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Garcia Marquez Lied About Macondo

April 23rd, 2014 - 1:21 pm

Gabriel Garcia Marquez died last week. His was a reputation built on the enthusiasm of the reading public, not just the accolades of the critics. He was beloved, and for all the wrong reasons. I despised his work when forced to read it in undergraduate Spanish-language courses and again when I tried to read it later in life. His most popular work, 100 Years of Solitude, pictures the unreality and weirdness (the “miraculous real,” mistranslated as “magical realism”) in the isolated Colombian hamlet of Macondo through several generations of the Buendia family. They eventually are carried off by a cyclone in Garcia Marquez’ account. But that isn’t what happened to them. They were murdered hideously in Colombia’s “Violencia” of 1948-1958, along with 300,000 other Colombians, after committing hideous murders of their own.

Wikipedia says the following about Colombia’s civil war:

Because of incomplete or non-existing statistical records, exact measurement of La Violencia’s humanitarian consequences is impossible. Scholars, however, estimate that between 200,000 and 300,000 lives were lost, 600,000 and 800,000 injured, and almost one million displaced. La Violencia affected 20% of the population, directly or indirectly.

Yet, La Violencia, did not come to be known as La Violencia simply because of the number of people it affected; it was the manner in which most of the killings, maimings, and dismemberings were done. Certain death and torture techniques became so commonplace that they were given names. For example, “picar para tamal,” which involved slowly cutting up a living person’s body, or “bocachiquiar,” where hundreds of small punctures were made until the victim slowly bled to death. Former Senior Director of International Economic Affairs for the United States National Security Council and current President of the Institute for Global Economic Growth, Norman A. Bailey describes the atrocities succinctly: “Ingenious forms of quartering and beheading were invented and given such names as the “corte de mica”, “corte de corbata”, and so on. Crucifixions and hangings were commonplace, political “prisoners” were thrown from airplanes in flight, infants were bayoneted, schoolchildren, some as young as eight years old, were raped en masse, unborn infants were removed by crude Caesarian section and replaced by roosters, ears were cut off, scalps removed, and so on”. While scholars, historians, and analysts have all debated the source of this era of unrest, they have yet to formulate a widely accepted explanation for why it escalated to the notable level it did.

The cute, weird, quaint and magical mannerisms of Macondo obscure a bitter, desperate, paranoid propensity to violence. Garcia Marquez’ tale is more popular than the actual history of rural Colombia for the same reason that the fairy-tale “Hansel and Gretel” is more popular than accounts of cannibalism, which became widespread in Germany during the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). From a purely narrative standpoint, though, I never forgave Garcia Marquez for wasting my time. A short story, a novella at best, was expanded into a novel where nothing happened a dozen times (beating Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” where nothing happens twice).

Garcia Marquez was a journalist and his Spanish never challenges the reading ability of a high-school student, unlike that of the great Latin American novels he emulated: Tyrant Banderas by Ramon del Valle-Inclan, and Explosion in a Cathedral by Alejo Carpentier. The latter is about the violence following the French Revolution in Europe as well as the Caribbean, and is to my taste the great Latin American novel of the 20th century. If you want to understand Latin America, these are the books to read. I also recommend the films of the great Luis Bunuel. To be sure, I don’t like fiction. These are exceptions.

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Top Rated Comments   
A lousy work of fiction. Puh-leeze.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I read Spanish well since age six. I have read all the Spanish classics from Quevedo and Cervantes to Jorge Luis Borges and Javier Marías. Having said that "One Hundred ..." bores me to tears like those stupid Mexican soap operas (am I an elitist for saying that?) His shorter stories are much more passable. His Chronicle of a Death Foretold is better but not by too much. GGM seems to deteriorate as he matures, losing his rhythm and that Hemingway-like lightness that was so refreshing in his early days as a writer. He is truly a pompous bore, a James Michener for the third world (forgive me Mr Michener for the comparison.) His friendship with the dean of Latin American dictators that Iranian-Galician Mr Castro Ruz saved the life of a few who obtained mercy from the king of Cuba through the intercession of St Gabo. That is perhaps GGM's greatest achievement. In 100 years there will be Borges but GGM will be forgotten.

