Sunday, August 23, 1998
Garcia Marquez- III
Gabriel Garcia Marquez was once asked why Latin Americans wrote such long novels to which he replied cryptically, "Because we have such long memories!" Memories, to Latin Americans, have always meant memories of fire, of the great dictators, supported by the imperialism of the Big Brother in the north, of hundreds of years of solitude and oppression of passions aroused and passions betrayed. Memory then, as Rao Basto says in I the Supreme is "the stomach of the soul" and when memory is awakened by imagination then what we get is a novel of tremendous vitality: the past interceding with the present in the linear developments of the narrative and together looking at a future that never seems to arrive and "if" it arrives it's too late. And because the concept of time for the Latin Americans is circular, their novels have been described as a labyrinth, rather like the labyrinth of life itself which has made it the most astounding literature of our times.
Just how rich is this literature is clear from the fact that the 'Latin American Boom', as it has been called since the 60s, shows no sings of a let-up. And in many ways begins to remind one of the boom in Russian literature in the 19th century because the central themes are the same: "The duality of truth, the illusion of appearances and the praise of folly."
Our old image of Latin America as a jungle, of venomous animals and Amazon Indians disappears before the astral world of low temperatures, polar winds, an abrupt geology and dangerous seas. Gabriel Garcia Marquez's style is simple and direct. He introduces to us the utilisation of many modern literary techniques, such as the manipulation of temporal planes and "elliptical art" or understatement, but in a subtle fashion, never losing the realistic presentation of his material. It is his clear-cut imagery and realistic descriptions that stand out. According to Gerald Martin, "Garcia Marquez reminds us that those who read stories read the story of their own lives, and the consciousness of author, character and reader slide into overlap again. He is such a master of magic and mystery, his writing is so consistently enjoyable, that one is tempted to forget that to believe, even temporarily, in illusions is to settle for a world that is undecipherable and unknowable." Let's have a look at his Strange Pilgrims: Twelve Stories set in contemporary Europe, the Europe where he has lived. All stories are fabulous and allegorical which they have to be, not because Latin Americans, per se, are given more to fantasies but all exiles whether they are exiled by the state or they go in for voluntary exile are prone to them. So when Garcia Marquez says in the prologue that the theme common to all his stories is "the strange things that happen to Latin Americans in Europe, the "strangeness" is merely a metaphor for the general human condition where the line between life and imagination becomes very thin.
These stories are nothing more than the fevered imaginings of the homeless caught between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born because of the drag of memory. For instance, the first story, perhaps the best and the longest, is titled "Bon Voyage, Mr President." It is based in Geneva where an aged Caribbean President is living a meagre, down-and-out existence, "one more incognito in a city of illustrious incognitos." He is happy all the same because "the greatest victory in my life has been having everyone forget me." But the President is sick and needs an operation for which he does not have the money. Two of his compatriots, a working class couple, come to his help. They help to sell his junk jewellery, and with some of their own savings thrown in, pay for his medical bills and finally his passage home. But the home to which the President goes is "a continent conceived by the scum of the earth without a moment of love: the children of abductions, rapes, violations, infamous dealings, deceptions, the union of enemies with enemies."
There are many ironies in the story with a sub-text running through it. How is that a selfish (and self-pitying) politician can still aspire for a faith in people, when, by all common sense, they should have nothing to do with him? Or, is this weakness common to a people who live by the 'heart' and not by 'reason' and are, therefore, willing to forgive everything when the prodigal son returns home? Garcia Marquez leaves it to us to draw our conclusions but he does seem to suggest that dreaming comes naturally to Latin Americans in exile!
The other stories are shorter in length, with varying emotional depth and spiritual geography of a fictional Latin America, and distinct from his novels which a critic has described as "creating history out of the taught, overlapping stories of his characters, lives, and conjuring myths out of their troubled dreams." And probably because the stories are set in Europe and not in his native Latin America, where otherwise most of his works are set, they lack that detailed sense of history, the visionary sense of time and place and distinguish his strongest fiction. Like all Garcia Marquez's writings, the opening paras of his stories are marvellous. Gracefully written as these stories are, there are many flashes of the old writer in them. With his magic pen, that bridges the world of reality and the world of dreams, he spins out of "the perversities of uncertainty" in these stories with his usual embroidery.
