A few preliminary notes:

--1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.
One Hundred Years of Solitude.  1967, in Spanish.  1970, in English.  Capstone of magical realism.
The Autumn of the Patriarch.  1975.  Point of view tag.
Chronicle of a Death Foretold.  1983.  "Murder, sex, retribution."
--Short fiction in late 50s, 60s, while writing
One Hundred Years of Solitude: Leaf Storm; No One Writes to the Colonel; In Evil Hour; Big Mama's Funeral.
--Known to his friends as "Gabo."
--Born 1928 in Aracataca, Colombia.
--Political activist, advocate of social revolution in Third World, Latin America particularly.
--Close friend of Fidel Castro, François Mitterand.
--Limited visa in U.S.


Gabriel García Márquez: on writing, on his writing, and in general.

"The Great American novel was written by Herman Melville.  I am one of the great propagandists for North American literature.  I have said to audiences everywhere in the world that the North American novelists have been the giants of the century."

(About a bus trip in the U.S. South in 1961): "I had recently read Faulkner and greatly admired him, so I made this trip by--what do you call it?--Greyhound, from New York down to the Mexican border.  I traveled by bus because I wanted to see the country from the small, dusty roads that Faulkner described--and also because I had almost no money. . . .  In Faulkner's country, I remember seeing the small stores along the roadway with people seated out front with their feet up on railings.  There was the same kind of poverty contrasting with great wealth.  In some ways, it seemed to me that Faulkner was also a writer of the Caribbean, because of the great influence the area has had on the Gulf of Mexico and on Mississippi."

"I'm fascinated by the relationship between literature and  journalism.  I began my career as a journalist in Colombia, and a reporter is something I've never stopped being."

(About Fidel Castro): "We are good friends. . . .  We talk a great deal about literature.  Fidel is a fantastic reader. . . .  Whenever I go to Cuba, I always take Fidel a stack of books. . . .  Once, I remember, I left him a copy of Bram Stoker's
Dracula, which is really an absolutely fantastic book but one that intellectuals consider unworthy.  Well, I took that book to Fidel one night--about two in the morning. . . .  That night he had many important state documents to read and consider.  Well, we talked for about an hour, and then we met again the next day at noon.  'Gabriel, you screwed me!' he said.  'That book; I couldn't get a minute's sleep.'  He'd read Dracula from four in the morning till 11 A.M."

(On what a young prostitute tells her lover in "The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother"--"What I like about you is the serious way you make up nonsense"--): ". . .it is an absolutely autobiographical statement.  It is not only a definition of my work, it is a definition of my character.  I detest solemnness, and I am capable of saying the most atrocious things, the most fantastic things, with a completely straight face.  This is a talent I inherited from my grandmother--my mother's mother--Doña Tranquilina.  She was a fabulous storyteller who told wild tales of the supernatural with a most solemn expression on her face.  As I was growing up, I often wondered whether or not her stories were truthful.  Usually, I tended to believe her because of her serious, deadpan facial expression.  Now, as a writer, I do the same thing; I say extraordinary things in a serious tone.  It's possible to get away with anything as long as you make it believable."
For example:
One Hundred Years of Solitude traces the Buendía family through six generations in the mythical village of Macondo.  It begins with founding the village in a time when "the world was so recent that many things lacked names," and ends with the last of the Buendías, an infant born with the tail of a pig, being carried away by ants as the Buendía line is extinguished.  Between all of that, Macondo experiences the "banana fever," the "insomnia plague," 32 civil wars, revolution, counterrevolution, strikes, and a rain that lasts nearly five years.  There's a priest who levitates when he drinks chocolate, for instance.

". . .in all my books, [my] starting point is reality.  I provide a magnifying glass so readers can understand reality better.  Let me give you an example.  In the "Eréndira" story, I have the character Ulises make glass change color every time he touches it.  Now, that can't be true.  But so much has already been said about love that I had to find a new way of saying that this boy is in love.  So 'Those things happen only because of love.'  Mine is just another way of saying the same thing that has always been said about love; how it upsets life, how it upsets everything."

"To grow up in such an environment (Latin America) is to have fantastic resources for poetry.  In the Caribbean, we are capable of believing anything, because we have the influences of all those different cultures, mixed in with Catholicism and our own local beliefs.  I thing that gives us an openmindedness to look beyond apparent reality.  As a child growing up in the Caribbean village of Aracataca, I heard wonderful stories of people who were able to move chairs by simply looking at them.  There was a man in Aracataca who had the facility for deworming cows--for healing their infections--by standing in front of the beasts.  He would stand in front of the cow and the worms would start coming out of the head of the cow. . . .  If I could explain it, I wouldn't be trying to tell you about it now.  That seemed marvelous to me as a child, and it still does."

