On Gabriel Garcia Marquez

by David Pryce-Jones

Many people have thought Gabriel Garcia Marquez a great writer. It is a commonplace to bracket him with Cervantes as a giant of Spanish-language literature. In particular, he is credited with a style of writing known as magic realism, whereby strange things pass as ordinary and the law of cause and effect is suspended.

A humanist myself, I hold the view that every man’s death diminishes me. Marquez the writer is something very different. If it is to matter, literature has to say something about the world as it is and our place in it. Magic realism does the exact opposite. To make of everything just what you want is to make nothing of everything. Marquez is not so much writing as sleepwalking. Would it make any difference if his books were One Hundred Years of Cholera, Love in the Time of Solitude Autumn of a Death Foretold?

Playing havoc with reality presents a false view of the world, one in which everyone feels sorry for himself because good and bad, right and wrong, are interchangeable. Self-pity is the basis of Marquez’s popularity. Anti-Americanism is the form of self-pity that seems indigenous to Latin America and Marquez was its virtuoso. He expressed, so I read, “principled opposition to the global status quo dominated by the United States.” 

Dictatorship is the main arena in which good and bad proves interchangeable. Marquez could hardly wait for Pinochet to be overthrown in Chile, while in Cuba he was hero-worshipping Fidel Castro, a criminal with far more blood on his hands. The limit of credulity was reached when Marquez described Castro as an intellectual.

Presidents Clinton and Obama lead the chorus of academics and literary critics singing praise to Marquez. This reveals how natural the internalization of anti-Americanism now is. But when Marquez was in need of proper medical care, it was in a Los Angeles hospital that he found it. Nobody knows why another Latin American writer, Mario Vargas Llosa, one day punched Marquez in the face. What symbolism, though, in this encounter between two incompatible mind-sets. Vargas is free from self-pity, therefore free from anti-Americanism. At some time in the future, the independent and vital Latin America that Vargas stands for will exist with no dictators in sight, and then Marquez will be seen as the seller of a snake oil that did no good to anybody.

David Calling

The David Pryce-Jones blog.