A Great Voice Stilled

The world’s greatest living novelist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, may no longer be able to write because of dementia, his brother has said.

Garcia Marquez, 85, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982, was the giant of the new Latin American literature. His masterpiece, 100 Years of Solitude, has sold more than 20 million copies and been translated into three dozen languages. It must rank among the best novels of the second half of the 20th century and may be the most influential novel in Spanish since Don Quixote.

Garcia Marquez’s trademark style was “magical realism,” in which events grounded in reality take off into the fantastic. A beautiful woman ascends directly to heaven. Following a brutal massacre, torrential rain starts falling on a town and continues for four years, seven months and 11 days.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez in 2002. Flickr Creative Commons/*malvenko Jose Lara 2002.

The native Colombian created a whole literary world out of the fictional town of Macondo, based on his birthplace. His novels are full of wit, imagination, epic passion and great insight into the nature of power. In works such as No One Writes to the Colonel, The General in His Labyrinth, and The Autumn of the Patriarch, he traced in excruciating detail how absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Garcia Marquez told Jon Lee Anderson of The New Yorker in 1999 that the late Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos had said he liked The Autumn of the Patriarch “’because it’s true; we’re all like that.”‘

One reason Garcia Marquez was so astute about power was because, well, he loved to hobnob with the powerful, from French President François Mitterand to Torrijos to his most notorious friend, Fidel Castro, of whom he once said, “I am perhaps the one person Fidel can trust most in the world.”

Fidel Castro earlier this year in Havana. Flickr Creative Commons/Las Razones de Cuba

Garcia Marquez always has been a man of the left, and he has had the fatal weakness of leftist intellectuals—a blind spot to the brutality of Communist regimes. The great Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa has called him “Castro’s courtesan.” Though Garcia Marquez also used his name—and his connections, including with Castro—to negotiate peace between warring factions in Colombia’s decades-long civil wars, this is inexcusable.

But Garcia Marquez joins a long list of writers who were seduced by totalitarian parties and leaders of the right and left—from Ezra Pound to Louis-Ferdinand Céline to Lillian Hellman to Richard Wright. And his work, which shows far shrewder insight into dictators than he himself has shown in his life, speaks for itself.

Now he will have nothing further to say. His magnificent autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale, will end after one volume.

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old; they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams,” he famously said.

Dementia destroys dreams. But Gabriel Garcia Marquez has shared his dreams with us through his books, and they will never grow old.

 

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