"With my grandmother, every natural event had a supernatural interpretation.  If a butterfly flew in the window, she'd say, 'We must be careful--someone in the family is sick.'  When I was a child, my grandmother would wake me in the night and tell me horrible stories of people who, for some reason, had a presentiment of their death, of the dead who appeared, of the dead who didn't appear.  Often, our house in Aracataca, our huge house, seemed as if it were haunted.  All those early experiences have somehow found themselves in my literature."

One Hundred Years of Solitude, a group of yellow butterflies always precedes the appearance of Mauricio Babilonia, the lover of Meme Buendía.  The realistic base of this story is that there was an electrician who came to our house in Aracataca to fix things.  Once, after his visit, my grandmother found a butterfly--which she quickly hit with a dish towel--in the kitchen.  'Every time that man comes into this house we always get butterflies,' she declared.  . . . .the world of women was so fantastic that it escaped me. . . but my grandfather told me stories about real things, like war, wild, true, believable. . . .  He had a practical sense."

". . . [but] I believe that in most cases, women are the  practical sex.  It's men who are the romantics and who go off and do all kinds of crazy things; women know that life is hard.  Úrsula is a prototype of that kind of practical, life-sustaining woman.  After Úrsula, I most like her great-great granddaughter Amaranta Úrsula.  Of all the Buendía offspring, she's the one who most resembles the original Úrsula--but without the older woman's complexes and prejudices.  Amaranta. . . is Úrsula again--but emancipated now, with the experiences of the world, with modern ideas.  However, living in the atmosphere created by Colonel Buendía--the atmosphere of the conservative triumph--she is not permitted to develop her personality.  The history of Latin America is a series of such frustrations."

(On the importance of writing about one's own reality): ". . .I had the feeling that the whole town was dead--even those who were alive. . . .  That day I realized that all the short stories I had written to that point were simply intellectual elaborations, nothing to do with my reality.  When I returned to Barranquilla, I immediately sat down and wrote my first novel (
Leaf Storm)."

(On process--M's stories seem to come slowly, but finalize themselves all at once): ". . .One day, in 1965, I think, I was going to Acapulco by car.  And all of a sudden--I don't know why--I had this illumination as to how to write the book.  I had the tone, everything! . . . So I returned to Mexico City and sat down for the next 18 months to write from nine in the morning till three in the afternoon."

(On the disasters of getting the book out): "Once, toward the end [of the book] the typist who had the only copies of many of the chapters of the book was hit by a bus.  So the only copies of half the book went flying all over a Mexico City street.  Fortunately, the bus didn't kill her, and she was able to get up and reassemble the manuscript.  Finally, when it was finished, we needed 160 pesos to send it off to the publisher in Buenos Aires.  Mercedes had only 80 pesos left.  So I divided the manuscript in half, mailed half off, and then pawned Mercedes' Mixmaster and hair dryer to pay for the other half."

(On the book existing on its own): "The problem is that, unlike God, you can't kill characters so easily.  You have to kill a character when it really dies.  That is what happened to Úrsula Buendía.  If you work it out, she must be 200 years old.  While I was writing
One Hundred Years of Solitude, I realized frequently that she had lived too long, and I tried to have her die.  However, she continued.  I always needed her for something.  She had to be kept until she died naturally."

(On process): "When I sit down to write, which is the essential moment in my life, I am completely alone.  . . .Whenever I write a book, I accumulate a lot of documentation.  That background material is the most intimate part of my private life.  It's a little embarrassing--like being seen in your underwear. . . .  It's like the way magicians never tell others how they make a dove come out of a hat. . . .  There isn't anything more wonderful than writing when you truly have a book in your grip.  That is what I call inspiration.  There is a definite state of mind that exists when one is writing that is called inspiration.  But that state of mind is not a divine whisper, as the romantics thought.  What it is is the perfect correspondence between you and the subject you're working on.  When that happens, everything starts to flow by itself.  That is the greatest joy one can have, the best moment."

(On purpose of art, writing): "[Books should] describe situations.  They don't have to give solutions."  Gabriel García Márquez says Art should be difficult, like
Ulysses, in that it is "layered" and will last for generations.  Art should not pass as a fad.  An artist does not observe anything any differently than anyone else, just more of it, and realizes the importance of the extraordinary events.  "You need innocence" to see.

Gabriel García Márquez: ". . .if I had not become a writer, I'd want to have been a piano player in a bar.  That way, I could have made a contribution to making lovers feel even more loving toward each other.  If I can achieve that much as a writer--to have people love one another more because of my books--I think that's the meaning I've wanted for my life."

--Notes originally compiled with the help of Barbara Burns

Alberto Ríos
Department of English
Box 870302
Arizona State University
Tempe AZ 85287-0302
(480) 965-3800
Top of Page

Date last modified:
Saturday, May 25, 2002