García Márquez
The Man and His Work

By GENE H. BELL-VILLADA

The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 1990 The University of North Carolina Press. All rights reserved.
ISBN: 0-8078-1875-5



Chapter One


The Novel


Only time will tell whether, as critics Maurice Nadeau and RaymondSokolov have individually speculated, the second half ofthe twentieth century will be remembered as the era of the LatinAmerican novel. But it cannot be doubted that, beginning withBorges and Carpentier in the 1940s, and Rulfo and Cortázar inthe 1950s, the explosion of narrative talent in Hispanic Americaconstitutes a special period in the history of human creativity, aprivileged moment when one sees a much-afflicted civilizationactively producing and receiving its foundational classics of theliterary imagination. And it is not only a matter of a few sovereignand "universal" authors' names—admirable though theirwritings may be—but also, among Latin America's reading publicsand intelligentsias alike, a sense that literature truly matters,that its assumptions and art belong to the larger sociopoliticaldebate and thus contribute in a vital way toward the life of LatinAmerican nations.

    To many foreign readers, this panorama of South Americancreativity has come to be symbolized by the figure of Colombia'sGabriel García Márquez, whose work combines features both ofTolstoy the realist storyteller of everyday life and of Dostoevskithe visionary fantasist and satirist. Of course the name GarcíaMárquez primarily conjures up his One Hundred Years of Solitude,that cultural phenomenon the like of which we see seldom in ourcentury. Here is a great and complex book that, within its covers,includes every possible aspect of human life and, in its art andstructure, demonstrates a sophistication and mastery the equal ofMelville, Joyce, Proust, Faulkner, or Nabokov at their best. Atthe same time the book enjoys continued high sales in Colombia,in Latin America, and throughout much of the world. For such aconfluence of high art and popular success one needs to go back to thenineteenth century, when entire French families would anxiously await thenext installment from Balzac or Hugo, and Yankee audiences would packthe halls in order to see and hear Dickens in the flesh.

    It would be impossible to overestimate the impact that García Márquez'schronicle has had on the larger reading public. Some statistics andanecdotes should suffice to convey the extent of its influence. When theArgentine publisher Editorial Sudamericana issued the first edition ofCien años de soledad in 1967, initial projections were of gradual sales of tenthousand copies and an annual trickle thereafter. As it happened, the firstprinting of eight thousand copies sold out in a week, all of them at subwaystation newsstands in Buenos Aires. Soon the novel was taking the continentby storm, and to this day the pace has not abated, the number ofcopies sold in the Hispanic world long ago having surpassed the tenmillion mark.

    Cien años de soledad has since been translated into over thirty languages(including pirated versions in Greek and Arabic). Owing to his left-wingviews, García Márquez is considered a dangerous element by our StateDepartment authorities, who keep him on their immigration "blacklist"and allow him only brief and limited entry into the United States, butthey have been unable to limit the American sales of his most famousbook. There are close to a million copies in print of the Avon paperbackedition, and on commuter trains, park benches, or Amtrak cars it is commonenough to see a scraggly-bearded sophomore or a chic secretary fullyengrossed in their One Hundred Years of Solitude.

    In Soviet Russia the book sold a fast million copies in that country'sforeign literature magazine. A touching instance of the amazement itseems to have caused there is the story—often cited with delight by GarcíaMárquez—of the elderly Soviet woman who copied out the entire text ofthe novel word by word, in order to make sure that she had really readwhat she had read. On the other hand, the Russian version of One HundredYears of Solitude is the only translation from which García Márquez'soriginal sex scenes have been expurgated, suggesting that it is not only theauthor's politics that can make a society's custodians nervous.

