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Critical Essay #8

Critical Essay #8

In the following review, Salman Rushdie discusses Garcia Marquez's works; the opening sentence of Rushdie's essay purposely imitates Garcia Marquez's writing style.

We had suspected for a long time that the man Gabriel was capable of miracles, because for many years he had talked too much about angels for someone who had no wings, so that when the miracle of the printing presses occurred we nodded our heads knowingly, but of course the foreknowledge of his sorcery did not release us from its power, and under the spell of that nostalgic witchcraft we arose from our wooden benches and garden swings and ran without once drawing breath to the place where the demented printing presses were breeding books faster than fruitflies, and the books leapt into our hands without our even having to stretch out our arms, the flood of books spilled out of the print room and knocked down the first arrivals at the presses, who succumbed deliriously to that terrible deluge of narrative as it covered the streets and the sidewalks and rose lap-high in the ground-floor rooms of all the houses for miles around, so that there was no one who could escape from that story, if you were blind or shut your eyes it did you no good because there were always voices reading aloud within earshot, we had all been ravished like willing virgins by that tale, which had the quality of convincing each reader that it was his personal autobiography; and then the book filled up our country and headed out to sea, and we understood in the insanity of our possession that the phenomenon would not cease until the entire surface of the globe had been covered, until seas, mountains, underground railways and deserts had been completely clogged up by the endless copies emerging from the bewitched printing press, with the exception, as Melquiades the gypsy told us, of a single northern country called Britain whose inhabitants had long ago become immune to the book disease, no matter how virulent the strain....

It is now 15 years since Gabriel Garcia Mar-quez first published One Hundred Years of Solitude. During that time it has sold over four million copies in the Spanish language alone, and I don't know how many millions more in translation. The news of a new Marquez book takes over the front pages of Spanish American dailies. Barrow-boys hawk copies in the streets. Critics commit suicide for lack of fresh superlatives. His latest book, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, had a first printing in Spanish of considerably more than one million copies. Not the least extraordinary aspect of the work of 'Angel Gabriel' is its ability to make the real world behave in precisely the improbably hyperbolic fashion of a Marquez story.

In Britain, nothing so outrageous has yet taken place. Marquez gets the raves but the person on the South London public conveyance remains unimpressed. It can't be that the British distrust fantasists. Think of Tolkien. (Maybe they just don't like good fantasy.) My own theory is that for most Britons South America has just been discovered. A Task Force may succeed where reviewers have failed: that great comma of a continent may have become commercial at last, thus enabling Marquez and all the other members of 'El Boom', the great explosion of brilliance in contemporary Spanish American literature, finally to reach the enormous audiences they deserve....

It seems that the greatest force at work on the imagination of Marquez ... is the memory of his grandmother. Many, more formal antecedents have been suggested for his art: he has himself admitted the influence of Faulkner, and the world of his fabulous Macondo is at least partly Yoknapatawpha County transported into the Colombian jungles. Then there's Borges, and behind Borges the fons and origo of it all, Machado de Assis, whose three great novels, Epitaph of a Small Winner, Quincas Borba and Dom Casmurro, were so far ahead of their times (1880, 1892, and 1900), so light in touch, so clearly the product of a fantasticating imagination (see, for example, the use Machado makes of an 'anti-melancholy plaster' in Epitaph),as to make one suspect that he had descended into the South American literary wilderness of that period from some Danikenian chariot of gods. And Garcia Marquez's genius for the unforgettable visual hyperbole--for instance, the Americans forcing a Latin dictator to give them the sea in payment of his debts, in The Autumn of the Patriarch: 'they took away the Caribbean in April, Ambassador Ewing's nautical engineers carried it off in numbered pieces to plant it far from the hurricanes in the blood-red dawns of Arizona'--may well have been sharpened by his years of writing for the movies. But the grandmother is more important than any of these. She is Gabriel Garcia Marquez's voice.

In an interview with Luis Harss and Barbara Dohmann, Marquez says clearly that his language is his grandmother's. 'She spoke that way. "She was a great storyteller.' Anita Desai has said of Indian households that the women are the keepers of the tales, and the same appears to be the case in South America. Marquez was raised by his grandparents, meeting his mother for the first time when he was seven or eight years old... From the memory of [their] house, and using his grandmother's narrative voice as his own linguistic lodestone, Marquez began the building of Macondo.

