Relishing Life Through Literature

by David A. Petreman

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Here’s one thing that could never fit into our imagination: the loss of Latin America’s best prose writer, and its greatest proponent of expanding our awareness. The “boomers” are all gone now, save one, who was not García Márquez’s friend—Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, who many years ago punched García Márquez because of a completely innocuous remark the latter made. The “Boom” refers to the grand explosion of the Latin American novel during the years 1962-1977 when the entire planet was amazed, tantalized and mesmerized by the outpouring of absolutely wonderful, if experimental, novels being produced by Mexico’s Carlos Fuentes, Peru’s Mario Vargas Llosa, Chile’s José Donoso, Argentina’s Julio Cortázar and Colombia’s Gabriel García Márquez. Many critics also include Mexico’s Juan Rulfo as a precursor to the movement.

García Márquez’s death did not come as a total surprise, since he contracted lymphatic cancer in 1999. This cancer was overcome, but after it he began writing his memoirs. His death is a huge loss. Several of my former students contacted me to express their sorrow, their knowing he was my favorite prose writer from Latin America.

Everyone knows that “One Hundred Years of Solitude” was his greatest work. It was the first of his literature that I read while I was in graduate school. During those magical years at the University of Iowa, the now-famous T.C. Boyle, as a member of Iowa’s world reknowned International Writers Workshop, wrote the horrific but great short story called “Bloodfall”, highly influenced by García Márquez’s magical realism.

Many years later, I sent a copy in English of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” (by the way, García Márquez’s translator, Gregory Rabassa, is the world’s best from Spanish to English) to my sister and told her to read it. A few days later, she wrote and told me, “Dave, this book has changed my life.” After marriage, work and raising two children, she decided, in her fifties, to enroll in the university to pursue a college degree. A few years later she graduated with a degree in History. This is the magic of García Márquez.

More than anything, this Nobel Prize-winning (1982) writer encourages his readers to be open to multiple realities, to dig deeply and utilize our imaginations, and to not deny ourselves of dreams. Sure, everyone knows him as the world’s leading proponent of the literary movement known as “magical realism”, but “Gabo”, as many knew him, always insisted that he only described Latin American reality as it is, as he saw it. He always encouraged his readers to see their own reality, also as it is, but to allow themselves to really see it, in all of its forms, complete with its various levels, the magic within it, the spiritual within it, the irreality of reality.

He insisted that his readers tap into their imaginations, which many have ignored, or lost, or built a barrier around or closed their minds to its possibilities. In today’s super-technological world, human imagination—and instinct as well—isn’t even an after-thought for many people, and this is a tragic consequence of our buying into the over-use of that technology.

Gabriel García Márquez’s genius produces wonder, opens up the mind to “different” realities, magical or not, and inspires us to be mentally free. How else could the discovery of ice be the most astonishing thing ever for an entire town? How else could an entire village experience each other’s imaginations come alive and their dreams soar because of the unexpected presence of an unknown drowned man? What does a rain that lasts four years, eleven months and two days do to the mind?

At the April 21, 2014 memorial to Gabriel García Márquez in Mexico City, held at Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts, a schoolteacher named Nelly Hernández stated: “Gabo was a watershed in my life. He taught me to relish life through literature.”

I have one question. And its answer. How could Gabriel García Márquez’s very death cause him to come alive again in the world’s eyes? Read one of his books and find out.


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