García Márquez’s Blind Spot
MEXICO CITY — The recent funeral in Mexico for Latin America’s great novelist, Gabriel García Márquez, was an astonishing display. For hours, under falling rain, tens of thousands filed past the urn that held the ashes of the most famous, widely read and beloved of contemporary Latin American writers.
In the Palacio de Bellas Artes, there was continual music, ranging from Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances” to the folk music of the novelist’s native Colombia. Outside the building, a swarm of 380,000 yellow butterflies, made of paper and imported from Colombia, swayed in the wind. The streets resounded with cheering and singing. An old man carried a sign that read, “Gabo, I will see you in heaven.” A child told a reporter, “I’ve come to see the king of Macondo.”
García Márquez, who died on April 17, truly was “the king of Macondo,” the imaginary Colombian village (based on his own native town of Aracataca) where most of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” unfolds. The Nobel Prize for Literature was bestowed on him in 1982. His novels have been met with enthusiastic appreciation around the world.
His prose is so flexible and wide-ranging that it seems to contain all the words in the dictionary. An extraordinarily powerful storyteller, he painted his fictions in tropical colors — and in a style of Olympian dispassion fused with social commitment. The poetic overtones of his words and his way of creating characters welded fantasy and reality so effortlessly and totally together that the reader is continually shifted into accepting new versions of the world.
But for me and many other Latin-Americans, his undeniable literary achievement has been overshadowed by a moral failing: his long, intimate friendship with Fidel Castro and (far more important) his unflinching acceptance of the worst abuses of the Cuban regime.
Gabo, as he was affectionately known, once wrote that “all dictators … are victims” — which he may have really believed. It’s a sentiment one finds throughout “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” published in 1975, the year he began to firmly establish a personal link (which he had long desired) with Castro.
In three famous dispatches (a journalistic series entitled “Cuba From Head to Tail”), García Márquez wrote of the “almost telepathic communication” he saw between Castro and the Cuban people and asserted “he has survived intact from the insidious and ferocious corrosion of the daily application of power” and “set up a whole system of defense against the cult of personality.” He called Fidel “a genius reporter” whose “immense spoken reports,” made the Cuban people “one of the best informed in the world about its own reality.” Soon after this, however, when Alan Riding of The New York Times asked him why he didn’t move to Cuba, García Márquez replied: “It would be very difficult to … adapt myself to the conditions. I’d miss too many things. I couldn’t live with the lack of information.”
When he finally did get a house in Cuba, García Márquez began to share culinary adventures with Castro. Fidel’s Cuban master chef named a lobster dish “Langosta a la Macondo” in honor of Gabo, its great enthusiast. When questioned about his closeness to Castro, García Márquez responded that, for him, friendship was a supreme value. That may well have been so, but there was certainly a hierarchy to his friendships — with Fidel at the top.
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