    But it is in Colombia and the rest of Latin America where the impactof the book has been widest and deepest, and where, as a result, thenovelist himself enjoys the status of a kind of unofficial hero, is feted in astyle more commonly reserved for athletes or movie stars. Of few seriouswriters today could it be said that most of his compatriots know of himand his writings, but in fact during my travels in Colombia I am constantlystruck by the variety of casual strangers—nurses, salesmen, socialworkers, bankers, industrialists, government bureaucrats—who are joyfullyacquainted with One Hundred Years of Solitude and with the man'sother works too. Readers as well as reporters often allude to García Márquezby his nickname "Gabo" and even the diminutive form "Gabito" (itis as if the New York Times were to refer to E. L. Doctorow as "Ed"); newsheadlines routinely echo phrases from García Márquez's fiction or seeevents through his narrative plots and characters; in Barranquilla I haveseen businesses bearing names like "Farmacia Macondo" and "EdificioMacondo"; and there is a modern "Hotel Macondo" in the resort town ofSanta Marta.

    Tales abound of the effect that One Hundred Years of Solitude has had onreaders across Latin America. Carlos Fuentes, Mexico's best-known novelist,likes to remark that his own cook reads García Márquez. The Colombianhimself has told of an Argentine maid who refused to get back towork until she had finished the last page of the history of Macondo.García Márquez also recalls warmly that visit he made to rural Cuba in theearly 1970s, when a group of peasants he was chatting with asked himwhat he does for a living, and he answered, "I write." To the question,"What do you write?" he replied, "I wrote a book called Cien años desoledad," at which point the peasants cried out as one, "Macondo!"

    One of the most dramatic instances of the sheer power that GarcíaMárquez's book has to seize the Latin American consciousness is thispersonal recollection by the U.S. novelist and journalist Ron Arias:


I remember riding a crowded bus one day in Caracas, and two women who looked like secretaries on their lunch break were laughing over certain episodes they'd read in Cien años de soledad. I joined in; then it seemed half the bus did. This was in 1969 and it was the year's best seller. Everyone who had read it was bringing up his or her favorite character, and we were all howling together. The book as a whole had struck a common chord with us all, since historically we had all come from Macondo ..., we all had a tío [uncle] or two in a revolution, and I'm sure there were people in our lives chasing more than butterflies.


    Arias is right in tracing the direct appeal of One Hundred Years amongLatino audiences to its broad array of Latin character types: the old tíositting on the house doorstep; the revolutionary evoking past campaigns;the unrelenting womanizer; or, in archetypal Ursula, the steadfast andendlessly toiling mother figure. With hindsight, the fable of Macondo'sspectacular success can be further attributed to its lucid and accessibleprose style, its attitude of serene wonder, its rapid-fire narrative of actionand adventure, its compelling tales of romantic love, its exuberant episodesof bawdy sex, its humorous sequences of popular myth and fantasy,its muralistic intimations of the entirety of a continent's failed past, and,last but not least, its ribald and generous serise of humor. From start tofinish in One Hundred Years of Solitude there is an underlying tone ofirreverence toward officialdom, the perspective being not so much that ofa society's victims or les misérables as of ordinary townsfolk who findthemselves set upon by powerful forces and who, through struggle, play,and eroticism, through work, esoteric studies, love, and just living, somehowresist—even if in the end they are all resoundingly defeated.

    By creating a narrative of ordinary Latin folk that is without a hint ofinsincerity or condescension, and by articulating a kind of history "frombelow" that is nonetheless joyous and shuns the dual traps of either idealizedheroes or piteous victimization, García Márquez has given poetry,magic, and dignity to Latin American daily life and can thus be thought ofin all justice as a "people's writer." For all its modernistic sophistication,his novelistic art springs organically from local values and experiences,much as the art of jazz, however many lessons it may assimilate from Bach,Ravel, or Stravinsky, grows "naturally" out of the musical concerns specificto Afro-American culture. The way in which American jazz buffs willspeak affectionately of "Thelonious" or "the Duke" can be likened tothe references to "Gabo" one finds readily in Hispanic conversation andmedia.