In his prologue, Garcia Marquez says the effort involved in writing a short story is as intense as beginning a novel, where, "everything must be defined in the first paragraph: structure, tone, style, rhythm, length and sometimes even the personality of a character. All the rest is the pleasure of writing." For him everything that occurred in his childhood had a literary value, which he started appreciating as he grew up, and decided that he wanted to be only a writer, and that too "the best writer in the world." And once he took to it, writing became not only a necessity, but a sweet refuge, the only place no one else can touch, a spot where he can monitor and assimilate and understand the "wild reality" of his chosen territory the Caribbean, where most of his fictional work is set. "Why set it anywhere else, when it offers everything," asks Marquez. To give you some idea of my feelings about the Caribbean, I can think of an incident in my childhood, when the people in my village were looking for the body of a drowned man. They took a calabash, put a lighted candle in it and placed it on the river. I remember the scene well. I was about seven then, the candle was swept by the current from one bank to another. Then it stopped at a certain spot and started going round in circles. That was where the drowned man was. The villagers dragged him out of the water like a huge fish. I think that the Caribbean today is a bit like the spot where the candle came to a halt after drifting all over the place. To me the Caribbean offers everything: indigenous peoples, blacks, Chinese, Arabs, Europeans, Panama canal workers and so on...."
Yes, set in the Caribbean. And epidemics. And death. All a very essential part of his work. Says Marquez: "I've always thought about death. Once I had a dream about a "festive" and happy occasion I spent with friends: my own funeral. Perhaps, a premonition. Some years ago, a day after I finished my book Strange Pigrims: Twelve Stories, all starting or ending with death, an X-Ray of my throax, revealed a tumor, which was malignant, but hadn't spread. The prognosis is good, or so the doctors say, but the checkups even today remain terrifying they just may find something else. Recently, I had an appointment for a Wednesday. On Friday I was anxious. On Saturday I thought I was going to die. On Sunday, I just couldn't sleep. On Monday, the first thing I did was to advance the appointment. As for epidemics, I've always loved them. They combine the greatest tragedies with wild revelry in the cemeteries. For instance, there's the epidemic of oblivion in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the plague in In Evil Hour, cholera in Love in the Time of Cholera and various epidemics in The General in the Labyrinth. What I should say to myself is: no more epidemics. Only love. I can't get rid of love it's the driving force behind my books, my only argument, my only ideology. Love is the only discourse in my books."
For Garcia Marquez, professional discipline is very important and an essential part of his life. According to him whether you are a journalist or a fiction writer, you've to have extraordinary discipline. And for that you have to yourself take care of your health and well-being. As Hemingway once said that writing is like boxing. To be a good writer you have to be absolutely lucid at every moment of writing, and in good health. Writing is a very difficult job and you've to be excessively demanding on yourself to do a job to your own satisfaction. I've been a notorious perfectionist, agonising over every page that I wrote without a single type or pencilled correction; perfection not only of grammar, structure and language, but also a perfection of intensity, which is just as important. Ideally, I'd like to write a book in which the suspense was kept up with each new line a book readers would be unable to put down because they were so keen to find out what was in store for them not in the next chapter or paragraph, but in the next line."
His daily work schedule too is lightly disciplined. His day starts at 5 am when he starts performing the usual chores: brushing, shaving, dressing something he detests the most as he considers it as a great waste of time. "Every morning I wish for some sort of a miracle drug, a tonic that would instantly transport me to my desk." The only thing he likes is his shower. As the hot water streams down, he mulls over what he had written the day before and waits for fresh revelations. Sometimes the details arrive so quickly, he jumps out, hair sleek with shampoo, and rushes to his desk. He works religiously till two in the afternoon but only in familiar surroundings where he has already been warmed up with his work.
According to Garcia Marquez, his "big problem is the first paragraph. At times I have spent months on it, but once I get it, the rest just comes out easily. In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems the theme is defined, the style, the tone. That's why writing a book of short stories is much more difficult than writing a novel. Every time, you write a short story, you have to begin all over again. I write when I have a complete story in my head, including the proper names of all the characters. After that everything goes smoothly. These are no blocks. When I get to the end and have my narrative all wrapped up, I go on working on the text. And, I'm careful to alternate: sometimes I work on the rhythm, sometimes on the language. At the same time there's the problem of the grammatical doubts I may have."
Perhaps no other nation in the world claims a single writer as its leading citizen to the degree that Colombia does with Garcia Marquez. It reveres the writing of "Gabo" a nickname, implying an intimacy that is felt rather than assumed who had done it proud. If, for the Colombians his spreading fame through writing, and that too by writing that emerged from origins that they could recognise, is a matter of pride then for the Latin Americans, on the whole, his universal acclaim is an affirmation of their existence from the outside that they constantly feel they lack. And for the world at large, Garcia Marquez continues to excite and intrigue his readers with literature that is bound to survive on the bookshelves as great modern classics.
| Interview | Bollywood Bhelpuri | Living Space | Nature | Garden Life | Fitness |
| Travel | Your Option | Time Off | A Soldier's Diary |
| Caption Contest |