, but no one was able to take away from him his exclusive invention of Macondo, that so local site, so apparently small, but that mixes in its interior the principal elements of the human condition.
The author knew how to use with flying colours his experience as a journalist when he created in barely 18 months his novel. It is evident that he preferred the transparency of narration to the baroque games with the language that were in fashion among many of his colleagues. He seemed more prone to the task of informing and persuading than of exhibiting his virtuosity creating several sketches or producing effects of light and shadow. Nothing about implicit actions, everything there seemed very evident, under the relentless sun and the torrential rains of Macondo and moreover, with the marked journalistic ingredient of the details. Why does Remedios have to ascend to the heavens together with the sheets she was placing on the bed? Why was it necessary to register as if it were a weather report that it rained for “four years, 11 months and two days”?Because García Márquez, as an experienced chronicler, knew that readers loved more the apparently trivial details than the important matters, perhaps because they felt that, thanks to them, the important characters of the newspapers looked like common humanity.
The novel was a hit everywhere. In 1968 it had already been translated into French and in 1970 it was published in English in a translation by Gregory Rabasa that had poured to that language Rayuela and was getting ready for the same effort with the monumental Paradiso. The Anglo-Saxon readers took the book as theirs and multiplied its condition of bestseller. Very soon there were other translations into Czech, Danish, Slovak, Slovenian and even Esperanto, with the idea of giving it an authentically universal dimension.
In Cuba it very soon saw the light thanks to a yellow-cover sober and elegant edition of Casa de lasAméricas’ Latin American Literature Collection, however its popularity immediately demanded an edition by Huracán, reprinted more than once, because the book was being read everywhere, on a bus, a cane-cutting camp or a university classroom, despite the fact that the very bad book binding made the pages, when they had barely been read, detach from the book and if it fell to the floor, you would need more than a pair of hands to put it together. Around then – 1969, 1970 and much later – for Cubans García Márquez was the writer par excellence and everyone was talking about Macondo as well as the Buendía’s progeny.
Many years later, when I lived for three months in the humid and hostile Bogotá, I was able to understand immediately the cultural difference between the people of Bogotá and the people from the coast, suffice it to recall Fernanda delCarpio’s way of talking and pretensions in face of the wild naturalness of the Buendías.
In my opinion, with this novel García Márquez won such height that not even he was able to surpass it. The Autumn of the Patriarch, that book without periods and new paragraphs, was only a virtuous and attractive text for the critics and certain elites and The General in His Labyrinth, beyond his existential reflection about Bolívar was an at times tedious enterprise. Many appreciated the sentimental thread of Love in the Time Cholera, but there, as happens later more evidently in Of Love and Other Demons, there is already a tendency to repeat effects, situations, ways of doing, a sort of parody of his own accomplishments.
Already closed the work of this author, I prefer to associate it almost exclusively with One Hundred Years of Solitude and some of the brief pieces that are in his orbit like No One Writes to the Colonel, Monologue of Isabel Seeing How it Rains in Macondo and that long and exceptional story that is The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother. Perhaps I would add, as an example of achieved writing, like clockwork, Chronicle of a Death Foretold. In any case, there are not many Latin American narrators, no matter how much paper they have written on, who can leave a legacy comparable to this.
Since all success stories come with a curse, the progeny of One Hundred Years of Solitude was as extensive and monstrous as the children with a pig tail born from incestuous relations in Macondo. In some cases some believed it was a natural and definitive way of writing in America, in other cases it was simply the formula to cover up for their own mediocrity. Still, here and there, we run into books that aren’trealist or much less magical even if that is their aim. The literature of America, from Fernando del Paso to Roberto Bolaño and Leonardo Padura travels along other paths. However, the novel we commented, like certain intelligent women, know how to age well. (2017)
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