    This intimate relationship of García Márquez to the people of LatinAmerica became most manifest in the spontaneous outpourings of publicsentiment and jubilation with which, on the morning of 21 October 1982,the news of his Nobel Prize was greeted. "GABO NOBEL DE LITERATURA,"said a succinct newspaper headline in Colombia, where many acelebration soon was taking place in the streets. Back in Mexico City,where García Márquez has resided since 1975, the entire student populationof an elementary school arrived in front of his house in El Pedregaland greeted him with a congratulatory chorus. Later in the day, needing arespite from the constantly ringing telephone, the author went out for adrive; on the road strangers honked their car horns and nodded at himrespectfully, and when his BMW stalled at a stoplight and he had sometrouble getting it to start again, a voice from a nearby vehicle shouted,"Hey, Gabo, the only thing you're good for is getting the Nobel Prize!"To an unprecedented extent, then, García Márquez has gone beyond hisoriginal status as novelist to become a mass phenomenon, a special kind ofpublic figure whose work inspires not only admiration and respect butpersonal warmth and affection from most all. Seldom in our time does thehigher art of literature gain so broad a following.


These human interest accounts would add up to little more than idlegossip were it not for the special genius and achievement of the manhimself. García Márquez's Nobel Prize in literature came in official acknowledgmentof many things, among them the author's global readership(notably in the Third World) and also his radical humanitarianism, akey criterion in the Alfred Nobel legacy. At the same time the SwedishAcademy's statement bows respectfully to high aesthetic norms and observesthat "each new work of [García Márquez] is received by expectantcritics as an event of world importance." And in further recognition of hishaving created an entire human geography, fully inhabited by an array ofcharacters who reappear from book to book in a variety of situations, theNobel Committee compared the breadth and stature of García Márquezto those of past masters such as Balzac and Faulkner. Moreover, theypraised the Colombian's "wild imagination" for having fashioned an artthat successfully "combines the fantastic and the realistic."

    One normally does not rely on the press releases of prize committees asa starting point for literary reflections, but in this case the Nobel peopledid raise pertinent issues by evoking the distinctive aspects of GarcíaMárquez the man and the writer—such items as his broad literary canvas,his creative use of fantasy, his political leftism, his immense popularity,and of course his undeniable artistic greatness. In recent years this specificcombination has been in short supply, in both advanced capitalist andcommunist cultures. Today in the North Atlantic countries there are but ahandful of novelists of whom it could be said that they exhibit enduringartistry, produce an oeuvre of totalizing vision, enjoy worldwide readership,participate in progressive causes, and crystallize new ways of applyingthe fantastical imagination to human experience.

    It was not too long ago that North American literary critics like LeslieFiedler were making pronouncements to the effect that "the Novel isdead." And indeed at the time a relatively barren narrative panorama inthe West (Germany excepted), along with the electronic paradise thenbeing sung by media visionary Marshall McLuhan, did seem to suggestthat the glory days of prose fiction were over. In retrospect, however, thedoomsayers seem to have misconstrued their poor home harvests for auniversal drought, inasmuch as it was during that same decade that anentire constellation of Latin American writers were clearly demonstratingthe formal and cultural renewability of the novel and its resources. Andit was García Márquez who was doing the most to help save the novelfrom itself, to rescue it from the narrow little impasses and byways inwhich Euro-American prose fiction writers had taken refuge and set uptheir shop.

    It might be helpful to recall the world situation of the novel in 1967, theyear when the long chronicle of Macondo was being typeset and bound byits lucky Argentine publisher. In the United States, prose fiction was ina state of directionless anomie. Norman Mailer, only slowly recoveringfrom the ideological attacks on his brilliant Barbary Shore (1951), hadproved as yet incapable of replicating the grandeur of his first book, TheNaked and the Dead (1948). Nabokov, the other United States postwarnovelist of record, was sliding into the onanistic, cranky self-indulgencesof Ada. Meanwhile both WASP and Jewish novelists had fully restoredtraditional realist narrative, though none seemed able or inclined to enrichthat nineteenth-century form with the social knowledge, insights, andvision of the nineteenth-century Europeans. Instead they concentrated onsuburban angst and on minutiae of the Self, producing a quasi-claustrophobicart best characterized as "solipsist realism."

