December 13, 2017
Monday, April 21, 2014

A hundred people to be mourned along with Nobel laurate

Nobel prize laurate Gabriel García Márquez in one of his last public appearances.
Nobel prize laurate Gabriel García Márquez in one of his last public appearances.
Nobel prize laurate Gabriel García Márquez in one of his last public appearances.
By Veronica Stewart
For the Herald
A man walks into the dentist’s office to get his molar teeth pulled out. He is the mayor of the town, and the dentist refuses to see him. After being threatened to death, he agrees to treat him. He explains to his patient that the procedure will have to be done without anesthesia. “Now you’ll pay for our twenty dead men”, he says before pulling his teeth. He does his job with “bitter tenderness.” As the mayor leaves, he asks him whether to send the bill to him, or to the town. “It’s the same damn thing”, the politician says. And just like that, in a story as short as a quick visit to the dentist, Gabriel García Márquez tells us a story as complex and bleak as that of the Colombian civil war.

The story One of these days, published in the book Big Mama’s Funeral, might not be one of García Márquez’s best known pieces, but it goes a long way in illustrating one of the things he did best as a writer: he somehow managed to tell big stories by narrating much smaller ones.

He was a kind of literary spider, in that he was able to weave elaborate webs of meaning and context using words as easy to understand as silk is easy to the touch. Even in his grandest novel, One hundred Years of Solitude, he tackles existential issues that go way back, even further than the seven generations of the Buendía family.

This is precisely what García Márquez does not only in his best known novel, but in all of his writing. We feel the suffering of every castaway when we read The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor; we ache when he aches, hunger when he hungers, and feel nauseated when he does. We learn about the horrors of censorship and political repression through the story of a colonel and his wife in No One Writes to the Colonel. We see what the lives of all monarchs and godlike political figures look like in Big Mama’s Funeral, which depicts the death of Macondo’s supreme ruler. We learn about how deeply ingrained honour is in Colombian society in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and feel sickened and marvelled by love thanks to Love in the Time of Cholera.

And yet not one of these very real and earthly-bound feelings is told to us in an ordinary way. García Márquez delivers terrible stories through the filter of magic realism, where fantastic elements are treated with logical precision and blend in with an otherwise ordinary environment. He thus manages to tell tragic stories and not only illustrate them as something magical, but also convince us that they are in fact magical, that there is some magic to be found in everything that surrounds us, and that the best way to face it is by treating it with the normalcy that it warrants.

But perhaps his greatest magic trick was to make us believe that what he did was simple. Perhaps the clearest sign of magic realism in his work is that he spoiled us for so many other writers by getting us to believe that the complexity and universality he could achieve through the use of simple language was commonplace. It wasn’t. His work was extraordinary particularly because, for a split second, it could make us believe that it wasn’t.

And perhaps this is why millions of his readers were so struck to hear about his death on Thursday. Considering he was 87 years old and his health was very fragile, it should have come as no surprise. But just like each and every one of his stories held so many others, just like all of his characters were a myriad of people, so was he. He was the writer, the journalist, the activist, the legend of a man who created the legend of a town. It seems almost impossible that so many people could’ve left us in the death of just one man. In some strange way, he convinced us all that he was immortal.

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