Gabo and Magical Realism; Alejo Carpentier and Realidad Maravillosa
Currently I am reading an excellent book, Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Life by Gerald Martin, a labour of love of over two decades. And it shows.
Gabo’s autobiography Living to Tell the Tale was a good read as well, which read like one of his books of fiction. Reading this biography, one can make the relationships between what had happened to Gabo in his life and their re appearances in various novels of his.
Many years later, when Garcia Marquez managed to reconstruct these two ways of interpreting and narrating reality, both of these involving a tone of absolute certainty-the worldly, rationalizing sententiousness of his grandfather and the other-worldly, oracular declamations fo his grandmother-leavened by his won inimitable sense of humour, he would be able to develop a world-view and a corresponding narrative technique which would be instantly recognizable to the readers of each new work.
Gabo, a lover of Cuba and a personal friend of Fidel ( in fact once opening an international Medical congress in Havana, Fidel confessed he had not much sleep the night before, because he had just read a virgin copy of Love in the Time of Cholera! Before it was published!) is a literary phenomenon in that coming from the “third world”: Caribbean coast of Colombia, he has influenced the writing of so many other writers who came out of the developing world: when I read Albert Wendt, the NZ educated Samoan writer, the first line of his book, Leaves of the Banyan Tree , had shades of Marquez in it: It had rained all day, and Tauilopepe Mauga had remained in the main fale plaiting sinnet.
Who does not know Macondo? And Cien Anos de Soledad/One hundred years of solitude must be one of the most widely read novels of all time! In fact, Macondo was the name of a Banana plantation near where Gabo grew up in the company of his morally loose but socially strict grandfather and a grandmother who was forever seeing ghosts and constantly praying to all sorts of spirit forms even though they were strict Catholics.
Every one could read about Macondo, but very few could live in a place like Macondo, for which I thank the stars. Our Macondo was and is Baracoa where it was not unusual for us to sit by the wall facing the ocean and recite poetry, under the slight influence of strong Cuban rum. That is how we all remember, the first and last lines of all Gabo’s book.. and either me or the little poet of our village, just known by his surname Castro, even though he would pompously introduce himself as Miguel Angel Castro Machado, the spiritual guardian of Baracoa .. we would break into the lines of Gabo’s books. Any one from our village who had attended university could recite from memory many of the lines: On the day he was going to be shot, Colonel Auereliano Buendia thought fondly of that distant afternoon when his father took him to see ice (written from memory) or the last line: How long shall we go on sailing? The capitan asked. Florentino Ariza has been waiting for that question for 59 years, four months and three days and its night, he answered.. Forever (written from memory). The names of his characters seemed a little odd to us educated in the anglo saxon tongues but when your mother is called Tranquilina Iguaran Cotes and that she lived calmly knowing that her husband had sired various illegal children during the time of marriage and some of whom were to come and live in the house which was the beginning of the novel Cien Anos in the head of the little Gabito growing up in that arid countryside trying to make sense of his place of the world of Generals, A thousand Day war and the Untouchable Indians.
What has Cuba to do with all that? Salman Rushdie being influenced by a Latin American form of writing?
Who was Alejo Carpentier? His home just a couple of doors away from the famous La Bodeguita del Medio (where Hemingway used to hang out and now a very popular tourist destination in la Habana) is now a museum dedicated to his memory.
Alejo Carpentier was a Cuban writer who straddled between European literature and the native culture of Latin-America. He was for a the Cuban cultural ambassador in Paris. Carpentier was trying to place Latin-American culture into a historical context. This was done via a conscious depiction of the colonial past - as in The Kingdom of This World, and Explosion in a Cathedral (title in Spanish El Siglo de las Luces - or The ).
His literary style is a wonderful combination of dazzling images and a rich language, full of the technical jargon of whatever subject he touches on - be it music, architecture, painting, history, or agriculture.
He was also the first to use the techniques of 'magical realism' (and he coined the term, lo real maravilloso) in which the concrete, real world becomes suffused with fantasy elements, myths, dreams, and a fractured sense of time and logic.
Carpentier is generally considered one of the fathers of modern Latin American literature. His complex, baroque style has inspired such writers as Gabriel García Márquez and Carlos Fuentes.
Alejo Carpentier is considered the father of Magical Realism, made now very famous and popular by Gabo. It is no irony that Gabo spends part of his days in La Habana, he is supposed to be a good cook and Fidel used to stop by his seaside home for a snack.
Even while he is recuperating from his surgeries, one of the few visitors Fidel has entertained has been Gabo and his wife Mercedes. In July 2008, Fidel wrote: ( part of his weekly reflections published by Granma)
I chose to get together with Gabo and his wife, Mercedes Barcha, who are visiting Cuba until the 11th. How I wanted to chat with them, to recall almost 50 years of sincere friendship!
Our news agency, as suggested by Che, had just been born, and it hired, among others, the services of a modest Colombian journalist named Gabriel García Márquez. Neither Prensa Latina nor Gabo had the slightest idea that there would be a Nobel Prize; or maybe this son of a small-town Colombian post-office telegraph operator buried in the banana plantations of a Yankee company had some inkling, with that "Brobdingnagian" imagination of his. He shared his lot with a bunch of siblings, as was the custom, still his father, a Colombian with the privilege of being employed thanks to the telegraph keys, was able to give him an education.
I experienced the opposite. The post office with its telegraph keys and the little public school in Birán were the only facilities in that hamlet that were not owned by my father; all the rest of the goods and services of any economic value belonged to Don Ángel, and for that reason I was able to go to school. I never had the privilege of getting to know Aracataca, the small town where Gabo was born, but I certainly had the privilege of celebrating my 70th birthday in Birán, with him as my guest.
The morning of 1 september 2009 is ending for me in Paris. How lovely to think about Gabo, Carpentier, Fidel, Baracoa, Cuba on this morning when Continental Airlines informed me that I have flown 75 000 miles during the year 2009 to continue my Platinum Elite Frequent Flier Status!
(sententiousness: tending to indulge in pompous morality as was the case with Gabo’s grandfather Colonel Nicolas Marquez Mejia.
Declamation: a rhetorical or emotional speech, made especially in order to protest or condemn as was the case of Gabo’s Grandmother, Tranquilina Iguaran Cotes)