    Saul Bellow's one attempt at total narrative in The Adventures of AugieMarch had suffered from a pervasively flat, gray lifelessness, and JohnUpdike's portrayal of an entire town, in Couples, was to focus on a matterso trivial as sexual spouse-swapping (literally who's sleeping with whom),veiled through the mists of New England religiosity. Clearly, from theheights of Hemingway, Dos Passos, Faulkner, or even Henry Miller'sTropics, a lapse had taken place. The richest and most powerful nation onearth was producing novels that were materially thin and formally impoverished.What Arthur Miller deplored about the American theater in the1950s was perfectly applicable to the fictions of that decade: he complainedof a "narrowing field of vision" and an incapacity to distinguish "betweena big subject and a small one, a wide and narrow view."

    In Soviet aesthetics, and among its defenders and imitators on theWestern left, the problem was precisely the reverse—though there was onebasic resemblance. What we know as "socialist realism" amounted alike toa restoration of the nineteenth-century genre, revived in this case througha state dictatorship, a rigidified socultural code, and a bastardizedMarxism reflecting the narrow intellectual boundaries of Stalinism. Withits search for a "positive hero," socialist-realist fiction worked from a conceptionof character portrayal the very opposite of fine-grained subjectivism,a simplified psychology that, paradoxically, was appropriate less forrealism than romance. This aesthetic came best argued, of course, via theprogrammatic critical writings of György Lukács, who, for all his awesomeerudition and middle-European Kultur, remained ever obstinate inhis distaste for modernist experimentation, his negation of narrative "inwardness,"and his personal dogmatic preference for fully rounded charactersát la Balzac. On the other hand, those "critical realist" efforts wherebySoviet-inspired European and Latin American authors had hoped to denouncesocial ills resulted only in novels that (as García Márquez himselffrequently observes) nobody reads and never overthrew any tyrants. Insum, Soviet-style aesthetics offered neither relief from nor alternatives tothe wispy apolitical introspectiveness of U.S. cold war narrative.

    In the British Isles and France only Samuel Beckett, the last of the greatavant-garde purists, could be said to have broken genuinely new artisticground in the novel. And it is no mean irony that he achieved this byfiercely paring down his material and experiential range, by rejecting thepopulous and panoramic Dublin of his compatriot's Ulysses for the hermeticallysealed jar of his own The Unnameable, by reducing fiction tothe haunted voice and melodious murmurings of an isolated old man.Granted, there was the absolute perfection and beauty of his form andprose style, as well as an emotional register that masterfully encompassedeverything from comic bawdy to pained nostalgia: the word "tragicomedy"describes his slender fictions as aptly as it does the Waiting for Godotto which it serves as subtitle. Nevertheless, the Malones and Morans andMahoods of this Franco-Irish minimalist—with their ramshackle bikesand crutches and their travels through the mud—lead an existence that isas vividly and palpably textured as it is slim, desolate, and scanty. Theremnants of reality in Watt and Molloy, while far more memorable thananything to be found in Updike or Bellow, only helped to underscore theprofoundly solipsized nature of the world of Beckett's choosing.

    Not a few practicing critics in the 1960s were wondering what kind ofup-to-date fiction could be possible in the wake of The Unnameable orTexts for Nothing. The sense of narrative art run aground in its straitsseemed additionally confirmed by postwar literary developments in France,where the spirit of vanguard exploration was being carried on by whatbecame known as the nouveau roman movement (after the polemical manifestoby Alain Robbe-Grillet, For a New Novel). Working under the doubleshadow of Joyce and especially Beckett, practitioners such as NathalieSarraute, Michel Butor, Claude Simon, and Robbe-Grillet himself considerablyexpanded the technical arsenal of novel writing and in turn were toexert a decisive influence on budding Latin Americans like Cortázar andSevero Sarduy.

