The Essential Gabriel García Márquez ~ NYT


By Miguel Salazar

  • April 7, 2023

Leer en español

Gabito came into the world lathered in cod-liver oil, his parents claimed, with two brains and the memory of an elephant. He was born in Aracataca, Colombia, in 1927, though he often insisted on 1928, in a nod to Colombian history: That was the year of a notorious massacre of striking banana plantation workers on his beloved Caribbean coast. The episode was perhaps, he once said, his earliest memory.

So begins the mythology of Gabriel García Márquez, the magus of magical realism, a Nobel laureate who blended truth and fiction to fit the outsize reality of Latin American life. The breadth of his work was just as capacious. His catalog — at least 24 books, including novels, novellas, story collections and works of nonfiction — runs the gamut from high-octane crime writing and romances to political commentary and historical fiction. If you have a heartbeat, there is something for you.

The main attraction, though, is his fiction. In an appraisal published after his death, the New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani described García Márquez’s universe as “a febrile dream in which love and suffering and redemption endlessly cycle back on themselves on a Möbius strip in time.” Delivering the human condition as though it were gospel, he distilled cosmic wisdom into a single line with the flick of his wrist. Nearly all his fiction was rooted in his life experience — his mother liked to remark that it was written in code and she carried the key — and drew recurring themes from his obsession with love, memory, absolute power and a search for collective identity.

His life was not without controversy. His friendship with Fidel Castro stoked the ire of the F.B.I. and swaths of the left distrusted his intentions. The Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, a onetime friend and eternal literary rival, sucker punched him for sticking his nose — and maybe something else — into Vargas Llosa’s crumbling marriage. By the 1990s, García Márquez was no longer safe in his own country, and navigated the streets of Colombia in a Lancia Thema with bulletproof windows and a bombproof chassis. He eventually decamped for Mexico City, where he died in 2014.

Yet he remains a mammoth presence in Latin American literature, serving as a litmus test in the region — new generations of writers either pay him tribute or define themselves against his influence. His books sell so well that even the pirated copies still circulate widely, disseminating his trademark wit and wry, earthy humor with uneven margins and blotched text.

Are you ready? Time to enter the labyrinth.

A book cover for “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” which notes that García Márquez received the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature, and features an illustration of a couple embracing as the sun sets in the background. Lush rainforest vegetation surrounds the pair.

I want to start with his greatest work.

I respect your ambition. Gabo would, too. There is only one right answer, and it’s One Hundred Years of Solitude” (1967). He always had grand plans for this book, which touches on the main themes he would go on to develop across the rest of his work. It is a history of his hometown, in coastal Colombia, and of the Caribbean, where the Spanish were first defeated and where the project of Latin America began. It is Gabriel García Márquez at his essence.

The novel tells the story of the mythical Buendía clan, led by José Arcadio Buendía, and the town of Macondo, an allegory for García Márquez’s birthplace and Latin America at large. Published on the eve of an epoch of terror and repression across South America, it is an unmistakable parable of imperialism: There are natural catastrophes, civil wars, plagues of insomnia. Macondo survives one disaster after another — including a fictionalized version of the 1928 banana massacre — until the town is finally obliterated by a hurricane, as prophesied in a manuscript that is finally deciphered by the last Buendía descendant.

It took García Márquez only 18 months to write “Solitude,” though he spent nearly two decades mulling the story in his head. While reading proofs of his novella “Leaf Storm” — an early testing ground for Macondo and its characters — he remarked to his brother, “This is good, but I’m going to write something that people will read more than the Quixote.” He wasn’t far off.

A book cover for “Love in the Time of Cholera.” There’s a silhouetted photograph  in the center, featuring a man in a long-billed hat. A vaguely floral pattern borders the photo.

I’m a helpless romantic.

Florentino Ariza has been there.

It’s the 1930s. Fifty-one years, nine months and four days have passed since the love of his life, the beauty Fermina Daza, rebuffed him for a wealthy doctor. But when his rival dies in a sudden and absurd fashion (while trying to chase a parrot up a mango tree), Florentino is back in the game.

So begins Love in the Time of Cholera” (1985), in which, as the novelist Thomas Pynchon wrote in his review for The Times, “the heart’s eternal vow has run up against the world’s finite terms.” We are taken back to the late 1800s, to the beginning of a cholera outbreak that will overrun this fictional Caribbean city over the next half-century. Along the way, we witness the courtship and blossoming love between Florentino and Fermina unfold through letters and telegrams until it is put to an abrupt end by her father, who matches her with the irresistible Dr. Juvenal Urbino. A poet doomed to the lifelong pursuit of love, Florentino bides his time, waiting for his moment while working as a telegraph operator and engaging in 622 “long-term liaisons” while retaining his fidelity to his one true love.

García Márquez found inspiration close to home. His father, Gabriel Eligio García, was a practiced seducer fluent in poetry and love songs, who courted Luisa Santiaga during his time off from the public telegraph office, much to the ire of her family. It’s as if García Márquez turned their story on its head and simply reported on it from there.

The book cover for “Strange Pilgrims,” which features a person in tucked bed, looking alarmed.

I need to stop doom-scrolling.

Put down your phone and pick up these snappy, self-assured stories. You can work on repairing your attention span later.

The selections in Strange Pilgrims” (1992) serve as a fun house and an appendix to the García Márquez oeuvre. A clairvoyant slowly usurps the estate of a distinguished Viennese family by selling them her dreams. A poor Caribbean couple in Paris take pity on their deposed president when they find him living in poverty and exile. A woman is mistakenly admitted into an asylum when her car breaks down in Spain’s Monegros desert and her husband, a struggling cabaret magician, abandons her there in retribution for imagined infidelity. There are astrological quips and brutal burns: Having a Pisces sun or rising sign is no excuse for stupidity, we’re told; in Naples, even God goes on vacation in August; and a group of several Englishmen on vacation are described as “one man repeated many times in a hall of mirrors.”

All these stories follow Latin Americans in Europe, animated by García Márquez’s preoccupation with the history, identity and fate of his region.

The book cover for “The General in His Labyrinth” is an illustration of a peaceful scene, looking out through a grove of palm trees onto a moonlit river.


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