Many years ago, the time span assuming proportions greater than the few decades it has actually been since his 1982 Nobel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed into greatness, the like of which is denied to most every mortal in his or her lifetime. And it was to be his burden, an onus peculiar to the greatest living writer, to explain how it was that his writing, and by extension literary fiction itself, came to be categorised as before and after One Hundred Years of Solitude.
The ripples set off with the publication of the novel in 1967 continue to be felt, and the opening line is embedded in collective memory: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” Its first print run sold out in days, and the multi-generation, cyclical saga of the Buendia family went on to sell more than fifty million copies. He wrote many other exceptional books (Love in the Time of Cholera, News of a Kidnapping, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, The General in His Labyrinth), and his legendary status in the popular consciousness was affirmed by the countless clichéd newspaper and magazine headlines that would play on the novels’ titles. But there was no getting around having to account for how One Hundred Years happened, how his life story had brought him to that point, how a new narrative technique opened to him, how he pulled along thereafter, how his magical realism elicited a spark of recognition in the reader. Incidentally, Marquez was very appreciative of the English translation. In conversations collected in the Faber & Faber volume, The Fragrance of Guava, he said, “The language becomes more powerful when it’s condensed into English.”
Born in 1927, Marquez was brought up by his grandparents for the first decade of his life in a small town on the Caribbean coast, and the depth of their influence would be not be evident till much later. Growing up, he evaded his father’s ambitions for him to be a lawyer, and had a formative stint in Bogota’s El Espectador, submitting copious copy to the newspaper and then when the day’s work was done, hanging around the office working on his own writing. Later, in a landmark interview in 1981 to Paris Review, he’d recall the stirring “sound of Linotype machines”. He wrote a lot,