One Hundred Years of Solitude…
“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
Opening sentence, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Early on in my life I distrusted Marquez and his magic realism. Sure, his stories were beautiful and poetic, and sublime – but I had been, by that time, to Nicaragua just after its war with Ronald Reagan, and had lived with some of the people who worked on the corporate Banana Plantations in Costa Rica and Panama. A close friend – then just new to me – was a refugee of the Civil War in El Salvador. On the occassional late night he told me tales through haunted eyes full of ghosts. We had all seen what had happened to Archbishop Romero.
As far as I was concerned magic realism distracted us from all of the killing and death that was happening throughout the region. It especially distracted the literate consumers of the north, who mostly only knew Latin America through the pink glasses of their 3-star eco-tourist mid-winter getaway. (After you’ve seen a jaguar in the rainforest, it’s pretty hard not to believe in magic realism.) Marquez wrapped us in nostalgia and warm sunshine.
Marquez saw the magic behind the death squads. In the stories of the Dictators. In the vicious weight of traditionalism. Or, rather, he saw the sublime magic in all of it – in the beauty and the ugliness – in that endless Nietzschean repetition through the generations. In another culture, in another time, Marquez would have written Buddhist fairy tales.
There is a reason Marquez has been compared to Shakespeare. Or why Salmon Rushdie thinks One Hundred Years of Solitude is the most important book since the bible. We have paid him our highest honour: a Nobel in Literature.
Marquez saw the beauty in all things. He saw beauty in the continuity of time, and in those who demanded justice. He saw it in the woman who loves, and in the men who love too much.
In Marquez’s world poetry had not yet been swallowed by irony. And History was the lie everyone knew it to be.
But, I think, for Marquez, the great sadness was in the way the outside world was arriving in this old world, and how it brought a new brutality – for the new ways were completely devoid of life, or art, or beauty. And while life in the old world was often nasty, brutish, and short, neo-colonialism was soul crushing.
But who am I to say what Marquez was, or was not saying in his stories? Or what he was attempting to give to the world. What with my western blue eyes and two university degrees.
I am attracted to Marquez’s magic realism in the same way I once liked to sit on the porch and watch my grandfather smoke his pipe; back home on the farm; while I listened to his wonderful tales from his youth. Of how he walked five miles to a barn dance, and then walked home in time to do morning barn chores.
Maybe that was Marquez’s greatest achievement. That he was one of the great wisdom keepers. That he was the grandfather we all wished we still had.
-SUDDENLY, AS IF A WHIRLWIND HAD SET DOWN ROOTS IN THE centre of town, the banana company arrived, pursued by the leaf storm. A whirling leaf storm had been whipped up, formed out of the human and material dregs of other towns, the chaff of a civil war that seemed ever more remote and unlikely. The whirlwind was implacable. It contaminated everything with its swirling crowd smell, the smell of skin secretion and hidden death. In less than a year it sowed over the town the rubble of many catastrophes that had come before it, scattering its mixed cargo of rubbish in the streets. And all of a sudden that rubbish, in time to the mad and unpredicted rhythm of the storm, was sorted out, individualized, until what had been a narrow street with a river at one end and a corral for the dead at the other was changed into a different and more complex town, created out of the rubbish of other towns.
Arriving there, mingled with the human leaf storm, dragged along by its impetuous force, came the dregs of warehouses, hospitals, amusement parlors, electric plants; the dregs made up of single women and men who tied their mules to hitching posts by the hotel, carrying their single piece of baggage, a wooden trunk or a bundle of clothing; and in a few months each had his own house, two mistresses, and the military title that was due him for having arrived late for the war.
Even the dregs of the cities sad love came to us in the whirlwind and built small wooden houses where at first a corner and a half-cot were a dismal home for one night, and then a noisy clandestine street, and then a whole inner village of tolerance within the town.
In the midst of that blizzard, that tempest of unknown faces, of awnings along the public way, of men changing clothes in the street, of women with open parasols sitting on trunks, and of mule after abandoned mule dying of hunger on the block by the hotel, the first of us came to be the last; we were the outsiders, the newcomers.
After the war, when we came to Macando and the appreciated the good quality of the soil, we knew that the leaf storm was sure to come someday, but we did not count on its drive. So when we felt the avalanche arrive, the only thing we could do was set a plate with a knife and fork behind the door and sit patiently waiting for the newcomers to get to know us. Then the train whistled for the first time. The leaf storm turned about and went out to greet it, and by turning it lost its drive. But it developed unity and mass; and it underwent the natural process of fermentation, becoming incorporated into the germination of the earth.