Remembering Gabriel García Márquez
Gabriel García Márquez remembered by Michael Crummey and Lisa Moore
Photo: Canadian Press
Literary legend Gabriel García Márquez passed away on April 17 at the age of 87. His work was an inspiration to Canadians, including some of our most celebrated writers.
Michael Crummey resisted reading Márquez for a long time, only to have 100 Years of Solitude greatly influence his novel Galore. Here, Crummey shares what it was about Márquez that inspired him and why his writing reminds him of Newfoundland.
Marquez was probably the biggest discovery for me as a reader in the last ten years or so. I'd avoided him for a long time because a) the books are long and the prose is dense, and b) I assumed I wouldn't like it because it was supposedly 'magical realism', which always felt like a cheat to me. If anything can happen, then a writer has no work to do. Just send in an angel or a ghost when you run into trouble.
I read 100 Years of Solitude in 2005 and was completely convinced by it. There's an authority to the narrative voice in his books that can't be faked. And the thing that struck me most about it was, despite how completely foreign that world was to me in so many ways, I was reminded again and again of Newfoundland. People's relationship to one another, to the church, their familiarity and comfort with the 'nether world,' of things that can't be seen or touched but are accepted as real. The way Marquez moves from low humour to a biblical seriousness, sometimes in the same sentence. Even before I finished the novel, I had made up my mind to try and write a book that did some of the same things with Newfoundland history and folklore. And Galore is largely just a riff on material and approaches I discovered in 100 Years of Solitude.
I've read most everything by him since then. And have been saying for a while now that Love in the Time of Cholera is the best book I've ever read."
Lisa Moore shares which of Márquez's short stories has stayed with her over the years, and how his improbable magic realism once manifested itself before her eyes.
I always think of the story "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings."
In a Paris Review interview, Marquez once said he could make people believe magic if he described it in enough detail. So if he said that a man left a big swathe of butterflies behind him whenever he left a house, that would not be enough to get the reader to suspend disbelief. But if he said 'yellow butterflies,' the reader would believe him.
A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings is story about an Angel who falls to earth - or just a very old man, who might be a Norwegian sailor who happens to have wings - and the story begins with a plague of red crabs, so plentiful they enter the house and must be carried out by the armful, and leave a fishy stink in the air.
I always thought this was a peculiar detail. I could believe the angel, he had parasites crawling in his wings, and he moulted and got old and banged into posts because he couldn't see; he was very human. But what about these crabs, pouring into the house? What could they mean?
The image frightened me right to my core, when I first read it, a hundred years ago. I am afraid of plagues, I guess. They seemed like a detail thrown in to make the Angel seem hyper-real. They worked.
About five years ago I was on a bus in Cuba ( where One Hundred Years of Solitude is set), and the bus was engulfed in rain. I was very sleepy and could hardly see out the windows because they were slathered with a film of water probably a couple of inches thick.
And then all of a sudden the whole bus filled with the stink of fish. It was such a strong stench it woke me up. I went to the front to look out the window, between the wiper sweeps, and the asphalt road stretching before us was a bright crimson carpet. A solid red stripe of road, stretching as far as the eye could see. Then I saw it was moving, writhing. It was red crabs. They were crossing the road. The driver said that if we were in a taxi, or any vehicle with smaller tires, the crabs would pinch the tires and they would go flat and we would be stranded with the crabs. The fish smell in the bus was the crunched crabs we were driving over. It occurred to me that the magic in Marquez was real. It really was real.
I love how ancient the storytelling seems in Marquez - and the same time how innovative and new it is for me, every time I read it. I love how easily he makes me suspend disbelief."