But of course there is more to him than his granny. He left his childhood village of Aracataca when still very young, and found himself in an urban world whose definitions of reality were so different from those prevalent in the jungle as to be virtually incompatible In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the assumption into heaven of Remedios the Beauty, the loveliest girl in the world, is treated as a completely expected occurrence, but the arrival of the first railway train to reach Macondo sends a woman screaming down the high street. 'It's coming,' she cries. 'Something frightful, like a kitchen dragging a village behind it.' Needless to say, the reactions of city folk to these two events would be exactly reversed Garcia Marquez decided that reality in South America had literally ceased to exist: this is the source of his fabulism.

The damage to reality was--is--at least as much political as cultural. In Marquez's experience, truth has been controlled to the point at which it has ceased to be possible to find out what it is. The only truth is that you are being lied to all the time. Garcia Marquez (whose support of the Castro Government in Cuba may prevent him from getting his Nobel) has always been an intensely political creature: but his books are only obliquely to do with politics, dealing with public affairs only in terms of grand metaphors like Colonel Aureliano Buendia's military career, or the colossally overblown figure of the Patriarch, who has one of his rivals served up as the main course at a banquet, and who, having overslept one day, decides that the afternoon is really the morning, so that people have to stand outside his windows at night holding up cardboard cut-outs of the sun.

El realismo magical, 'magic realism', at least as practised by Garcia Marquez, is a development of Surrealism that expresses a genuinely 'Third World' consciousness. It deals with what Naipaul has called 'half-made' societies, in which the impossibly old struggles against the appallingly new, in which public corruptions and private anguishes are more garish and extreme than they ever get in the so-called 'North', where centuries of wealth and power have formed thick layers over the surface of what's really going on. In the work of Garcia Marquez, as in the world he describes, impossible things happen constantly, and quite plausibly, out in the open under the midday sun. It would be a mistake to think of Marquez's literary universe as an invented, self-referential, closed system. He is not writing about Middle Earth, but about the one we all inhabit. Macondo exists. That is its magic.

It sometimes seems, however, that Marquez is consciously trying to foster the myth of 'Garcia-land'. Compare the first sentence of One Hundred Years of Solitude with the first sentence of Chronicle of a Death Foretold: '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' (One Hundred Years). And: 'On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on' (Chronicle). Both books begin by first invoking a violent death in the future and then retreating to consider an earlier, extraordinary event. The Autumn of the Patriarch, too, begins with a death and then circles back and around a life. It's as though Marquez is asking us to link the books. This suggestion is underlined by his use of certain types of stock character, the old soldier, the loose woman, the matriarch, the compromised priest, the anguished doctor. The plot of In Evil Hour, in which a town allows one person to become the scapegoat for what is in fact a crime committed by many hands--the fly-posting of satiric lampoons during the nights--is echoed in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, in which the citizens of another town, caught in the grip of a terrible disbelieving inertia, once again fail to prevent a killing, even though it has been endlessly 'announced' or 'foretold'. These assonances in the Marquez oeuvre are so pronounced that it's easy to let them overpower the considerable differences of intent and achievement in his books.

For not only is Marquez bigger than his grandmother: he is also bigger than Macondo. The early writings look, in retrospect, like preparations for the great flight of One Hundred Years of Solitude, but even in those days Marquez was writing about two towns: Macondo and another, nameless one, which is more than just a sort of not-Macondo, but a much less mythologised place, a more 'naturalistic' one, insofar as anything is naturalistic in Marquez. This is the town of Los Funerales de la Mama Grande (the English title, Big Mama's Funeral, makes it sound like something out of Damon Run-yon), and many of the stories in this collection, with the exception of the title story, in which the Pope comes to the funeral, are closer in feeling to early Hemingway than to later Marquez. And ever since his great book, Marquez has been making a huge effort to get away from his mesmeric jungle settlement, to continue.

In The Autumn of the Patriarch, he found a miraculous method for dealing with the notion of a dictatorship so oppressive that all change, all possibility of development, is stifled: the power of the patriarch stops time, and the text is thereby enabled to swirl, to eddy around the stones of his reign, creating by its non-linear form an exact analogy for the feeling of endless stasis. And in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, which looks at first sight like a reversion to the manner of his earlier days, he is in fact innovating again. The Chronicle is about honour and about its opposite-rthat is to say, dishonour, shame. ..