    At the same time, the New Novelists expressly set out to narrow stillfurther the human content—the characters and feelings, the simple rawpleasures, and the "soul" as it were—of the novel form, looking upon suchdrastic circumscription as a progressive advance. Confronted by what theysaw as an era of general loss of novelistic authority and of widespreadincapacity to believe in literary characterization (The Age of Suspicion, asthe striking title of Sarraute's book of essays would put it), in responsethey contrived elusive shadowy beings or highly restricted first-personnarrations, together with a purposely flat, cool, colorless prose and adescriptive objectivism aimed at transcending such obsolete notions as"humanism" and "tragedy." Convinced that they had found an alternativeboth to the withered values of classical bourgeois fiction and to the shrilldictates of leftist engagé art, they carved out their working space in a self-conscioustechnicism, a neat and brittle formalism that, in retrospect,seems terribly academic, quietist, and cold. Of the nouveau roman grouponly Claude Simon evinced some larger historical vision and profundityof feeling, a factor surely instrumental in his being singled out for the1985 Nobel Prize, though his undeniable depths are, alas, much obscuredby his prose style and an excess of preciosity.

    By 1967 there were informed Euro-American readers who were awarethat, in Latin America, something new in literature was coming intoshape. Already the work of the Cuban Carpentier and the ArgentineCortázar had been proving that the divers exquisite corners into which thenovel had painted itself were neither final nor necessary. But it was OneHundred Years of Solitude that was to make the definitive difference. Breakingfrom the claustrophobic atmosphere that had permeated French andAmerican writing, García Márquez reopened the doors and windows andtook on the life of the streets, giving us a vast panorama in which everygrand historical situation—from utopian harmony and dizzy prosperity toflaccid decadence and class war—was fully conjured up. The book camewritten with utter authority, had the voice of a wise yet involved andcaring speaker who—like an African griot, or a super-narrator of folk epicand fairy tale, or an ancient biblical scribe-truly knows everything abouteveryone in a society, from its high notables to its sullen rejects, andmoreover sees fit to tell the whole world about them.

    Further, instead of those novels with four or five characters typical ofUpdike or Butor, the Colombian author evoked a total world in whichevery conceivable human type payed some role. Here were enterprisingpioneers, heroic revolutionaries, calculating merchants, moralistic clerics,rigid monarchists, ruthless conservatives, fiery syndicalists, shallow opportunists,wild visionaries, sober scholars, old-fashioned prudes, earthy voluptuaries,exotic nomads, sensitive aesthetes, bureaucrats and imperialists,fops and swingers, and more. Here there was maternal warmth,personal hauteur, filial piety, mature friendship, marital stability, lonelyisolation, and a moving instance of tragic true love. Here one foundbittersweet liaisons without a trace of the maudlin, casual sex without anycontrivance or prurience. Here were growth and decay, high seriousnessand low comedy, sadness and joy. One Hundred Tears of Solitude came as areminder to the literate that such things as eroticism and humor and loveand politics all form part of the larger human story and can once againbelong to literature itself.

    By having chosen as his narrative focus the chronicle of a family in onetown, García Márquez hit upon the aptest medium for such a panoramicexploration of human diversity. Nevertheless, it was clear from the startthat One Hundred Years of Solitude was not just one of those conventional"family sagas" of the kind regularly cranked out by facile writers and thendizzyingly marketed by American hype. Any reader sensitive to certaintwentieth-century issues could see in One Hundred Years the politically"progressive" mind that cohabited with a highly sophisticated artistry.Here was a man of the left who had learned and assimilated many a lessonfrom Kafka, Faulkner, Virginia Woolf, and other Euro-American modernistfigures. What is most remarkable about One Hundred Years in thisregard is that it remains in the leftist camp even as it breaks with Stalinist"rules." Older dogmas of realism were now effectively challenged by avisionary imagination rooted as much in Caribbean folklore as in Westerntechnique, were brushed aside by a verbal magician capable of conjuringup with supreme ease such items as a levitating priest, a rain of yellowflowers, a beautiful young virgin rising up to heaven, and a military massacrewhich the authorities erase from memory literally overnight.

