Posted on August 18, 2007 - by MG
I don’t see why one has to have a favourite writer. If I’m ever asked, how could I choose between Haruki Murakami and Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Nope, it’s not a fair question. I cannot choose.
However, I can differentiate. Haruki moves me and Gabo astounds me.
(And Haruki also astounds and Gabo also moves, but each marginally less than the other…)
Garcia Marquez has these unforgettable openings, like the famous one in “One Hundred Years of Solitude”:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
The power of that ending can only be appreciated much later in the book, when the reader realises (in my case with a shout of joy) that the Colonel, presumed dead (by the reader), only takes his full place in the story later on…And the way that the novel’s ending resolves the opening section with the gypsy’s manuscript is beyond genius, one of the few times in my life I remember being left literally breathless with admiration for a writer as I read him.
And that’s not the only time he uses the ‘Many years later’ formula. In his novels, linear time and cyclical time coexist; the stories are often simultaneously related at two levels.
I read recently probably the most influential Mexican novel of the last century, Juan Rulfo’s ‘Pedro Paramo’, a book allegedly adored by Gabo. Not only is Pedro Paramo an early example in Latin American literature of a novel told in two different time streams (the narrative alternates between a first-person narrator who visits the town where his father had lived, and a first-person narrator from the town’s past), but it includes this passage, which strikes a chord with any aficionado of Garcia Marquez:
“Years later Father Renteria would remember the night his hard bed had kept him awake and driven him outside. It was the night Miguel Paramo died.”
Rulfo’s ‘Pedro Paramo’ is brief yet dazzling. I myself have written whilst under its spell and can attest to its mesmeric hold.
I am reading the first volume of Gabo’s autobiography, ‘Living To Tell The Tale’. The opening, as ever, is delicious:
“My mother asked me to go with her to sell the house. She had come that morning from the distant town where the family lived and she had no idea how to find me.”
What follows is an account, related with the characteristic shifting time streams, of young Gabriel’s visit to the old house of his grandparents in the distant town of Aracataca, from where his early childhood experiences were to inform the creation of his fictional town of Macondo and all its inhabitants. And the older Gabo now recognises with the trained eyes of the writer he has become (not yet a successful novelist, but definitely on the path), the material which has lain dormant within him all these years. It’s a moment of thunderous import and it shakes him to the core. The past, present and future collide during that visit. When finally he returns (some 100 pages later) to his cosy literary hangouts in Baranquilla with Colombia’s literati, he knows, even at 23, where this can take him.
I just read this great passage where Gabo relates showing a rough draft of his manuscript to a man highly respected within his writers’ circle: Don Ramon. Don Ramon reads two pages without change of expression, then makes one or two incisive technical comments. But as Gabo leaves him that day, Don Ramon adds:
“I thank you for your courtesy and I’m going to reciprocate with a piece of advice: never show anybody the rough draft of anything you’re writing.”
So, so, SO true. And Gabo followed that advice TO THE LETTER.