The manner in which this story is revealed is something new for Garcia Marquez. He uses the device of an unnamed, shadowy narrator visiting the scene of the killing many years later, and beginning an investigation into the past. This narrator, the text hints, is Garcia Marquez himself--at least, he has an aunt with that surname. And the town has many echoes of Macondo: Gerineldo Marquez makes a guest appearance, and one of the characters has the evocative name, for fans of the earlier book, of Cotes. But whether it be Macondo or no, Marquez is writing, in these pages, at a greater distance from his material than ever before. The book and its narrator probe slowly, painfully, through the mists of half-accurate memories, equivocations, contradictory versions, trying to establish what happened and why; and achieve only provisional answers. The effect of this retrospective method is to make the Chronicle strangely elegiac in tone, as if Garcia Marquez feels that he has drifted away from his roots, and can only write about them now through veils of formal difficulty. Where all his previous books exude an air of absolute authority over the material, this one reeks of doubt. And the triumph of the book is that this new hesitancy, this abdication of Olympus, is turned to such excellent account, and becomes a source of strength: Chronicle of a Death Foretold, with its uncertainties, with its case-history format, is as haunting, as lovely and as true as anything Garcia Marquez has written before.

Source: Salman Rushdie, "Angel Gabriel," in London Review of Books, September 16 to October 6, 1982, pp 3-4

Critical Essay #9

Critical Essay #9

In the following essay, Buford focuses on Garcia Marquez's "demythologizing of romantic love" related to the murder and murderer as well as on the "unabsolved guilt" of the community that allowed the murder

Gabriel Garcia Marquez has repeatedly expressed his surprise at being so insistently regarded as a writer of fantastic fiction. That exotic or "magical" element so characteristic of his work is, by his account, not really his own achievement. It is merely the reality of Latin America, which he has faithfully transcribed in more or less the same way that he might write about it in, say, an ordinary article written for a daily newspaper. On a number of occasions, in fact, Marquez has said that for him there is no real difference between the writing of journalism and the writing of fiction--both are committed to the rigours of realistic representation--and his own ideal of the novel involves as much reportage as imagination. Viewed in this way, Marquez can be seen as an inspired tropical reporter for whom the strange Columbian world--with its prescient prostitutes, benevolent ghosts, and an eccentric magician who refuses to die--is just his everyday journalist's "beat". The image is not entirely fanciful. In an interview published in last winter's Pans Review, for example, he says that the non-fiction account of contemporary Cuba that he is currently writing will prove to his critics "with historical facts that the real world in the Caribbean is just as fantastic as the stories in One Hundred Years of Solitude. " What he is really writing, he says, is good old-fashioned "socialist realism".

Chronicle of a Death Foretold is very close to Marquez's ideal fiction. Written in the manner of investigative journalism and in a conspicuously flattened, unadorned prose, the novel sets out to reconstruct a murder that occurred twenty-seven years before.

From the outset of Marquez's chronicle, everybody---including the reader--knows that the Vic-ario brothers intend to kill Santiago Nasar Everybody knows how they mean to do it--with a pair of butcher's knives--and why And they know so much because the brothers are dedicated to telling their plans to everyone they meet. The original Spanish title, lost in English translation, is important here. In Una cronica de una mueine anunci-ada, anunaada signifies not so much "foretold" as "announced" or "advertised" or "broadcast"--none of which, admittedly, makes for a very poetic title. The idea of an announced or broadcast death, however, is crucial. The brothers are committed to a course of action that has been determined for them--honour can only be redeemed publicly by their killing of Santiago--and they can only be relieved of their duty by the people around them. Once they have broadcast their intentions to the whole community, everyone, to some extent, by failing to stop them, participates in the crime....

It is ... obvious that this murder, for all the simplicity with which it is narrated, is no simple crime. Part of its significance is evident in the way it is understood by those of Santiago Nasar's generation, for whom the murder seems to mark the end of their youth and render illusory so much that was once meaningful. Flora Miguel, Santiago Nasar's fiancee, for example, runs away immediately after the crime with a lieutenant from the border patrol who then prostitutes her among the rubber workers in a nearby town Divina Flor--the servant meant for Santiago's furtive bed--is now fat, faded, and surrounded by the children of other loves. And, finally, after more than twenty years, Angela Vicario is reunited with the husband whose affronted masculine pride was the cause of the crime. Overweight, perspiring and bald, he arrives still carrying the same silver saddlebags that now serve merely as pathetic reminders of his ostentatious youth. Marquez's chronicle moves backwards and forwards in time, and views the participants in a senseless murder long after the passion that contributed to it has died. In many ways, then, the novel offers itself as an icy demythologizing of both romantic love and the romantic folly it inspires; it is a debunking of dream and sentiment hinted at by the book's epigraph, "the hunt for love is haughty falconry".

