“In Spite of the Dark Silence anticipates many of the concerns that would preoccupy Mexican novelists for the next two decades. Behind the critical existentialism of Volpi’s prose, behind his search for the truth about the lost poeta modernista, we can almost hear the echoes of Roberto Bolaño’s Los detectives salvajes, Juan Villoro’s El testigo, and more recently, Valeria Luiselli’s Los ingrávidos.”—Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas
As we end this week, we’d like to recall how last week ended: with the passing of the legendary writer Gabriel García Márquez. We asked Stephen M. Hart, author of Gabriel García Márquez, a few questions about Márquez’s life, legacy, and work.
Q: What is Márquez’s influence on arts and letters? How did his works, or magic realism at large, change the course of literary history?
SH: Despite the fact that a number of his works grew out of New Journalism—his writer’s apprenticeship was, after all, as a journalist in Barranquilla, Cartagena and Bogota in the late 1940s and early 1950s; one thinks of Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, and News of a Kidnapping—it is for his 1967 novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, that he achieved overnight celebrity. Though there were some precedents of the use of fantasy or magic in Latin—let’s say in the work of Jorge Luis Borges or Alejo Carpentier—it was García Márquez who managed to capture the imagination of readers all around the world. He was the pivotal figure behind the boom of Latin American literature in the 1960s; Gabo put Latin American literature on the world literary map. García Márquez’s magical realism changed the course of literary history because so many writers from all over the world began to see the world and write about it through magical realism-tinted glasses, ranging from Isabel Allende in Chile to Salman Rushdie in Britain and Ben Okri in West Africa.
Q: What was Márquez’s influence on Colombia’s political turmoil? How did his works bring Latin American struggles more generally into the global spotlight?
SH: His influence on Colombia’s political life was decisive. He developed the left-wing views for which he is famous during the 1950s; his political stance was based on a gut instinct that wealth has not been divided up equally between people around the globe and it was for that reason that he became a socialist. His socialism was from the very beginning a Cuba-centred affair; he developed a deep personal friendship with Fidel Castro and it never wavered throughout the years. Castro gave Gabo a house in Havana that he could use whenever he came to Cuba. The important thing though is that, for Gabo, politics and literature were intimately linked. Chapter 15 of One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the massacre by the Colombian Army of the banana plantation workers in Ciénaga who went on strike in December 1928, and it is a story which historians to this day disagree about. Were more than 3,000 people shot dead? Or was it only 8 as the Army said? This disagreement (which is a political matter as well as part of historical memory) is embedded within the story. The ghost of the Buendía family says that there were more than 3,000 people murdered, but the authorities said that nobody died; and the edginess of Gabo’s magical realism thrives on this! One of the most important features of García Márquez’s work is that he shows that the massacre, which occurred in December 1928 in Ciénaga, was Colombia’s Revolution, the Revolution-That-Never-Was. Even Colombia’s revolution was turned into a ghost!
Q: What is his most overlooked work, and why should we read it?
SH: His most overlooked work is Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor. It has all the ingredients of Gabo’s fiction: the close attention to realist detail; the beautifully cadenced sentences, which always have a sting in their tail, especially in their sub-clauses (the secret to Gabo’s artfulness); the inevitable appearance of the ghost; and the political allegory, which is never far from the surface.
Q: Can you add a few words about your own personal reactions to his passing and what you think his legacy might be?
SH: I think my reaction to Gabo’s passing is akin to the reaction of all those people who went to the Colombian Embassy in London, like I did today, to write down their thoughts about the impact that García Márquez had had on their lives. And the leitmotiv that ran through all the comments that I read in the Book of Condolences today was the simple expression: ‘Thank you Gabo’. Sadness, yes, but tinged by a profound gratitude for his unique life and work.
Stephen M. Hart is professor of Latin American film, literature, and culture at University College London. He is also the author of Companion to Latin American Literature.
We were so happy to read this fun interview with Billy Collins at the Boston Globe. What is he REALLY into these days? Reaktion’s Animal Series!
Check out his stable, his WWI book picks, and a little bit about how hilarious Samuel Beckett is at the Globe: http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2014/02/15/bibliophiles-billy-collins/XGleGyNP4jRWzjopdNcBnJ/story.html
Born in Brno, Czechoslovakia, on March 28, 1914, novelist Bohumil Hrabal spent decades working at a variety of laboring jobs before turning to writing in his late forties. From that point, he quickly made his mark on the Czech literary scene; by the time of his death in1997, he was ranked with Jaroslav Hašek, Karel Capek, and Milan Kundera as among the nation’s greatest twentieth-century writers. Hrabal’s fiction blends tragedy with humor and explores the anguish of intellectuals and ordinary people alike from a slightly surreal perspective. His work ranges from novels and poems to film scripts and essays and includes Closely Watched Trains (which was adapted into a film that won the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film in 1967), I Served the King of England, and Pirouettes on a Postage Stamp, the last also published by Karolinum Press.
To commemorate the centennial of Hrabal’s birth, Karolinum Press presents his short story collection Rambling On for the first time as Hrabal originally intended it. Several of the stories were written before the 1968 Soviet invasion of Prague but had to be reworked when they were rejected by Communist censorship during the 1970s. This edition features the original, uncensored versions of those stories available in English for the first time.
Later this year, Scots will take a historic vote: should they be free from the United Kingdom? It would be a major change for the country, and the New York Review of Books has just addressed the issue at hand, drawing on Reaktion’s new edition of Murray Pittock’s The Road to Independence?, with a forward by Alex Salmond. Read their thoughts in the March 20th edition, or online (paywall).
From lore to cooking tips to this fun fact: French pharmacists have been trained in mushroom identification. Listen to this great interview with Cynthia Bertelsen, author of Mushroom: A Global History, at WVTF radio: http://wvtf.org/post/mushroom-global-history
Thoughtful piece from Reorient magazine on the exhibition, The Fascination of Persia, for which Scheidegger & Spiess published this beautiful accompanying volume, at the Museum Reitberg in Switzerland
"The focus on Iran in an exhibition that is not only cross-cultural, but which also openly recognises the influence of the past on the present is a welcome endeavour in the curation of Middle Eastern art. Bypassing tired narratives of religious contrasts and strained politics, [it] presents a fresh interpretation of a mutual relationship and fascination between two worlds often discussed, but rarely understood and appreciated.”
English caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson, who died in 1827, satirized the royal family, British aristocracy, and legions of politicians, and social climbers. His colors are rich, his wit biting. Both are in ample supply in High Spirits (Royal Collection Trust). He delighted in drawing characters who can’t quite fit in their clothes and need a servant’s help buttoning up. Some targets tried to suppress his work, but at least one prince collected it, though come to think of it, maybe he merely wanted to keep Rowlandson’s parodies out of the public eye.
From “The Reckoning” to “Damage Control,” great last-minute gift ideas for the art lover in your life
Sharon Louden’s Living and Sustaining a Creative Live makes Salon.com’s list of 10 Best Art Books of 2013! @loudenstudio
In this day and age, when art has become more of a commodity and art school graduates are convinced that they can only make a living from their work by attaining gallery representation, it is more important than ever to show the reality of how an artist sustains a creative practice over time.