Watching the breaking news last Thursday night, April 17, I was reminded of an article I read years ago in The New York Times. It was an author’s recollection of the day in 1960 when he first discovered that the composer Igor Stravinsky had died. I remember particularly his expression of shock at the thought that Stravinsky, an icon of the first half of the twentieth century, was no more. Each generation must inevitably experience the death of some of its greats, must come to the realization that they shall produce no more and that their immortal work is now all that is left of them on this world. We, the generations of the latter half of the twentieth century and of the opening of the twenty-first, are experiencing such a moment: Gabriel García Márquez has died.
Yet, as an author, a part of his voice lives on in the words he left behind, and on Tuesday, April 22, members of this University commemorated that voice by reading it aloud, from noon until six in the evening, outside the Hotel A. I had the opportunity to listen to this reading of García Márquez’s Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude, 1967) for half an hour that afternoon, and to read for about five minutes; there was a small flow, coming and going, of about six people at a time. Each time a new individual stepped to the podium, the voice of García Márquez took on a new tone. Every so often, a chuckle spread through the group, such as when, in the novel, a priest began to levitate. Three read in Spanish; one newcomer chimed in in English; there is, I think, a vital importance to that small fact. It is prestigious enough to be an icon of the Spanish language, to be in the company of Cervantes—and yet the work of García Márquez so captured the world that even those who cannot read his work in the original language still have read it and yearn to read it again. His authorial voice passed, through Cien años de soledad, beyond not only geographical but even linguistic and cultural boundaries to encompass the globe, and to be read in a small corner of a university of the Southern United States thousands of miles from Colombia.
If such an influence seems astounding, it is right at home in the world of García Márquez’s imagination, the world of Macondo, in which there exists a sense of tangible wonderment that seems somehow more relevant than the special effects of a Hollywood blockbuster or the mere description of a fantasy world. Whether it is the image of a boy shocked at seeing ice for the first time, or of flying carpets that no one seems to sense are out of place, or of an old colonel making gold in his basement—all these seem intimate and natural once we open the pages and begin to read his illustrious prose.
To limit García Márquez to all this—to what is called magical realism—would be, of course, to sell him short, for his work abounds in questions as palpably real as the paper on which his books are printed by the millions across the globe. He dealt in issues that plague us still today—oppression, cruelty, materialism, loneliness, war, and the nuances of fate—and yet he invoked them in such a way that we could sense their presence through a veil of surprise and suspense. Oppression takes the form of a demonic grandmother who seemingly cannot be killed, frustration that of a four-year rainstorm, loneliness that of a colonel envisioning the past mixing with the present, fate and war that of men born with the sign of death literally on their foreheads. He illustrated these things with his words—with language, he painted images of the real world as seen through the colors of an imaginative one.
Yet when one says the name Gabriel García Márquez, or mentions the title Cien años de soledad, it is undeniable that magical realism is that which first comes to mind, and it is no accident that this astounding idea, so simple on the face of it, is that for which García Márquez was so beloved. There is an exciting sensation we feel at the idea of a lost Spanish galleon, waiting to be found, even as we understand that it is probably not there. We each have our Spanish galleon, we each have that memory of experiencing something for the first time and of being amazed. The work of García Márquez evokes that astonishment once more, returning us to the age of looking over the bow of a ship and wondering if the edge of the world were somewhere out there.
For this reason, perhaps, the notice of his death so plainly running along the ticker of a news screen last Thursday strikes me as somehow incongruous with the imaginative beauty he left behind in his work, with the fact that his words live on with such force that they convinced a small community a continent away to come and read them, even for five minutes at a time, on a muggy Virginia afternoon. It is at once the sensation of mortality and immortality: Gabriel García Márquez is dead, and yet his words will be read, his voice heard, and his imagination loved for ages to come. This, too, I think, is a form of magic.
By Alexander Urpí, YAF Reagan Writer