Never underestimate the power of a grandmother to leave her mark on coming generations, or the taste of her cooking to cause an epiphany big enough to give the world a shiver. It was in Tranquilina Iguarán Cotes’s great house in the village of Aracataca, Colombia, just inland from the southern shores of the Caribbean, where the young Gabriel García Márquez got to know his first ghosts. He grew up to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, and in a charming piece he wrote for Granta 10: Travel Writing, titled ‘Watching the Rain in Galicia’ (Margaret Jull Costa’s first ever published translation), he pays homage to her cooking as being symbolic of ‘All the joy, all the uncertainties, and all the solitude of childhood’. He writes lovingly of her conversations with the dead and her ‘credulity which allowed her to live in a supernatural world in which everything was possible, and where rational explanations were totally lacking in validity’. She was the key to his perfection of a style, coined as magical realism, which juxtaposes a deadpan tone with elements of the fantastic, giving the world one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century literature, One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Last week, readers the world over took a collective moment to remember the iconic Colombian writer when the sad news of his death, at eighty-seven years of age, was announced in Mexico. One of the most widely read Nobels ever, and at fifty-five among the youngest to have received the prize, he wasn’t merely admired; he was beloved, adored, treasured. Famously anti-intellectual, García Márquez was an intuitive writer who hated theory, he was a journalist who wrote novels, he said, and who detested tape recorders. He wrote for his friends, to beguile them into wanting more.
Of his over forty books that include novels, countless shorter pieces, articles, memoirs and reportage – he contributed three more pieces to Granta; ‘The Solitude of Latin America’, his Nobel speech, appeared in Granta 9; ‘The Future of Colombia’ in Granta 31; and ‘Dreams for Hire’ in Granta 41 – One Hundred Years of Solitude is where his enchanting skills as a storyteller come to full animation, creating a cosmography of the imaginary town of Macondo, a sort of Caribbean Yoknapatawpha. Along with his grandmother and grandfather, the Colonel Nicolás Márquez, Juan Rulfo, Kafka, Faulkner, Virginia Woolf and the Bible also inspired and influenced his writing. The publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude and its immediate worldwide success alerted readers to the fact that they were missing out on the work of a brilliant generation of Latin American writers known as the ‘boom generation’, many of whom were Granta contributors. The Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, who won the Nobel Prize in 2010, was made the centre of issue 36, themed Vargas Llosa for President. Other writers to emerge on the world stage at the time were the Cuban Guillermo Cabrera Infante, the Argentine Julio Cortázar, the Mexican Carlos Fuentes or the Chilean José Donoso.
‘On a day like today,’ García Márquez wrote in his Nobel speech, ‘my master William Faulkner said, “I decline to accept the end of man.” I would feel unworthy of standing in this place that was his, if I were not fully aware that the colossal tragedy he refused to recognize thirty-two years ago is now, for the first time since the beginning of humanity, nothing more than a simple scientific possibility. Faced with this awesome reality that must have seemed a mere utopia through all of human time, we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late to engage in the creation of a utopia of a very different kind. A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they will die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.’ Gabo, as millions of readers called him affectionately, continues to breathe in his work, in the pages of stories that will continue asking the generations to come to believe in Tranquilina’s ghosts.
photograph © Nationaal Archief