Gabriel Garcia Marquez death: Farewell, Gabo!

Gabriel Garcia Marquez set up an orchestra of cacophonies and symphonies that provided an entry point into a world all too familiar but never visualized in words before

Ratna Raman Delhi 

Delhi woke up to an ominous overcast day on April 17, 2014. A respite from the cruel tendency of Aprils to scorch her people. As quickly as it began, the rain stopped, and the rest of the world carried on with life. On another continent, though, the skies were really weeping. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, arguably the greatest living author, breathed no more. Just at the beginning of his 87th spring, back home after a stretch in the hospital — made fragile by age and illness — battling infections of the lung and the urinary tract, Gabo, as he was universally acknowledged, signed out of life. 

Born on March 6, 1927, the first of 11 children, Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez was raised by his maternal grandparents till the age of eight, while his philandering homeopathic pharmacist father and telegraphist mother tried to bring stability to a life subject to pecuniary difficulties. He grew up in Aracataca, a small Colombian town near the Caribbean coast, which was subsequently fictionalized as Maconda in his Pulitzer-winning novel
A Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). In fact, the public outrage at the banana massacres following the month-long strike for better working conditions by the workers fictionalized in the book happened in the very first year of Marquez’s life. His two grandparents, towering figures in his life, fuelled the primary source of narrative energy that permeates all his adult writings. This is potent knowledge for a younger generation spawned in the last decade of the tumultuous 20th century, within decimating and decimated nuclear families, where grandparents past their prime teetered at the edges of the world due to the delayed arrival of grandchildren in an age usurped by technological progress and the pursuit of lonely individual identities.

Marquez’s grandfather served in the traumatic Thousand-Day War (the Colombian civil war from 1899-1903 led to the loss of innumerable lives and did even less to alleviate the oppressions of everyday living) and shared his experiences as a liberal war veteran, chronicling the horrors and the politics of his times while his grandmother combined domesticity with stories filled with all manner of beings, omens, portents and events ethereal, fantastic and ghostly. Marquez’s imagination grew prolific, feeding on the fact and fiction made available to him that subsequently allowed him to conjure all manner of new worlds. At the State-run boarding school outside Bogota, where he was a star pupil, Marquez’s discovery of the world of literature ensured the beginnings of a journey that he never turned his back upon. Despite joining the Universities of Colombia and Cartagena for legal studies, Marquez never completed his law degree. This was also the beginning of the decade of La Violencia, the decade-long strife that would leave 300,000 dead and uproot 100,000 Colombians. Marquez began writing short stories in these turbulent times for the local paper in Barranquilla, becoming an active member of the Barranquilla Group in the early 1950s. Shifting to Bogota in 1954, he wrote for El Espectador, simultaneously honing his interest in films as a critic. His controversial interview with a survivor revealed that a wrecked Colombian Navy Vessel apparently carried contraband. The annoyance this revelation generated led to Marquez’s transfer to Europe where the newspaper he was assigned to as foreign correspondent subsequently shut down. In the interim, his first novella The Leaf Storm, written in 1952, was published in 1955. An impoverished Marquez busied himself with writing No One Writes To The Colonel (1957) and eventually returned to Venezuela. By now he had become deeply interested in left-wing politics. In 1958, he married his sweetheart, Mercedes, and travelled to New York and New Orleans before settling down in Mexico City in 1961. One Hundred Years of Solitude was published in 1967, bringing him unending accolades and renown. Facilitated by his success, he moved to Barcelona, Spain, where he lived for seven years, aligning himself with the Cuban government and left-wing causes in Latin America, and was forbidden entry into the United States without special permission— a ban that was lifted eventually by President Bill Clinton. Autumn Of The Patriarch, inspired by the flight of Venezuelan dictator Marcos Pe’res Jimine’z, was begun in 1968 but published only in 1975. Marquez had returned to Colombia by then but fled after a visit to Cuba in 1981, the year when Chronicle of a Death Foretold was published. He was granted asylum in Mexico and the subsequent awarding of the Nobel Prize in 1982 could not have come at a better time. Refusing political appointments offered to him by benevolent Colombian President Belisario Betencur, Marquez continued to live in Mexico and write prolifically, founding an institute to teach the craft of journalism. He has six novels, four novellas, and several books of short stories and non-fiction to his credit. Diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1999, he battled this new challenge with considerable fortitude.

Marquez’s writing is characterized by a heady mix of detail and fantasy and his narratives are peopled by a large number of characters who participate over generations in events both ordinary and extraordinary. Rupturing linear time and chronological narrative in his work, Marquez brought to the forefront the tradition of magical realism that dominated the Latin American literary landscape from the 1940s. Postmodern audiences, introduced to Marquez in the 1980s, continued to be gripped by the densely populated communities which dominate the imagination of both the writer and the reader. Doing away with the solitary protagonist, whose linear life continued to dominate the mainstream novel in rural and urban settings, Marquez set up an orchestra of cacophonies and symphonies that provided an entry point into a world all too vaguely familiar but never visualized in words before. Incredible things and events are visited upon the most ordinary of people, these bring great happiness or untold suffering or leave the characters in a state of suspended animation. The reader of any Marquez text is seldom made to sit out in the wings. Before he/she knows it, the text magically imbricates the reader in the middle of epic journeys, engaging with modern systems of oppression such as war, imperialism, dictatorships, sexual manipulation, exploitation of workforce, family feuds, parental authority, rural- urban divides, narcotic deals, tyranny, and so on.

Strong and compelling women and men from life, thinly fictionalized in his novels, continue to draw attention to the fault lines of ossified customs and rituals, in stories that Marquez freely adapts from both family history and newspaper reportage. Marquez flamboyantly documents intense passions, and contrasts great wealth and poverty, encompassing the lives of the young and the old in beautiful bewitching prose, balancing factual narratives to tease out historical and mythical memories with the ease of a seasoned storyteller. There are so many points of intersection between the worlds that Marquez portrays and the one that we inhabit. Marquez’s insight, shared with his compatriots in 1994, possibly explains why his work will continue to impact all of the people all of the time. “We are capable of the noblest acts as well as the most abject, of sublime poems and insane assassinations, of jubilant funerals and deadly revelry. Not because we’re good and others are bad but because we all partake in both extremes.”

Farewell, Gabriel Garcia Marquez! While we mourn your loss, we offer grateful thanks for the exuberant and effervescent narratives that you so generously allowed us to glimpse, in the midst of all the cascading debris. Salut!

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: MAY 2014

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