“Age has no reality except in the physical world.” The saddest thing about Gabriel García Márquez’s passing is not his prolonged illness and final years of silence. It is the fact that the second and third volumes of his memoirs will never be written. But Living to Tell the Tale (2002), the first volume, calls for gratitude enough, given the mixed critical response to his last novel Memories of My Melancholy Whores (2004), which led him to decide that his writing life was over. The Latin American Boom and magic realism did not begin with Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). Nor was the novel Gabo’s own favourite. But it made the writers of the Boom, his friends and rivals, household names for a global readership. It also determined what road Spanish American literature would take thereon.
Márquez’s own favourite was The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), which studied tyranny in Latin America and echoed his political worldview more closely, but the reason he preferred that book was its being a “more complete work of art”. Gabo resented the loneliness that fame, via One Hundred Years, brought him. The same fame that made him and his family a likely target of kidnapping for ransom in violence-ridden Colombia and ensured that he spent most of his writing life in Mexico City and elsewhere. While his residence in Mexico or Cuba did help the whole of Latin America to claim him, the universality about Márquez emanated primarily from his works, which spoke to an entire civilisation and beyond. One Hundred Years, after all, was first published in Argentina. Its blending of past and present, the real and the magical, captured the essence of life on a continent whose history comprised such extremes that the only way an outsider could make sense of it was by seeing it as fiction.
Spanish American culture did not suddenly become sophisticated because of the literary Boom in the 1960s. It was always rich and plural, having accepted its mixed heritage without upholding the Spanish or the Indian. It acknowledged its problems and reached an imperfect but matter-of-fact understanding with itself. That was Gabo’s heritage and an end in itself.