Read Don Quixote and One Hundred Years of Solitude and you will have attained an understanding of the whole of the Hispanic experience. So thinks Ilan Stavans in rendering his short but serviceable Gabriel García Márquez: The Early Years. More—or less—than just a biography, this study ten years in the making is Stavans’s search for the “raw material of literature,” that is, the genesis of One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967), masterpiece of García Márquez, the Colombian Nobel laureate.
Stavans, scholar of Latin America and Latino culture, professor at Amherst College, and recipient of Chile’s Presidential Medal, wanted to understand how Garcia Marquez came to write THE masterpiece (according to Stavans) of Latin American literature.
The author went to Colombia to discover his subject and set out on la ruta garcia marquena—the towns of Aracataca (birthplace), Riohacha, Santa Marta, Sucre, La Ciénega, Barranquilla, and Cartagena. All are places on or near the Caribbean coast in the north of the country. It is this very geography, Stavans reminds us, that gave García Márquez the unique vantage point to treat the whole of the Latin American experience—one part Caribbean and one part South American.
The book covers the years 1927, the birth year of García Márquez, to 1970, publication year of Gregory Rabassa’s English translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude. García Márquez himself acknowledged it as the best translation and called Rabassa “the best Latin American writer in English.”
Really an introduction and companion to One Hundred Years of Solitude, Stavans’s book examines García Márquez as the “father of magical realism,” and puts the author and his work into social and political context. Along the way, Stavans does an adequate job of tracing the path of his subject’s life in Colombia, exile, of sorts, in Europe, his trip to the Soviet bloc, life in New York City, and then settlement in Mexico City to write the novel. García Márquez’s education, career in journalism and screen writing, and his earlier short stories and novels are also treated well.
All personal, intellectual, historical, and cultural influences on the author, his homeland, and his continent come together in the depiction of an alternate universe represented by the founding and history of the town of Macondo, the fictional locale in northern Colombia of One Hundred Years of Solitude. For example, Colonel Aureliano Buendía, the novel’s central character, is based on General Rafael Uribe Uribe, the Liberal leader in the Thousand-Day War in Colombia (1899–1902).
Whether the claims made in this book are too bold remains an open question, but Stavans’s treatment impelled me to revisit my Spanish copy of the novel with renewed interest and understanding. Don Quixote in the original awaits on my shelf
F. Scott, now a copy editor by trade, is a once-and-future Latin teacher. He pursues his passions for brain plasticity, jazz piano, and golf in southeast Massachusetts. He lives alone with Cicero, Shakespeare, Mozart, and Ella Fitzgerald.
This book was provided free of any obligation by Palgrave Macmillan. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.