The Magic of Marquez Remains

Many of you have probably already read the sad news this week that celebrated Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez is suffering from dementia. At the age of 85, it is apparent that the Nobel Prize winner’s career is for all intensive purposes at an end.

The accounts of this news have already lamented that his memoirs will likely remain unfinished, and noted the sad foreshadowing laid out by the opening of One Hundred Years of Solitude (the novel deals with a family struggling to care for its patriarch, also suffering from dementia), so I will not comment anymore on that. Instead, I decided to take a look back at an old interview with the author at the height of his magical realist powers.

What I found was a conversation printed in a 1981 edition of The Paris Review, just before Garcia Marquez won the Nobel Prize. In it, I was surprised to read the writer’s perception of the role reality takes in his work, and the influence journalism has had on his career in fiction. The author even comments on what it would be like to win the Nobel Prize (“a catastrophe”–amusing, given that he won it less than a year later) and details his plans for the future. In all, the interview reminds us that Gabriel Garcia Marquez and his work are still very much with us. He may never write another word, but the magic of his work will always remain–ready to be discovered anew, as I found here–and that is what I choose to remember now in the face of this sad news.

Below are some interesting excerpts from the author’s conversation with The Paris Review.

On how he began writing:

One night a friend lent me a book of short stories by Franz Kafka. I went back to the pension where I was staying and began to read The Metamorphosis. The first line almost knocked me off the bed. I was so surprised. The first line reads, “As Gregor Samsa awoke that morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. . . .” When I read the line I thought to myself that I didn’t know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago. So I immediately started writing short stories.

How he developed the writing style of magical realism by way of his grandmother’s storytelling:

What was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories, and everyone was surprised. In previous attempts to write One Hundred Years of Solitude, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face.

On the surprisingly close relationship he believed his work shared with reality and journalism:

In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That’s the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it…

Pablo Neruda has a line in a poem that says “God help me from inventing when I sing.” It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.

… many people believe that I’m a writer of fantastic fiction, when actually I’m a very realistic person and write what I believe is the true socialist realism.

When asked about his ambitions and regrets, he responds:

I was asked the other day if I would be interested in the Nobel Prize, but I think that for me it would be an absolute catastrophe. I would certainly be interested in deserving it, but to receive it would be terrible. It would just complicate even more the problems of fame. The only thing I really regret in life is not having a daughter.

Looking towards the future:

I’m absolutely convinced that I’m going to write the greatest book of my life, but I don’t know which one it will be or when. When I feel something like this—which I have been feeling now for a while—I stay very quiet, so that if it passes by I can capture it.