18 Apr 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: falling in love with Gabo

A Colombian friend once told me with no hint of irony, that any love affair with Latin America required some kind of relationship with Gabo, writes Thom Walker.

My own tempestuous bond with the continent I fell in love with more than a decade ago, has proven her right.

Our first encounter came through In Evil Hour, the tale of a rural village, governed by a cruel caudillo, whose fragile peace is thrown into disarray by the lampoons that keep appearing on the walls of his town.

Political subversion, brutal crackdown, and an unsolved mystery; as a wide-eyed student of Latin American studies, attempting to devour all things that emanated from there, it seemed to encapsulate decades of history in one caliginous tale.

As Doctor Giraldo tells father Angel with a sneer in the closing pages, “Don’t be surprised father, all this is life.”

Initially, I read Gabo in translation. My English version balanced next to the Spanish original. Attempting to flit between the two, but mostly focusing on the former, I would only reach for the Spanish when I had to insert a quotation into an essay, much to my own chagrin.

But as my language skills improved, so our relationship flourished. My grasp of the continent’s complexities improved, poco a poco, and with limited opportunities to return there during this time, I had him to thank.

One Hundred Years of Solitude rightly cemented Gabo’s place in many more hearts, including my own. Writers such as Jose Luis Borges and Carlos Fuentes had embraced magical realism also, but it was this novel that brought the style, and Latin America as a whole, to so many more.

As Marquez’s biographer Gerald Martin told the Associated Press, it was “the first novel in which Latin Americans recognized themselves, that defined them, celebrated their passion, their intensity, their spirituality and superstition, their grand propensity for failure.” It was exotic and intoxicating, yet somehow still felt real.

As Marquez wrote, “There’s not a single line in my novels that is not based on reality.”

The life and times of 'Gabo' - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a Colombian author whose best known book One Hundred Years of Solitude won him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

He work brought Latin America to life for millions of his fans, and sold millions of books around the world.

Known as Gabo to his friends and family it was some years before he established himself as an author. He began his writing career as a newspaper reporter but found success in 1967 when One Hundred Years of Solitude was published to instant acclaim. The book has sold over 30m copies and fuelled a boom in Latin American literature.

A stocky man with a quick smile, Garcia Marquez said the novel was inspired by childhood memories of his grandmother's stories - laced with folklore and superstition but delivered with the straightest of faces.

"She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness," he said in a 1981 interview. "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."

He recently suffered from a bout of pneumonia and had returned to his home when he died on Thursday. He was 87.

It was his capacity to interweave politics, folklore and fantasy for which I fell so completely. I crawled through it, dictionary in hand, learning (and immediately forgetting) countless new words, all the while feeling that I could grasp something more of his world with each paragraph. Years later, when I returned to Latin America to live, a chance encounter over the very same book on the metro, would lead to another more real relationship. All thanks to Gabo.

His consistent support for the Cuban revolution and long-time friendship with Castro were unwavering, albeit problematic for some. So too at times, was his writing on Venezuela, the country where I then found myself. Yet his journalistic writing was so beautifully crafted, that even his greatest detractors admitted it was always compelling reading.

When he accepted his Nobel Prize for literature in 1982, Gabo gave an impassioned speech for his continent. He envisioned the future as something of a quest, for “a new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.”

It is a vision whose objectives, more than three decades on, are still hard to question.

I am fortunate that this love affair of mine can continue. I will read and reread his writing, and likely fall for him all over again.

Thom Walker is a producer for Channel 4 News, you can follow him on Twitter @thompwalker