By Niyi Osundare
Gone, the Magic Muse of Aracataca. In a manner similar to his wondrous tales, I can see him levitating towards the skies, a pen in one hand, a trumpet in the other, a rueful smile on his face. For his body is too precious, too imperishable for the grave’s cramping dungeon and its ravenous coven of worms. Beyond the clouds, Angel Gabriel is waiting for his famous namesake at Heavensgate, waiting expectantly for this curious mortal whose fame and flourish competed so triumphantly with those of hosts of heaven. And I can see the intrepid ‘Gabo’ later, negotiating a niche with a revolving door and a wide window through which he can continue to peep at the turbulent world he has left behind and watch how the strands of his magic narratives continue to unfold. Without a doubt, his dealings with other angels are likely to be contentious; for this Gabriel is a being who so often obeys his own rules; a spirit averse to time-worn routines and conventional thou-shalt-nots.. . .
Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the most influential literary figures in the past 100 years; and in literature in the Spanish language, his fame and impact are only rivaled by those of Miguel de Cervantes, the pioneering genius who gave the world the timeless Don Quixote. Veteran journalist and author of numerous novels and short stories, Marquez shook the world with the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1967, and literally rewrote the rubric of the narrative genre. Intensely political and socially committed, he assailed the incubi of colonial/imperial exploitation and social injustice in a language and style that made his narration of that exposure irresistible even to those being exposed. He settled, finally, the quarrel between History and Literature, Myth and Reality by making Politics the flexible Mediator between the four. He gathered the strands of our workaday life, wove them into tales with an indelible touch of weird wanderings and wonder. He erased – or extended – the traditional gulf between the probability of the improbable and the improbability of the probable.
And therein lies the phenomenon which literary critics and avid name-givers have christened as “magic realism”, a terminology that has been with us for several decades now and which has been splashed rightly or wrongly on works from different parts of the world with little or no consideration for local peculiarities. Whatever name his style is called, in whatever critical lingo it is couched, Marquez is the master of the hint and hyperbole, of the awe in the story and the aura in its telling. His narrative invented other ways of perceiving reality, other ways of cognizing human existence, other ways of being human. That is why his works are so full of rumble and resonance. That is why his new realism unlinks the chains of the old one. That is why William Kennedy, the noted American writer, recommended that One Hundred Years of Solitude should be compulsory reading for the human race.
Influence, or, better still, influentiality, comes naturally to women and men of Marquez’s stature. And he had it and made the best of it. His influence is easily seen in the literary sphere where he changed the content and form of the narrative genre since the last half of the 20th century. The other kind of influence, a little less easy to perceive, is his influence on the political scene (I almost said ‘destiny’!) of Latin America in a 20th century bloodied by military dictatorship and all manner of murderous incivilities. Marquez spoke out against evil. His voice was loud, insistent, unafraid. And when he spoke, the world listened, for he earned his space, his right to speak, his will to the Word.
Not infrequently, his interventions made military dictators shake in their boots. Quite often, the people found their strength in his words. Like the great Pablo Neruda, his Latin American compatriot, he too made an unbreakable pledge to himself that the people would find their voices in his song. We must never underestimate the contribution of people like Marquez to the return of democracy to Latin America and other parts of the world afflicted by the absence of that ideal.
Gather round this fire, therefore, oh ye acolytes of the Word. Sing a song and shake a leg. The master storyteller has levitated to the skies. Gabriel is back at Heavensgate. Banana leaves are clapping in the fields of Aracataca. Gabriel Garcia Marquez is laughing, his patented moustache lush and green like the forests of his beloved Colombia.
Professor Osundare, a notable poet and academic, sends this from New Orleans, April 18, 2014.