Let us pray Fidel joins him soon in the great Kremlin up in the sky.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
A widely loved cultural icon has died? Well then, its time for a bitter PJM denunciation.

And what weighty charge has the inimitable Wikipedia-quoting Spengler levied against Mr. Marquez? Nothing less than that his famous novel, 100 Years of Solitude, is -- in fact -- a work of fiction.

Sacre Bleu!
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (40)
All Comments   (40)
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A literary man I am not but if Goethe set the standard of the follies of re-inventing oneself and GGM was self-indulgent noise preaching low-grade universal potato love, for me the author that captures the trials of modern man within an American context is Saul Bellow. When self-development, self-realisation and re-invention marries with liberalism, the birth of meaningless results. Whether it is branches of liberal Judaism or only going to mass on either side of lent, it amounts to community without congregation; and what made us strong and great continues to erode. In the end, 100 Years of Solitude is pulp masquerading as the best a continent has to offer. Someone lied once and said all cultures are equal... or was it something about the superiority of oppressed peoples. Spengler - I do like fiction and for a person such as yourself who lives in the worlds of economics and politics, I think you like fiction too. Keep up the good work.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Gabriel Garcia Marquez would take 150 pages to do what Jorge Luis Borges could do in seven far more beautifully. Just saying.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I remember the opening to One Hundred Years as being excellent. I recall it being clever for a while, but then it descended into madness and incest. I also recall reading Marquez' Playboy interview and thinking, what a commie. I started Love in the Time of Cholera and got bored 100 pages in and was done with it.

I know very little about Latin American history, so I can't say much more.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Read 100 Years of Solitude over thirty years ago in English translation and was disappointed. Everyone was saying how great it was, but I found it boring and verbose. Maybe it was a bad translation, I thought, so I read the original Spanish-language version a few years later. No, it had been a good translation, and it was just as boring and overblown in Spanish. Guess I can confess now how unimpressed I was.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well, I'm glad you could make enough sense of 100 Years of Solitude to conclude that it was bad or lefty or anything more than an excuse to make stuff up without having to labor at psychological or even physical verisimilitude. Like Harry Potter, another piece of literary garbage that will probably also turn out to be leftist if I can ever get past the point where I quit (the first train ride to Hogwarts).

I like to trip around in Borges, but Marquez's novels seem utterly uninventive and unrevealing to me. I can't even remember if I read Love in the Time of Cholera, but maybe I'll look again since folks here recommend it.

Anyway, thanks for the literary thoughts. And I wish there were more English majors writing for PJM.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
And what should we make of Hemingway's fiction? Especially since it was revealed that he was recruited by the KGB in October 1940 and supported the Communist tactics in the Spanish Civil War? See http://clarespark.com/2011/06/30/links-to-review-essay-on-hemingway-spy-mission-to-china/. Communist critics generally demanded social realism, but then the surrealists came along and plumbed the irrational. But I do agree with David P Goldman, that the Communist writers are more interesting than the liberals. The better ones did point to real problems in the societies they wrote about.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Never a big Hemingway fan -- the style is too easy to lampoon. My favorite American writer of the period by far is Dashiell Hammett.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
What does Mr. Goldman/Spengler think of Jorge Luis Borges? I think that he was far superior to Marquez, but Marquez carries all the undergraduate college lit class mojo.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Borges is wonderful within a limited range, with koan-like contradictions in short story form. Same goes for Kafka (and there are even a couple of Poe stories I think first rate). It's an old saw about Borges that he thought in English and translated himself into Spanish. He's something of a singularity and not deeply rooted in Spanisih culture.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
You may be missing some info on Borges' Spanish roots. He lived through the dadaísmo in Spain and read all the Spanish literature even the works written in Latin. Besides that his mastery of Spanish is superb but modest, sometimes one finds phrases "fatigar la infamia" things like that are very original. Many believe he thought in English but I dare to correct that saying that he gave the Spanish language some of the immediacy and force of the English phrasing. You are native English speakers and perhaps do not realize how powerful your language is. Within English there is a treasure of literary images that shoot right through like incantations or invocations. I wish I could remember a good one.

Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

In the context of that sonnet (116) one is taken to a tempest of images fraught with incredible force. Spanish was not like that until Borges tamed it and made it his. He used the humblest means and yet his writing soars to Shakespearian heights:

No veo los rasgos. Veo,
Bajo el farol amarillo,
El choque de hombres o sombras
Y esa víbora, el cuchillo.

Compared with the empty verbosity of Garcia Marquez, the spartan economy of words and the forceful images invoked by Borges emerge superior. Borges impact in Spanish literature can be compared to Hemingway's influence in modern English literature. There is a before and after for both authors.
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22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I always like Borges. I especially love "The Circular Ruins."

What makes Borges great is both his writing and that he was on the right side of all the major issues (at least as far as I'm aware). I'm pretty sure as well that he was a philo-semite in an age of open antisemitism -- and even wished to find Jewish ancestors in his own family.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Borges had a prodigious mind and a delicious sense of humor. When I was a young man I saw him waiting at the corner of Cordoba & Uruguay in Buenos Aires. He was blind and he stopped at the corners until someone helped him cross the street. I grabbed his arm gently and helped him cross the wide avenue. I said "Don Jorge Luis, just last Tuesday I bought your last work El Oro de los Tigres." Without missing a second he responded: "Ah! It was you!" I enjoyed his chats and it was marvelous to see the "world wide web" he had right inside his head, quoting the well known authors and also the obscure ones. Many years later at the University of Virginia he was taken to the hall where they keep some mementos of his life and work. The curator reminded him that they were inside a building designed and built by Thomas Jefferson. Again, instantly he was treated to one of those ineffable pieces of Borgiana when the writer responded: "Ah! Tom Jefferson, the architect of democracy and the democrat of architecture!." I am so glad Borges never won the Nobel Prize -- he exceeded the limits of the award -- today he would be clumped with so many others whose only memorable achievement was to be called to Sweden to get the medal. Very few people know the greatness of that man. Garcia Marquez and many others trailed the path he opened with his fantastic stories and called it "magic realism." Borges is hated today because he never contracted those European diseases: fascism and communism.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
Some think Borges' philosemitism cost him his shot at the Nobel Prize.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't judge writers by their politics. Art and politics are different. The beautiful is not the good. Philosophy isn't the good, either; Heidegger was a brilliant philosopher and an evil man.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
But when the art is superb, the politics correct, and the moral philosophy peerless, then you really have something worth admiring. In Borges, it all comes together.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I read Love in the Time of Cholera and thought it was a very good book. Then I purchased 100 Years of Solitude. Before I even started to read it, I read a bit about the author's background. Never did read 100 Years because by then I thought I would be reading a work of fiction to promote a left wing agenda. Turns out to be pretty much the case. Have no interest in ever reading it now.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I read Love in the Time of Cholera and thought it was a very good book. Then I purchased 100 Years of Solitude. Before I even started to read it, I read a bit about the author's background. Never did read 100 Years because by then I thought I would be reading a work of fiction to promote a left wing agenda. Turns out to be pretty much the case. Have no interest in ever reading it now.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
I couldn't make it through 100 Years...but Love in the Time of Cholera was very interesting to me, eventually made into a film with Javier Bardem which is a good rendering of the novel.

You mention Alejo Carpentier...his novel The Lost Steps was, probably, life altering for me. Or at least perception altering.
22 weeks ago
22 weeks ago Link To Comment
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