Today, we at Lady Bromance pay tribute to one of the greatest, most imaginative, and indeed, most influential figures in literature. We are beholden to you, Mr. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for the adventurous landscapes, all-too-human characters, and profound insight into the rich and complex beauty of the human heart, soul, and spirit that you have so graciously and tenderly showed all of us. Your works make humanity that much more human.
I was in my sophomore year of high school when my mentor and favorite English teacher, Sid Sherrill handed me a photocopied edition of, “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings.” I was in my Edgar Allan Poe phase – obsessed with dark, Gothic undertones, infatuated with the surreal, eerie, “twisted fairy-tale” vibe of his work, and convinced (like many other young, misguided writers) that in order to forge any kind of connection between my imagined readers and the characters in the stories I was beginning to write, absolutely everyone had to die at the end – because death meant tears which meant emotion which meant connection…obviously. Sid, after reading draft upon draft of my untimely and unnecessary character assassinations, gave me Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story and sort of just mysteriously said, “Look at how he does it.”
At the time, I believed “it” to mean simply making readers feel. Marquez, with a gentle, guiding sleight of hand, could cue an emotion without ever saying the word – without, in fact, ever plainly describing it. All he ever seemed to need was an image: an old man, feathers all askew, surrounded by hens and locked in the chicken coop; or a young girl, long-haired and naked, laying peaceful and pristine, sound asleep. It was a quality I was drawn to and wanted desperately to emulate – the ability to connect instead of force, to provoke and show instead of robotically narrate. But the more I delved into Marquez’s catalog, the more I came to see that “it” also refers to the delicate balance of his narrative style: how his sentences are fluidly lyrical without being overly sentimental. “It” is his seamless combination of surreal, fairy-tale like elements with the emblems of reality, the painterly chiaroscuro with which he approaches his themes, and his ability to make what was once foreign, familiar, and what was once familiar, strange. But most important of all, “it” is the packed punch – the totality of the end result. “It,” more than anything, is the empathy with which every character – whether they be mysteriously winged as in “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings”, or old men dreamily falling in love for the first time with the sleeping silhouette of a girl as in Memories of My Melancholy Whores – is crafted; the precision and fearlessness with which he sets up his world so that we as readers are able to navigate each and every one of his beautifully strange, and at times uncomfortable, lands with no hesitation and with remarkable ease; and the universal truths he reveals to us all.
Which is just a long way of saying, “it” is what every story should be, and what every writer, should do. And what writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez have helped encourage and inspire me to become.
It’s probably embarrassing to admit that I hadn’t read Gabriel Garcia Marquez until I got to college. I was daunted at first (like many others) by the massive family tree printed at the beginning of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” but once I got pulled into the rich and tragic lives of the residents of Macondo, I didn’t care that every name was only a slight variation of another. I felt like a part of their family, a witness to a land and people so different from my own yet so achingly human. And it didn’t stop there. His works, to me, stood as powerful symbols of a rich South American tradition of storytelling. He inspired me to pursue others, among them Borges and Neruda, who have become absolute pillars in my life.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez was not my first introduction into the world of magical realism. That honor belongs to “Bless Me, Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya. And while that was the perfect first introduction to magical realism, for a 7th grader who hated everything else she read in the “Ethnic Lit” class, Marquez remains the undisputed master of the style, compared to whom everything else feels like an imitation.
Marquez’s use of magical realism allows you to explore common human themes from new angles–there’s no melodrama, no tearjerking, just oddly commonplace and familiar magical occurrences that give the reader deeper insight into human suffering, cruelty, love, and hope. It can be an uncomfortable journey, but it’s always one that changes you quietly and profoundly. There’s a tenderness to even his cruelest characters that forces a second thought. There’s empathy to be found in the smallest acts, so much loneliness in the shortest lines, and such a love for our clumsy, tragic human race in all his works.
Sometimes I find Marquezian thoughts creeping into my mind and my writing. What if I write a story about an old man who recognizes the incarnation of his love in a young woman and starts following her around? And although it’s so different from what I normally write, it lures me in with the promise of richer stories and experiences. Sometimes, every once in a while, I give in and see where Marquez’s wild and beautiful thoughts will take me.