    In the same way, the Lukácsian demand for rounded and fully developedcharacters was discarded in favor of what are mostly a series of cartoonlikestereotypes, all brilliantly conceived and thoroughly interlinked.Straight linear narrative was replaced by a conception of time that, whiledevelopmental and evolutionary enough to be "Marxist" in its generalcontours, was also structured and articulated as a myriad of subtle flashbacksand foreshadowings. Finally, the intricate web of parallelisms, congruences,and repetitions that typifies One Hundred Years of Solitude gaveevidence of a meticulous craftsman who takes quite seriously the formalaspects—the "carpentry," as he often has called it—of novel writing.Form-conscious without being formalist, García Márquez had provedonce and for all that literary experimentation need not exclude humanitarianconcerns nor be escapist or subjectivist, and that established realismis neither the last word nor the sole means available to the progressiveimagination and its assumptions and intuitions. As García Márquezlikes to remark to interviewers, "Reality is not restricted to the priceof tomatoes."

    García Márquez of course is most noted for his unforgettable use ofmagical and fantastical materials, and in due time we shall examine thisside of him, his most original, no doubt. Ironically, García Márquez himselfis averse to the term "fantasy" and on several occasions has characterizedhimself as "a realist writer," speaking for his form as well as subjectmatter. "Reality" for García Márquez consists not only of everyday eventsand economic hardships but also of such things as popular myths, beliefs,and home remedies—not just "the facts" but what ordinary people say orthink about those facts. The daily life of northern Colombia in particularis a world richly textured with folk legend and superstition, and it becameone of the objectives of a mature García Márquez to recapture this folkquality in his art and thereby go beyond all "the limitations that rationalistsand Stalinists from all eras have attempted to impose" upon a largerand variegated reality (OG, 84; FG, 59-60). The "fantastical" in GarcíaMárquez derives in great measure from the lived fabric of Latin Americanexperience.

    Among the kinds of "fantasy" that most stand out in García Márquez ishis artful exaggeration, his constant but careful doses of narrative gigantism—arain over Macondo that lasts almost five years, or, in The Autumnof the Patriarch, a dictator who lives maybe two centuries. As GarcíaMárquez sees it, however, disproportion also forms part of reality in LatinAmerica, with its rivers so wide one often cannot see across them, andits earthquakes and tempests the likes of which are not seen in Europe(OG, 85; FG, 60). "Hurricane" in fact is a word of Caribbean Indianorigin, and there have been recorded instances of South American rainstormsthat go on for months. (Of Wordsworth, Aldous Huxley onceremarked that the poet would have entertained a less beneficent view of"nature" had he grown up in the tropical rain forests.) To convey thisdisproportionate reality the folk imagination of García Márquez in turnfurther exaggerates, tells history as a tall tale, giving us a 107-to-232-year-oldpatriarch who is himself a multiple version of those four-decade autocraciesof flesh-and-blood grotesques such as were Juan Vicente Gómez,Rafael Leónidas Trujillo, and the Somoza clan.

