Thursday, April 17, 2014

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: A Complicated Character

Gabriel García Márquez: 1927-2014
Gabriel García Márquez, Nobel Prize Winner, Colombia's most famous author, leftist icon and a writer whose work captured Colombian history and culture, died today at age 87.

I'll leave evaluating his fiction to others with better literary taste, except to say that I've enjoyed his autobiography and journalistic reporting more than his fiction, and his lesser-known works - particularly the historically-based ones - more than his master work, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

It's sad that Márquez, Colombia's only Nobel Prize winner and a pioneer of a style of fiction known as magical realism, died as the second-most-famous-Colombian, behind the monstrous Pablo Escobar. 

Márquez will be remembered as a great artist and great Colombian - both of which are true. But, unfortunately, he'll also be remembered as a kind of saint and patriot - which is less true.

Márquez was a leftist, and perhaps something of a leftist of convenience during his later decades. During its early years, when it was still politically palatable, Márquez associated himself with the M-19 guerrillas. Threats resulting from that relationship drove him out of the country, and Márquez lived for the last half century in Mexico City, even tho Colombia's political climate had improved enough to permit him to safely return home.

Márquez's leftist rhetoric and ideas earned him the friendship of Fidel Castro, whom Márquez visited repeatedly in Havana, where Márquez had a home. Márquez, who got his start in writing as a journalist, also created a foundation to teach journalism and purchased and then sold a weekly newsmagazine, Cambio. Yet, I almost never heard anybody call Márquez on the contradiction between promoting free speech and befriending - and thus supporting - the hemisphere's last dictator and greatest repressor of free speech.

Márquez was sometimes criticized for not being more philanthropic. The comparison to singer Shakira, of Hips Don't Lie fame, is not flattering. Shakira's art may be more superficial than Márquez's, but with her Pies Descalzos children's foundation she's given a lot more to her country.

In 1972, after winning the Venezuelan Romulo Vallegos literary prize, Márquez gave the $100,000 award to a Venezuelan political party: the Movement Toward Socialism. Couldn't Marquez have found a worthy cause at home? his critics asked.

Where Márquez rested on his leftist laurels, his sometimes-friend, sometimes-enemy, fellow Peruvian Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, remains politically active and opinionated (Vargas Llosa is also a decade younger).

Márquez was certainly a great artist. But whether his character made him a great man is a different matter, and the two shouldn't be confused.

Addendum: Maria Fernanda Cabal, recently elected to Congress with the conservative Centro Democratico Party, made waves by tweeting a photograph of Márquez and Fidel Castro with the phrase 'Soon they'll be together in hell.' A few hours later, she erased the tweet. She later tweeted that she didn't question Márquez's literary greatness, but did question his 'indifference toward Colombia.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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