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    Posted April 19, 2014 by
    joelsdb
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    Rome, Italy
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    In Memoriam

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    Magical Imagery

     

    IN MEMORIAM: GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ (1927-2014)

     

    "El primero de lo estirpe está amarrado en un árbol y al último se lo están comiendo las hormigas." (Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad)

     

    ("The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the ants." Translated by Gregory Rabassa.)

     

    Literature was my first love. In my early youth I have been reading the works of the great writers. Dickens, Twain, Hemingway were among my first favorites. Then came novels of world literature translated into English--works by Victor Hugo, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Cervantes. It is good that fiction can be translated into another language without losing much of its sense, unlike poetry, which, technically speaking, loses a whole lot more in translation. But even then it has always been a dream (only a little of which has been fulfilled) to read these works of world literature in the language they were written.

     

    Then came Gabriel García Márquez. It was my sister, Aileen, who introduced me to this novelist when she recounted to me a beautiful book she was reading--One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was the subject of a book report that they were doing in school. The few episodes that she narrated whetted my appetite for a new material for reading. I had to read this one! Realizing that García Márquez was a Nobel laureate, I was all the more motivated to borrow her copy and start reading.

     

    That was in the late 80s and the book was a paperback print of the 1970 edition of Harper & Row, an English translation from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa. I opened it and it was a page turner. Every section was a delight; every subplot, interesting. It utilized flashbacks and was full of images. This novel was novel for me (pun intended) for it was different from the works of previous authors that I read. There was an element of the supernatural without the author having to force it. Sure, I have already been familiar with fantastic circumstances in the stories of the deities and heroes in classical literature, but the subtlety in which these extraordinary events occur is what made this style of writing new to me. These "out of the ordinary" episodes came in as if they were the most natural thing in ordinary life, hence, magical realism, as how I would later come to know the name of the literary genre which has García Márquez himself as father.

     

    Though I have read works of García Márquez apart from One Hundred Years of Solitude, this one stuck. It has defined his legacy, his place in world literature. His epithet would always be "Nobel laureate, writer of One Hundred Years of Solitude." This beautifully written albeit tragic novel played with images, much of them magical or fantastic. Three of these are deeply etched in my memory: the indelible Ash Wednesday crosses on the foreheads of the 17 Aurelianos, the "assumption" of Remedios the Beauty, and the pig's tail present in the last offspring of the line that exposed incest, the type of relationship most dreaded by the clan.

     

    To this day, the novel continues to haunt me, tempting me anew to pick up a copy and read it again. And my dream continues, to read it in its original language, Spanish, lest I lose the beauty of García Márquez's own expression of these magical images that he has created, the description of his tragic yet immortal characters.

     

    The temptation to return to his works even becomes greater at his demise. I owe a lot to him in terms of my passion for reading and writing. It was a sad day when he died, but like all great men of letters, he will live on. There is a Chinese proverb that names three ways to immortality: plant a tree, write a book, father a child. For a prolific master of fiction, García Márquez would remain in undying light.

     

    The epigraph at the beginning of this essay summarizes the tragic plot of One Hundred Years of Solitude: "The first of the line is tied to a tree and the last is being eaten by the ants." The line of Colonel Aureliano Buendía dies within a century. We know it will not be the same for the legacy of Gabriel García Márquez.

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