JOSÉ Arcadio Buendía explains the mechanism of love in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Asked what love feels like, he replies that it feels like an earthquake. Gabriel García Márquez, who chiseled that allegorical response, died in Mexico City on April 17, and next morning a powerful earthquake shook that place. It was earth's response to the loss of a literary genius, who changed the history of world literature.
Love pervades all his writings. In Love in the Time of Cholera Uncle Leo informs Florentino Ariza that his father was a lover and poet, who wrote in his notebook: “The only regret I'll have in dying is if it isn't for love.” The inordinate emphasis on love was the catharsis García Márquez needed to address his other obsession. He turned himself into a one-man crusade against Latin America's grief, its isolation and loneliness.
The Nobel Lecture Márquez delivered on December 8, 1982, gave an insight into the burden he carried. He explained the crux of the solitude, arguing that magical realism was a necessary tool for him to cope with Latin America's history of vicious dictators and romantic revolutionaries, its long years of hunger, illness and violence. The very scale of that solitude, he said, lay in the fact that Latin America couldn't have another destiny other than being at the mercy of two superpowers.
Márquez had inhaled the vapours of that solitude early in life, growing up during the civil strife known as La Violencia. It killed 300,000 Colombians. The horror haunted him and his writing skill rescued him like much-needed therapy for the attempted remediation of health.
American writer William Faulkner invented Yoknapatawpha County as the Mississippi setting for some of his own novels. Likewise, Márquez invented the mythical village of Macondo where the miraculous and the real converged. Some of his works are set in this fictional village, his corner of the world where he gave a free rein to imagination. Anything and everything happened in Macondo. Storms raged for years, flowers drifted from the skies, tyrants survived for centuries, priests levitated and corpses failed to decompose.
This is where his dream struck gold. Here lived the memories of his grandparents' ramshackle house, which influenced his writing. His grasp of reality was enduringly inhabited by the ghosts his grandmother conjured in her stories.
Márquez was aching to write a novel based on that house since he was eighteen, and many years later the idea of writing One Hundred Years of Solitude hit him like a revelation. He was driving his family to Acapulco and halfway turned around the car to return home so he could start writing right away.
Published in 1967, One Hundred Years of Solitude sold more than 50 million copies in 25 languages. The change of fortune allowed him to afford homes in Mexico City, Barcelona, Paris and Cartagena on Colombia's Caribbean coast. His lifestyle improved with growing fame, reflected in his choice of fashionable linen suits, shirts, shoes and watchbands. He rubbed shoulders with the rich and powerful. Former US president Bill Clinton and Cuba's Fidel Castro were amongst his friends.
But Márquez never abandoned his left-wing perspective. His commitment to the cause screams through the wry humor in The Autumn of the Patriarch, “...the day shit is worth money, poor people will be born without an asshole.” He zealously invested his fame, time and money to support its causes.
He helped finance a Venezuelan political party. He was a strong defender of the Sandinistas, the leftist revolutionaries who took power in Nicaragua. In 1973, he vowed not to write as long as Augusto Pinochet ruled Chile. But he eventually released himself from that vow because he never expected the Pinochet dictatorship to last seventeen years.
Nobody else from Latin America has done more than Márquez to shatter its solitude and unlock the souls of its millions confined in silence. Each of his characters is meant to give Latin America its rightful voice and he was unsparing in that task.
In 1989 he published The General in His Labyrinth recreating the last days of Simón Bolívar, the father of South America's independence from Spain. His portrayal of the aging Bolívar as a flatulent philanderer, abandoned and ridiculed by his former companions had stirred controversy. But Márquez maintained his depiction of Bolivar had been drawn from a careful perusal of general's personal letters.
Gabriel García Márquez has Bolivar remark in that novel: “I'll never fall in love again. It's like having two souls at the same time.” About 184 years later, this one scribe diligently proved the general wrong. He writes in Love in the Time of Cholera, “My heart has more rooms than a whorehouse.” The writer had many souls in his heart, all of which fell vacant when he died last week.
The writer is Editor, First News, and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.