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October 23, 2014
Saturday, April 19, 2014

One hundred years of gratitude

What better season for the author of The Autumn of the Patriarch to end his days than in autumn? And what better week than during an Easter celebrated by the first ever Latin American pontiff completing his first year in the shoes of the fisherman? Perhaps the only frustration was that he fell numerically short of One Hundred Years of Solitude, living for seven-eighths of a century, but that would not have been right either because the writer who introduced magic realism to the world could never be considered to be alone — at least not during the almost half-century since he penned those Macondo chronicles (and long before he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, a huge triumph for Latin America in the year of a lost war).

If contemporary Latin American literature has one defining figure, it is surely Gabriel García Márquez — this makes it very difficult to write a tribute to him without rhapsodizing about how extraordinary his life’s work was. And yet in many ways his genius was rooted in the ordinary, his unique ability to transform life’s trivia into the heights of literature — perhaps this was his magic. The British contemporaries of the young “Gabo” (the John Osbornes and Arnold Weskers, the Harold Pinters, Alan Sillitoes and the “angry young men”) called their realism “kitchen-sink,” an adjectival phrase which is almost tautological — it took a García Márquez to add magic to realism, thus turning it on its head, and if memory was such a central element in his work, he was always able to look back without anger. And if his genius was rooted in the ordinary, those literary skills of chronicling the mundane were perhaps honed during the journalistic origins of his career — that is why a newspaper should owe a particular debt to García Márquez. Journalism is sometimes described as “literature in a hurry”— García Márquez thus deserves gratitude from the profession for evolving into the purest li-terature.

Not many writers mark a before and after in world literature but García Márquez can make that claim — he took the art of story-telling lost in the mists of time and turned it into the writing of the future. When people die, it is standard to make the pious wish that they rest in peace but rather than mourning the passing of a very old man, it would be more fitting to desire that his words do not rest in peace but continue to make waves.

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