But the real significance of the murder is much greater, and is felt by the entire community whose uncritical faith in its own codes of justice and spectacle is responsible for the crime. The weight of this responsibility is felt most, though, by the unnamed narrator, he returns because he is bothered not by an unsolved mystery but an unabsolved guilt, and the chronicle he produces is a document charting the psychology of mass complicity It is interesting that Marquez, in developing a simple tale fraught with obvious political implications, chose not to fictionalize an actual political event-- Latin America provides more than enough material--but to treat instead a fictional episode with the methods of a journalist. In so doing he has written an unusual and original work: a simple narrative so charged with irony that it has the authority of political fable. If not an example of the socialist realism Marquez may claim it to be elsewhere, Chronicle of a Death Foretold is in any case a mesmerizing work that clearly establishes Marquez as one of the most accomplished, and the most "magical" of political novelists writing today.

Source: Bill Buford, "Haughty Falconry and Collective Guilt," in Times Literary Supplement, No 4145, September 10, 1982, p. 965.

Critical Essay #10

Critical Essay #10

In the following excerpt, Hughes praises the accuracy of Garcia Marquez's description of details as well as his originality for implicating the whole community in the murder through their foreknowledge of the murder plan.

One hundred pages of quality make [Chronicle of a Death Foretold] a fiction that reverberates far beyond its modest length. The story is a mere incident. In a waterfront town on the Caribbean a self-contained youth called Santiago Nasar will be, was, and indeed is being, stabbed to death with meat knives. This event takes place in gory detail on the last few pages. It is the sole preoccupation of the pages in between. And on the first we more or less know that it has already happened. So the suspense is not acute....

Not so much marching forward as marking time, the narrative continuum continually drifts more back than forth, rescuing the story piece by piece from the memory of policemen, gossips, of ficials, shopkeepers, whores, whose 'numerous marginal experiences' are humanly unreliable. They can't even agree about the weather when the blows were struck. And that is the element that melts this strictly factual document (as it pretends to be) into delicious fiction: everyone in town regards his or her personal evidence as fact, whatever the contradictions. By exploiting the fallibility of his characters Marquez arrives at nothing but the truth.

The book's original touch is that these townspeople, deftly sketched without a word or image wasted, know before Santiago does, but without warning him, that he is on the point of being murdered. All have ostensibly cast-iron excuses, loss of nerve, forgetfulness, failing to take the threat seriously, not wishing to become involved.  In their variety of selfish responses to foreknowledge, they bring on Santiago's death, as if secretly savouring it in prospect and relishing its aftermath. We are all to blame, mutters Marquez with good humour, because we all brainlessly share the eccentricity of common human feeling.

The book vindicates its brevity by an exactitude of detail that snaps a character to life without recourse to long or even direct description To visualise a visiting bishop, all we need to be told is that his favourite dish--he discards the rest of the fowl--is coxcomb soup. The mayor's character is purely and simply conveyed when we are casually informed that a policeman is collecting from the shop the pound of liver he eats for breakfast. In these two images all authority, religious and civil, is nicely confounded, just because no heavy weather is made of confounding them. The reader is paid the compliment of being asked to respond imaginatively to the most delicate of hints and indeed to make his own moral structure from the ins and outs of the lack of narrative: to decide for instance, who is lying for good reasons, who being honest for bad.

One of the book's great virtues is self-containment. It presents a large world in parvo, without being self-consciously a microcosm, framed in noble if miniature proportions, viewed by an aristocrat of letters whose attitude to the human lot mingles contempt and compassion in a witty blend Nobody shows up either well or badly under the microscope. People are seen as wayward but pitiable cells in the body politic, preventing it from functioning properly but at the same time breathing an outrageous life into it.

Some days after reading this novella I am still in several minds as to what it is about. Just a faithful picture of a community living off shopsoiled machismo? An author's obsession with the dramatics of sudden death9 The last drop of blood squeezed out of material better suited to a thriller? A neurotic treatise on the erotic corollaries of murder? Any or all of these perhaps--and more. And that's a healthy feeling of perplexity. If good books do furnish the imagination, they also echo on and on in its rooms.

Source: David Hughes, "Murder," in Spectator, Vol 249, No 8044, September 11, 1982, p. 24.
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