On the Genius of Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez essay
Spread the love

Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Gobierno CDMX, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Listen to the audio version of this essay

I had never heard of Gabriel Garcia Marquez until I began reading fiction in earnest. And that too, it took me a long time to discover him purely by chance.

In India, one is rarely subjected to writers such as Garcia Marquez. Discovering writers of his caliber and ability is difficult, and sometimes even impossible in the natural course of one’s life here. I know this statement sounds like an exaggeration. But it really is not. For in India, whether one may be an avid reader or not, one is inevitably exposed to the names and works of a select few writers. Writers such as Rabindranath Tagore, R.K. Narayan, Leo Tolstoy, Ruskin Bond, Jeffrey Archer, J.K. Rowling, John Grisham, James Patterson, Lee Child, Dan Brown, Paulo Coelho, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Chetan Bhagat, Amish Tripathi, and a few others.

One does not have to be a reader to have heard of at least these illustrious names. These writers have made such a great mark on the popular imagination that it is quite difficult to have not heard their name somewhere or the other. Most bookstores and roadside stalls think it wise to stock the books of the above-mentioned writers, for an obvious reason. These writers sell. Their books are purchased and devoured by the majority of the reading population. And because the books of these writers are so generously put on display in bookstores and in roadside or footpath stalls, or sold at signals by barefoot children in tattered clothes looking to make some money for their next meal, even a non-reader is forced to notice their names and their books sometime or the other, even if not intentionally.

One rarely finds a store with an Ernest Hemingway book, or a Toni Morrison or William Faulkner or John Steinbeck or Chinua Achebe book. One can go around searching for One Hundred Years of Solitude and come back empty-handed, let alone find any other work by Garcia Marquez. Even Morrison’s Beloved is a scarce commodity, and Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, or Joyce’s Ulysses might as well have never existed. Not in India at least.

But let me warn you, this is not entirely the case, for if one looks for it long enough and passionately enough, one might end up finding one of these books either in a mega bookstore or on a footpath stall in the middle of nowhere. India can be quite funny that way. In fact, it was on a dirty red cloth on the dirty skywalk of a dirty railway station that I first caught a glimpse of three Garcia Marquez paperbacks, which were rare to find even in the largest and most diverse bookstores in my area. The three books were No One Writes to the Colonel, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and Memories of My Melancholy Whores.

I had never seen these rare books of Garcia Marquez in physical form ever before, even though I had read all three of them by then on my phone (I had no choice!). Even the huge bookstores that were two stories high were only able to show me Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, both of which I had already read. And so, I think one can imagine my surprise at finding those three rare gems in paperback format on the floor of a crowded skywalk.

But hold on a minute. I am getting way ahead of myself. The above instances occurred when not only did I know about Garcia Marquez, but had already read most of his work.

Allow me to tell you how I discovered this great magical writer.

When I first began reading fiction in my early twenties, I tackled the usual suspects as most kids in India do. I read Paulo Coelho and Robin Sharma and John Grisham and Ruskin Bond. I had also reluctantly read a little of Rabindranath Tagore and R.K. Narayan and O. Henry and Vikram Seth in school. I say reluctantly not because I do not like those writers, but because I was compelled to study their beautiful works for the sake of obtaining marks through an exam, which obviously took out all the joy in reading their works.

However, since leaving school, I have actively searched their works and have taken great pleasure in reading them all over again, without the depressing burden of exams and marks hanging over my head waiting to crush and ruin me. I wonder how many potential readers and literature enthusiasts we have lost due to this education system of ours, in which a child is forced to read a work of literature just to give an exam and obtain certain marks, with zero regard to whether they find any pleasure in it or not. Just as in the case of literature, many a-children grow up hating their own country’s history, for which they are forced to by-heart useless historical dates that really serve no purpose, just so that they can earn some decent marks in their exams.

I apologize for getting carried away. I have a problem and I am trying to work on it. Maybe I will address this problem with our education system some other day and just stick to the topic at hand. So where were we? Yes, the first time I discovered the great Garcia Marquez.

So, as I was saying, I read those works of fiction religiously, enjoying most of them. And as I began to get more and more interested in the world of fiction, I began doing some research of my own. Instead of just reading the writers that came my way, that is, the writers I had heard or automatically knew about through living my daily life, I began to expand my horizon. And like any great and serious researcher would do, I immediately searched on google for the greatest writers of all time. And, of course, I found quite a few. It was like finding a goldmine but full of great writers instead.

I saw Shakespeare and Hemingway and Faulkner and Twain and Steinbeck and Orwell and Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky and Joyce and Dickens and Chekhov and Cervantes and Woolf and Austen and Kafka and Luis Borges and Hugo, and many more. Except for Tolstoy and Shakespeare (both of whom I had read in school) I had never read the work of any one of them. In fact, among the others, I had honestly only heard of Hemingway and Dickens but had never read any of their work. The rest were all new names to me. Such was my ignorance!

But still, I did not find Garcia Marquez then.