    Indeed, both One Hundred Years of Solitude and The Autumn of thePatriarch are carefully constructed around real-life historical materials, andthe former title regularly crops up on the assigned-reading lists of many aLatin American history and politics course in U.S. college classrooms. ForOne Hundred Years is among other things a great novel about politics,dealing as it does with such subjects as civil wars, labor strikes, and militaryrepression, all of it reimagined by a man who, along with Orwell andSartre, qualifies as one of our century's great political writers—"political"in the broadest sense of the word. As author, García Márquez showsunusual insight into the deepest and most intimate recesses of power,whether it take the form of the quiet infiltration of Conservatives intoMacondo, the harsh revolutionary dictatorship of a hysterical Arcadio,the wily maneuvers and populist rhetoric of an illiterate Caribbean tyrant,the false love and honeyed blandishments of a heartless whore-turned-grandmother,or the momentary sway that a humane Liberal dentist cangain over a local despot-turned-patient. In a continent where people tendto be much preoccupied with the question, "Who's in power?," GarcíaMárquez's fiction puts together and brings vividly to life the experiencesthat make this obsession a concrete everyday reality.

    And yet referring solely to the "political" side of García Márquez doesnot do him full justice. As will later be noted, he is also one of literature'sgreat humorists, a genius of comic ribaldry in the best traditions of Rabelais.In addition, he is one of the master novelists of romantic love, capturingits obsessions, flights, joys, pains, whims, and fancies as few authorscan today. And he is among the most powerful writers of human solitudeand isolation, of abandonment and loss, of the lonely battle for survival, ofdesolation and even "alienation." Few solitudes in fiction can comparewith that of the illegitimate Aureliano Babilonia, friendless and bereaved,with total knowledge being his scant consolation as Macondo rushes to itsend.

    While in his earlier, shorter works García Márquez had dealt quitebeautifully with each one of these basic human concerns, in his moreambitious books he integrates them into a single long story. Sociopoliticallife is made to encompass romantic love and eroticism; erotic life and loveare in turn subtly enmeshed with the narrative of politics. In the 1950s,however, as a concession to the needs and guidelines of his orthodoxfriends in the Communist party, García Márquez did hew temporarily to amore circumscribed and traditional realism, but with One Hundred Yearshe would put this approach definetively behind him. As he himself notes,what brought on this shift was his "finally realizing that I had a commitmentnot to the social and political reality of my country but to the entirereality of this world [i.e., Colombia] and the other, without minimizingany single one of its aspects" (OG, 82; FG, 56).

    By so daring to take on the whole of reality—private and public, localand global, quotidian and fantastical—the Colombian author succeededin effectively widening once again the experiential horizon of the novel, aform that, in the United States and France since 1955, had been restrictingits sights to the insides of middle-class heads or to outside objects likecentipedes and venetian blinds, even as it remained decidedly obliviousto most everything else. In our time a common enough complaint inU.S. literary polemics is the claustrophobic world of those many novelsof "sex and alienation in suburbia" and of "divorce on the upper EastSide," while American publishing shoptalk makes ever-rigid distinctionsbetween "love novels" and "political fiction," between "action narrative"and the genre of "humor." The genius of García Márquez is that hedispenses with set boundaries and brings all such experiences, and more,into his books.

    Aside from his having produced some great works, then, the mostsignificant achievement of García Márquez is his having led the art offiction back to real life and restored to prose narrative the hurly and burlyof reality in all its rich and contradictory manifestations. The author himselfis a living summary of all these contradictions. A visionary fantast andmaster fabulator, he is also the self-described "realist writer" and lyricalhistorian of his world. A highly self-conscious and sophisticated artist anda master stylist, he seldom comments on purely literary matters and issublimely bored with aesthetics, criticism, or theory. A great comic novelistwith a mischievous and "tropical" sense of humor, he also articulates aprofoundly tragic vision and is himself a rather melancholy and intenselyprivate man. A declared foe of Western imperialism, as mentors he claimsEuro-American modernists like Faulkner and Woolf. A man of the people,born and raised in some impoverished Caribbean settlements, still fond ofsalsa music and dance, he is also the globe-trotting cosmopolite, a man ofhigh culture who cites Bach and Bartók among his favorite musicians. Aconvinced socialist who gives time and money to left-wing causes, herejects the Soviet cultural model and can write with great eloquence aboutso bourgeois a subject as romantic love.

    This is the García Márquez whose world, life, and art, I hope, will beconveyed within the following pages.