It takes something special to start a new genre, and there is no doubt that Gabriel Garcia Marquez – known affectionately in his homeland of Colombia as Gabo – was very special indeed. His novels, including One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, helped to put Latin American literature on the map. Alongside other authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, he helped forge the genre of magical realism, setting the path for authors such as Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy to bring the fantastic, spiritual, and superstitious into direct contact with the mundane and quotidian.
Although consensus on the exact parameters of magical realism remains disputed, the ethereal beauty of Marquez’s writing is clear. One Hundred Years of Solitude, the best known of his works and the first to garner global critical acclaim, follows the founding of the Colombian village of Macondo and its subsequent fortunes, tied closely to the Buendia family. Marquez fused magic, history and politics with such understated grace that it is hard to tell where each begins and ends. The result is a story which moves fluidly between poignant sorrow, vibrant comedy, and the quiet pensiveness in between.
Macondo, at first isolated in the heart of the jungle, grows and swells as the generations of Buendias pass by. Aureliano Buendia, the first child born in Macondo, has premonitions, becomes a comically incompetent colonel, fathers 17 sons by different women, and ends up “an artisan without memories, whose only dream was to die of fatigue in the oblivion and misery of his little gold fishes”. His great-niece Remedios unintentionally causes the deaths of many would-be lovers through her sheer beauty, before ascending into the sky one day whilst folding sheets. Gypsies bring magic carpets and daguerrotypes, rendered as faithfully as a harrowing account of the 1928 Banana Massacre. Conventional, it is not. Brilliant, it most certainly is.
One accusation leveled against Marquez is that he is too difficult to understand. Certainly, One Hundred Years of Solitude in particular is a complex series of interwoven narratives and repeated names – but that does not make it poor writing. It is certainly easier going than the works which it inspired, such as Midnight’s Children, and Marquez never seems so arrogant.
The novel’s saturation with folk myths and history means that each re-reading unveils facts which you missed before, new images which must be teased out – it is not a work to be rushed through. Marquez was not content with sticking to a formula either, and although his characteristic humour runs throughout his novels, he experimented widely. From the nameless characters of No One Writes to the Colonel through the ostensibly orthodox romance of Love in the Time of Cholera, he constantly innovated with a plethora of different styles.
For me, the legacy that Gabriel Garcia Marquez leaves to the world is in the incredibly personal touch of his books. Magical realism may be practiced for hundreds of years hence, but it will take another truly unique author to craft works of such exquisite beauty, which speak to the reader no matter their nationality. His writing is as ageless, beautiful, and indefinable as the lives of those he describes.