I commenced reading the works of George Orwell and spent quite some time doing so. And while I devoured Orwell, I kept up with my research. I saw that Hemingway, Faulkner, and Steinbeck had something in common. Something quite important in the literary world. All three of them, contemporaries of each other, had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, the highest and most prestigious prize in the literary field. This piqued my curiosity. What makes these writers so great that they are awarded the Nobel Prize for their work? I wondered. And which other writers have been honored with the same prize?

Once again I approached google and demanded that it give me a list of all the writers who were fortunate enough to have received the Nobel Prize in Literature. And sure enough, Google did not disappoint. Let’s face it, it rarely does. With that fateful search, I had the feeling that I had discovered another goldmine. I found on that list some of the writers who would go on to become my favorite writers (and of whom I had never heard of until that very moment). I found Morrison and Camus and Beckett and Solzhenitsyn and Soyinka and Hesse and, of course, finally, the man on whom this essay is based, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

At first, what intrigued me most about Garcia Marquez was his name. I was really fed up with reading American and British names of American and British writers from America and Britain showing up on all the so-called greatest writers lists as if the rest of the world had no writers or literature at all. This was the first list in which I had so quickly found a non-American/British name, which, I was right to think, probably belonged to a writer not born or based in any of those two regions. And I was glad to find out that Garcia Marquez was not only not a part of the American/British canon of writers, but he was also a pioneer of Latin American literature, an important part of the Latin American Boom of the 1960s and 1970s.

Firstly, I loved Latin America in my head since I was a child. Not because of literature but because of football (soccer). I was enamored by the way they played the beautiful game with such joy and passion. And so, because of football, I eventually became interested in the continent’s history and culture, and music. And that was how Latin America became one of my dream destinations to visit at least once in my lifetime.

So when I discovered Garcia Marquez, I was naturally curious and excited to read his work, especially as I got to know that no one before him had been able to describe and capture the history, culture, and way of life of Latin America and its people in such a magical and true way as he had. He was known for capturing the small-town, village life of the continent, and, being a fan of such small village-centered stories, nothing could have convinced me more to begin devouring the work of Garcia Marquez. I must confess, I also had an ulterior motive. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Was Garcia Marquez really that great a writer that even his fellow contemporaries held him in such high regard, almost as if in awe of him, or was there simply a hype created around him due to his Nobel Prize victory?

I wanted to find out, and I did.

I began with One Hundred Years of Solitude, which, I must admit, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, I did not fancy at first. Maybe it was the magnitude of the book, its wide, sweeping scale, and its complexity that I could not fathom the first time I read it. Or maybe it was just because I had read a lot of it while traveling to college on an empty train at six-thirty in the morning, still half asleep, and then on a crowded train while returning from my internship around seven in the evening. I cannot pinpoint the exact reason now, but the first time I read it I was not impressed. But two years later, when I read it the second time, I understood its importance. I understood why it was the book it was. I recognized the fact that it was really the work of a genius, a master craftsman, a man who seemed to have mastered his craft (or was quite close to doing so).

But even before I read his masterpiece the second time, I had already begun to admire Garcia Marquez. I was already a fan and a disciple. Surprisingly, unlike most people, it was his lesser-known works that drew me to him and forced me to appreciate his greatness. It was No One Writes to the Colonel, Memories of My Melancholy Whores, and Chronicle of a Death Foretold that converted me into a Garcia Marquez admirer. It was these short works of his, along with Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (which also I did not like the first time around) and Orwell’s Animal Farm, that instilled in me a love for the novella. Till today, novellas are my favorite type of book, and Garcia Marquez is largely responsible for that love.

These three short works of Garcia Marquez proved to me that what people said about him was right. And over the years I realized that they were all right. They were right to praise him and laud him and be in awe of him, for Garcia Marquez is one of those rare writers whose reputation is truly well deserved. His iconic status is well-earned. He truly is, without a doubt, a magical, mesmerizing writer. In fact, I will even go as far as to say that he deserves even more respect and popularity than he has already achieved. His books deserve to be stocked in every bookstore, on every roadside or footpath or skywalk stall.

No one could make the mundane lives of common people so interesting and captivating. No one, with the exception of, perhaps, R.K. Narayan, could explore and portray a small village and its inhabitants in such a fascinating manner as he could. The mundane was made magical through his writing. It was made important and interesting. And I read those books as if they were the most addictive detective novels and adventure stories, even though all they did was show me how the people of a continent lived.

And then I read more works by Garcia Marquez. I read Love in the Time of Cholera and Of Love and Other Demons and In Evil Hour. And again, I liked the shorter works more. In all his works, he has managed to perfectly capture and portray the chaos and beauty of Latin America. He showed me the confused culture of the Caribbean, the mixed ethnicities of its people, their religious fervor, their dark secrets and sins, their superstitions and beliefs, and their cleverness and cunningness. He showed me how they lived inside their houses and outside of them. He made me experience the heat of the Caribbean and its unceasing rains. He showed me the beauty of the people and the beauty of the land, and yet, it was he who showed me the flaws of them both.

Because of the genius of Garcia Marquez, I am now an admirer and lover of Latin American literature. And although I am more fond of his small intimate works than his wide, sweeping, all-encompassing novels, I cannot in my right mind deny their significance and the fact that they have been written by a writer who was as close to perfecting the art of writing as anyone could possibly get.

Arthinkal Magazine