Saturday, 18 August 2007

Gabo vs Haruki Part 1: The Genius of Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I don't see why one has to have a favourite writer. If I'm ever asked, how could I choose between Haruki Murakami and Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Nope, it's not a fair question. I cannot choose.

However, I can differentiate. Haruki moves me and Gabo astounds me.

(And Haruki also astounds and Gabo also moves, but each marginally less than the other...)

Garcia Marquez has these unforgettable openings, like the famous one in "One Hundred Years of Solitude":

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

The power of that ending can only be appreciated much later in the book, when the reader realises (in my case with a shout of joy) that the Colonel, presumed dead (by the reader), only takes his full place in the story later on...And the way that the novel's ending resolves the opening section with the gypsy's manuscript is beyond genius, one of the few times in my life I remember being left literally breathless with admiration for a writer as I read him.

And that's not the only time he uses the 'Many years later' formula. In his novels, linear time and cyclical time coexist; the stories are often simultaneously related at two levels.

I read recently probably the most influential Mexican novel of the last century, Juan Rulfo's 'Pedro Paramo', a book allegedly adored by Gabo. Not only is Pedro Paramo an early example in Latin American literature of a novel told in two different time streams (the narrative alternates between a first-person narrator who visits the town where his father had lived, and a first-person narrator from the town's past), but it includes this passage, which strikes a chord with any aficionado of Garcia Marquez:

"Years later Father Renteria would remember the night his hard bed had kept him awake and driven him outside. It was the night Miguel Paramo died."

Rulfo's 'Pedro Paramo' is brief yet dazzling. I myself have written whilst under its spell and can attest to its mesmeric hold.

I am reading the first volume of Gabo's autobiography, 'Living To Tell The Tale'. The opening, as ever, is delicious:

"My mother asked me to go with her to sell the house. She had come that morning from the distant town where the family lived and she had no idea how to find me."

What follows is an account, related with the characteristic shifting time streams, of young Gabriel's visit to the old house of his grandparents in the distant town of Aracataca, from where his early childhood experiences were to inform the creation of his fictional town of Macondo and all its inhabitants. And the older Gabo now recognises with the trained eyes of the writer he has become (not yet a successful novelist, but definitely on the path), the material which has lain dormant within him all these years. It's a moment of thunderous import and it shakes him to the core. The past, present and future collide during that visit. When finally he returns (some 100 pages later) to his cosy literary hangouts in Baranquilla with Colombia's literati, he knows, even at 23, where this can take him.

I just read this great passage where Gabo relates showing a rough draft of his manuscript to a man highly respected within his writers' circle: Don Ramon. Don Ramon reads two pages without change of expression, then makes one or two incisive technical comments. But as Gabo leaves him that day, Don Ramon adds:

"I thank you for your courtesy and I'm going to reciprocate with a piece of advice: never show anybody the rough draft of anything you're writing."

So, so, SO true. And Gabo followed that advice TO THE LETTER.


Chu said...

Sooo many things to comment about this text... I simply love Gabo. I've read "One hundred years of solitude" twice and each time had a special and different taste, as if in both I was discovering something new about the the characters and the story. My connection with this book is even older than these two readings: my mother read "One hundred years" when she was pregnant and, for a while, she thought of naming me Amaranta. Thank God she gave up on this crazy idea, since Amaranta is one of the saddest characters in my opinion. But I always say that a little bit of her solitude remained in me...

Last year I read "Memories of my melancholy whores" but didn't like so much. Two weeks ago I read "Chronicle of a death foretold" and now I'm reading "Of love and other demons". What amazes me is how loneliness is ALWAYS there, in all the characters in all these books. Maybe this is one the reasons that compel me to read Gabo more and more: he's one of the only authors I've read who knows how to describe true loneliness. And my goal for life is to read all of his books. I think I have time to accomplish this goal!

Murakami was hiiiiighly recommended to me by Oscar, but I have Saramago on my top reading priorities, after I finish Gabo. I read Murakami's story about birthdays, but haven't read anything else. I will, certainly.

At last, but not least, Harry Potter: I was also very surprised with Snape. Snape has always been of my favorite characters, and when he killed Dumbledore in the 6th book I almost cried (and I also betrayed, but I shouldn't admit this so openly). But I'd never say that everything was about love... And I simply loved the fact that Dumbledore was shown as a human being, with human feeling and flaws.

Sorry for the long comment, but I can't help it when it comes to Gabo!!! :-)

MG said...

Hey Chu, great to hear from you. We clearly have similar taste in literature - Gabo, Harry Potter...

I've never tried Saramago. He must be in translation - haven't seen his books prominently displayed anywhere tho'. My cousin Oscar is right about Haruki of course!

If you haven't read 'Love in the Time of Cholera' yet then you are in for a Big Treat. I honestly think it's the greatest novel I've read. I read it in my twenties, thirties and a few months back (forties!). And like you with OHYOS, I found something new in each reading. In his autobiography Gabo says that the only books worth reading are those which force us to re-read them. It's good advice...and applies to many of his own books.