On Gabriel García Márquez (and Cien años de soledad)

It wasn’t the first book I read in Spanish, but it was one of those experiences that completely changed my life. I was completely flummoxed by a book that started with the phrase, “many years later, while standing in front of a firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that afternoon when his father took him to see ice.” Almost as good as Cervantes’ “In a place in La Mancha whose name I don’t care to remember.” You remember the books that change your life. There is a before and an after. I can still see Ursula trying to keep here crazy, scheming husband from melting down their life savings. Or Remedios, la bella, whose smell drove mean crazy. Or the seventeen Aureliano’s. Or the parchments. Or the birth of a baby with the curly pig’s tail. Or the storm which sweeps it all away as the ancient alchemist stands by watching. You cannot read this book and be indifferent about the passion of human relations. Without doing much (or any) literary analysis, I’d say that Macondo, as is the case with lots of imaginary places, is the town where you live, maybe the town you grew up in regardless of your specific geography. Towns evolve, people grow up and change, have families, and the Buendía family no different than my family or yours. What is very interesting about the Buendía family is our opportunity to witness their history, warts and all, floods, disasters, tragedies, triumphs, and the simple day-to-day things that happen in all of our lives that no one ever sees or cares about. Is magical realism real? Who knows, but then again, how many weird things have happened in your own life that seem magical but aren’t? So I read this book in Spanish over a long weekend of about three days. I couldn’t stop. The prose, as Mohammad Ali might have said, “Floats like a butterfly, and stings like a bee.” This is one of the few times I feel sorry for non-spanish speakers–you can’t enjoy the original–it doesn’t speak to you. Today, I also write as a tribute to the man who created that wonderful novel. So the author has gone, but not gone, really. The Buendía family is now immortal, as is the coronel, and the patriarch, and Santiago Nasar, and the very old man with enormous wings.