Colom­bian nov­elist Gabriel García Márquez died last week at the age of 87. We asked Alan West-​​Durán, an asso­ciate pro­fessor in Northeastern’s Depart­ment of Lan­guages, Lit­er­a­tures, and Cul­tures, to dis­cuss the award-​​winning author’s life, lit­er­a­ture, and legacy.

His book One Hun­dred Years of Soli­tude and mag­ical realism:
One Hun­dred Years of Soli­tude is an immensely appealing novel, but not as easy a read as some claim. Everyone talks about the mag­ical realism as syn­ony­mous with Latin Amer­ican lit­er­a­ture in gen­eral, which is unfor­tu­nate because you also have realist, fan­tastic, noir, neo-​​noir, the mar­velous real, his­tor­ical fic­tion, post-​​modernist nar­ra­tive, and every­thing in between. García Márquez was him­self con­scious of this. Because of the pop­u­larity of One Hun­dred Years of Soli­tude, he became crit­ical of its suc­cess, and to his credit his sub­se­quent work did not prove to be sequels to One Hun­dred Years. He actively resisted that temp­ta­tion, first pub­lishing The Autumn of the Patri­arch (1975), which he con­sid­ered his best novel, and later Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), fol­lowed by The Gen­eral in His Labyrinth (1989). None of these novels could be con­sid­ered mag­ical realist and all of them touch on themes that are cen­tral to many of his novels: love, power, and the ability for humans to trans­form themselves.

Gabriel García Márquez. Photo credit: By Jose Lara [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Gabriel García Márquez. Photo credit: By Jose Lara [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://​cre​ativecom​mons​.org/​l​i​c​e​n​s​e​s​/​b​y​-​s​a​/​2.0)], via Wiki­media Commons

What he and his work meant to the people of Colombia and throughout Latin America:

For Colombia he was a great source of pride—undoubtedly having a Nobel Prize winner puts one on the world lit­erary map. The issue with García Márquez was that his out­sized fame eclipsed all other writers form Colombia—and there are many good ones such as Alvaro Mutis (1923–2013), a close friend of García Márquez, Fer­nando Vallejo, Germán Espinosa, Laura Restrepo, Fanny Buitrago, William Ospina, Evelio Rosero, and Juan Gabriel Vásquez. This is part of the lit­erary mar­ket­place under late cap­i­talism: U.S. and Euro­pean critics and com­men­ta­tors latch on to a writer whom they claim rep­re­sents a country or all of Latin America: Márquez, for one, but then Carlos Fuentes (México), Mario Vargas Llosa (Perú), Isabel Allende (Chile), Borges (Argentina), and Car­pen­tier (Cuba).  In terms of Latin America there is no doubt his work had a sig­nif­i­cant influ­ence, be it the work of Isabel Allende (The House of the Spirits) or Laura Esquivel (Like Water for Choco­late). In any event, his writing helped redi­rect the Euro­cen­tric bias of critics to other parts of the globe, specif­i­cally Latin America.

How his legacy endures on a global level:
One of the inter­esting corol­laries of his work is in the area of film. García Márquez was an ardent admirer of cinema and a scriptwriter and there are many adap­ta­tions of his work to film. Most of them are unsuc­cessful, some are truly awful, and a few respectable (but none are admirable). The best are Arturo Ripstein’s No One Writes to the Colonel, based on his 1961 novella and then Ruy Guerra’s La cán­dida Erendira, based on a novella from 1978. The film Love in the Time of Cholera (2007), despite its sav­aging by the critics, was an ade­quate adap­ta­tion of his novel, but it is not a mem­o­rable film. More suc­cessful was Daniel Catan’s 1996 opera Flo­rencia en las ama­zonas, a won­der­fully lyrical adap­ta­tion of part of the novel. The short story La santa (The Saint), adapted to film in 1989 by Lisandro Duque and titled Milagro en Roma (Mir­acle in Rome), was a beau­tiful film marred by a kind of Hol­ly­wood happy ending.

To his credit, García Márquez helped fund the Inter­na­tional Film School at San Antonio de los Baños in Cuba in 1986, a school that has helped train Latin Amer­ican, African, and Asian film direc­tors for decades.

One final film anec­dote: The great Japanese film director Akira Kurosowa wanted to film The Autumn of the Patri­arch, but felt intim­i­dated by this project because he knew little or nothing about the Caribbean. He expressed these thoughts to García Márquez him­self, who said that instead of trying to locate the film in 19th or 20th cen­tury Latin America he should instead shoot it as taking place in 16th cen­tury Japan. It was a bril­liant idea by García Márquez that Kuro­sawa was never able to actu­ally realize. When we think about his film Ran (based on Shakespeare’s King Lear), it makes us wonder if this could have been another Kuro­sawa masterpiece.

His per­sonal life:
I think great writers create their own per­sonal lives, and García Márquez was no excep­tion. My favorite anec­dote is from the writer him­self. In inter­views and auto­bi­o­graph­ical writ­ings he describes his attempts, like any author, to estab­lish his own autho­rial voice. As he sought to do so, he searched and strug­gled. He then read Kafka and remarked that Kafka’s way of nar­rating events was exactly the way his grand­mother spoke—an unflap­pable tone, telling the most hair-​​raising events in a voice that was entirely calm and almost unin­flected. To equate Kafka’s nar­ra­tive voice with his grandmother’s style of speaking left me astounded and still does.

His later works about and close ties with polit­ical fig­ures:
His later works con­tinued his evo­lu­tion as an artist. García Mar­quez was a man absolutely fas­ci­nated by power, which led to his irrev­erent view of Simón Bolívar, cap­tured bril­liantly in his novel The Gen­eral in his Labyrinth, not to men­tion his novel The Autumn of the Patri­arch, which chron­i­cles the life of an aging dic­tator. Some have crit­i­cized his close rela­tion­ship to Fidel Castro, leader of the Cuban Rev­o­lu­tion, in that he had been very lenient in accepting left-​​wing excesses com­pared to those on the right. García Márquez never apol­o­gized for his left-​​wing views and argued that his friend­ship with Castro was helpful in nego­ti­ating some of the prob­lems Cuban writers and intel­lec­tuals have had with the cur­rent regime in terms of more lenient views toward cen­sor­ship or helping authors emi­grate. García Márquez had also been a mod­er­ating voice on issues related to the Colom­bian gov­ern­ment and the guer­rilla move­ments within the country.