Living to Tell the Tale may read like a complete work of fantastical fiction akin to his other works, but it in fact tells the story of Gabriel García Márquez’s life. Indeed, much of his work is a case of art imitating reality, and the magical and impossible stories can be found littered in the life of this extraordinary man.
Márquez was born in Columbia in 1927, in a town called Aracataca, which was later immortalised as the fictional town of Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude. His parents too became subject to his fiction and aspects of their romance can be seen in Love in the Time of Cholera. It was his grandparents however, who were more prevalent in his early life and who really helped to shape the man and the writer Márquez was to become. His grandfather was a liberal and colonel during the thousand day’s war and his political ideas and experiences of war surrounded the young Márquez, as did his grandmother’s adamant beliefs in ghosts and premonitions. The influences of both are etched deep into both the stories and the styles of writing Márquez went on to emulate. Despite being most closely associated with his fictional masterpieces, Márquez, no doubt influenced by his grandfather’s political interests, began his writing career as a journalist, writing for newspapers such as El Universal and El Heraldo. He also struck up a friendship with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro; something The Economist claims allowed him ‘an opportunity to exercise his political influence from the sidelines’.
It becomes almost impossible then to separate the life from the fiction, they are so closely entwined, each giving birth to the other. For instance, it is having been shown ice for the first time by his grandfather that Márquez was able to pen what has become one of the greatest opening lines in literature; “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.”
Márquez, along with other prominent Latin American writers such as George Luis Borges, was associated with the literary genre of magical realism. Although this label, as with any similar generalisation of style, is problematic, it does help to broadly sum up the style of Márquez’s fictional work. The real and the magical are entwined in a world which is recognisably our own, and the fantastical incorporated and accepted as an aspect of life. Márquez’s most famous work, One Hundred Years of Solitude, which begins with the lines above, tells the story of the Buendía family who founded the town of Macondo. Echoing his life with his grandparents, the novel follows over seven generations of the family as they witness all forms of life, including the banana massacres and wars of Márquez’s grandfather’s lifetime. The book manages to capture this feeling of cyclical Latin American history and a vast image of a continent’s change and upheaval as well as questioning our inherent ideas about the nature of time and reality, blending seamlessly this combination of myth and history in Latin America.
Márquez was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 and after being awarded it claimed; “I have the impression that in giving me the prize, they have taken into account the literature of the sub-continent and have awarded me as a way of awarding all of this literature.” His work creates the kind of beauty only the best storytellers can. Chronicling not only the political and historical aspects of a nation, Márquez brought the cultural aspects of an entire continent to the fore and fashioned them into tales of wonder and brilliance. The tales of ghosts and premonitions, of love and death, are not fantasy; these are stories, which instead do the opposite and allow the ‘city of mirrors’, as Macondo was, to reflect the realities of human nature. Márquez’s life and works, recreate reality at its most real, magic and all.