By Brianna Duggan
Reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, according to literary critic Harold Bloom, is like being “a man invited to dinner who has been served nothing but an enormous platter of Turkish Delight.” Bloom continues: “a kind of aesthetic battle fatigue since every page is rammed full of life beyond the capacity of any single reader to absorb.” I’d have to agree. It is one of those novels that require an upright, uncomfortable chair and a great deal of concentration to finish. On completion, however, the reader will receive his/her just reward.
Today is the birthday of Gabriel García Márquez, the author of this classic of Latin American literature. García Márquez turns 85 and I’ll use this post to honor him. Not just for setting beautiful combinations of words to paper, but also using those words to highlight the depth, vibrancy, and struggles of his native land.
Gabo, as he is affectionately called in Latin America, had been simmering on the idea which would become One Hundred Years of Solitude for more than fifteen years. He caught a dreadful case of writer’s block and could not decide the voice he would use to tell the tale. It took him until his late thirties when, in a flash of inspiration, he realized that he would use the larger-than-life voice his grandmother. This woman had raised him in rural Columbia and Gabo had always marveled at her ability to tell extraordinary tales in a matter-of-fact tone. Gabo wrote the way she spoke and thus popularized the literary style known as magical realism.
In the impassioned spirit of one of his characters, García Márquez then threw himself into his work. He wrote for eight hours every day and emerged eighteen months later with the epic story of the Buendía family in hand.
Now that’s the kind of artist I like.
Gabo is the kind of artist that does not create for material gains or popular approval. In a 1981 interview, he spoke of the Nobel Prize:
“I think that for me it would be an absolute catastrophe. I would certainly be interested in deserving it, but to receive it would be terrible. It would just complicate even more the problems of fame.”
The next year he was awarded the prize.
All Nobel Laureates are required to make an acceptance speech – one where they explain why they deserve one of the world’s greatest honors and so forth. Gabo supposedly could not sleep for weeks beforehand, daunted by the pressure. He was writing from a turbulent moment in Latin American history. This was 1982: the year of the Malvinas/Falklands War, much of Latin America was under military dictatorship, there were guerilla wars in Peru, and a government backed “Dirty War” going on in Argentina.
“I dare to think,” García Márquez said, referencing this political turmoil in his acceptance speech, “that it is this outsized reality, and not just its literary expression, that has deserved the attention of the Swedish Academy of letters.”
On that day almost thirty years ago, Marquez reminded what is perhaps the most distinguished of all committees something that I must remind myself in my work here at the Coalition. While García Márquez may have been speaking for his Latin American compatriots, his words are true for any group that has been oppressed.
“Solidarity with our dreams will not make us feel less alone,” he said, “as long as it is not translated into concrete acts of legitimate support for all the peoples that assume the illusion of having a life of their own in the distribution of the world.”