Singing in the Rain

Strange Pilgrims: Twelve Stories

by Gabriel García Márquez, translated by Edith Grossman
Knopf, 188 pp., $21.00

Gabriel García Márquez: Solitude and Solidarity

by Michael Bell
St. Martin's, 160 pp., $29.95

Gabriel García Márquez
Gabriel García Márquez; drawing by David Levine

Films can more easily be truly international than modern novels. A film’s appeal is less parochial, more immediate, more comprehensive. Publishers are shy of translating and trying to sell the latest fictional masterpiece from Portugal or Turkey or Bulgaria: they know all too well how limited its appeal will be, and how limited a grasp of its real virtues will be achieved by the most sympathetically disposed reader. Even Mark Kharitenov, the first winner of the Russian Booker Prize, and an accomplished novelist in the classic Russian tradition, has still to see an English version of his work.

But Latin America has been somehow different. The local characteristics, which so often inhibit the success of a novel when it is translated into a quite different culture, have somehow served miraculously to popularize One Hundred Years of Solitude. Critics and literary theorists, in Europe and in North America, hailed the advent of a new vision and a new technique in novel writing, and dubbed it “magic realism.” The author, Gabriel García Márquez, who was already well known as a journalist and story writer in his native Colombia and in the Spanish-speaking world, became as famous and respected a name in literary circles as the Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges.

It may be of significance that Márquez had been working in the Mexican film industry in the late Sixties when he produced on paper, in an eighteen-month burst of creative energy, a project for a novel on the history of a family in South America which had been maturing in his head for years under the general title of La Casa, “the house.” He was then approaching forty. The great critical and commercial success of One Hundred Years of Solitude transformed his life, and enabled him to produce his subsequent work in economic security. The Autumn of the Patriarch came out in 1975; and there followed Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), and The General in his Labyrinth (1989). While none of these has achieved the spectacular success of One Hundred Years of Solitude, all have broken fresh ground in their outlook and technique, and all have been received with praise and attention. Márquez has never repeated his own formula, no matter how much it may have been taken up and exploited by later novelists.

Always an enthusiast for the movies and an admirer especially of the Italian masterpieces of the genre, such as de Sica’s and Zavattini’s Umberto D, Márquez himself would probably be the first to suggest that the apparently freewheeling world of magic realism owed a great deal to this always experimental medium. For the rest, there is the opinion of the Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier, who absorbed the precepts of surrealism during the interwar period in Paris, and who maintained in a famous essay that it was the only appropriate artistic…

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