Gabo: 40 years since the Nobel, a very present loneliness

Decades passed but One Hundred Years of Solitude It is a novel that lives on. The book, Gabriel García Márquez’s masterpiece, was published a little over half a century ago and this Friday marks 40 years since that morning the author’s phone rang in Mexico City to announce that he had won the Nobel Prize. . That call from the Swedish Academy of Letters that catapulted the writer from the small Colombian town of Aracataca to the Olympus of the classics that find immortality. García Márquez, Gabo, passed away in 2014. His work, on the other hand, only finds new lives.

One Hundred Years of Solitude It is a book that Gabo made with his whole body, with all his senses, he created that world of Macondo that has all possible dimensions, and that is why it is a total book”, says Jaime Abello, director of the Gabo Foundation in Colombia who is week celebrates in Bogotá the tenth edition of the Gabo Festival with 80 international and 100 national guests in more than 100 talks and workshops. Various events will be held to celebrate Gabo’s enormous legacy as a novelist and journalist, as an author who continues to find new readers and new readings.

“Although it is a book that is already popular worldwide, in Colombia it has a political meaning, because it transformed the perception we had of ourselves,” adds Abello. “Before we insisted on seeing ourselves as an exclusively Andean country, and even half Greek when we called ourselves ‘the South American Athens’. That ideology was shattered with One Hundred Years of Solitudea novel that spoke to us from the town, that spoke of violence, of decadence, but also of the joy of living”.

Gabriel García Márquez accepting the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature.Gabriel Garcia Marquez Papers (Harry Ransom Center)

The journey of the Buendía family in Macondo de One Hundred Years of Solitude it can be read in many ways, but one is politics, as Abello explains, because gun violence and inequality run through its pages. When Gabo went to receive the award, he said that perhaps it was the violence of Latin America, that “huge reality, and not just its literary expression,” that caught the attention of the jury. “We have had to ask very little of the imagination, because the biggest challenge for us has been the insufficiency of conventional resources to make our life believable. This is, friends, the knot of our loneliness,” he said.

President Gustavo Petro is one of those readers who adopted One Hundred Years of Solitude almost like a bible or a political parable. The day of his inauguration, he surrounded the city squares with drawings of yellow butterflies, symbols of the novel, and he does not miss an opportunity to quote the Nobel Prize winner in his speeches. On the first day of his government, he quoted the last sentence of the book that speaks of “the lineages condemned to a hundred years of solitude” that “did not have a second chance on earth”, to say that his presidency could be that second chance. In his speech to the UN he spoke of yellow butterflies and the “sickness of loneliness”. When he was mayor of Bogotá he inaugurated a huge mural with the word Macondo under Gabo’s facein the center of the city, a year after his death.


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In his biography, One Life, Many Lives, Petro talks about the parallels he perceives between his life and that of the Nobel: they were both men from the Colombian Caribbean who lived in the cold Andean town of Zipaquirá. In honor of the work, as a member of the M-19 guerrilla he chose as a nom de guerre that of a protagonist in the book: Aureliano, the one who “escaped fourteen attacks, seventy-three ambushes and a firing squad.” “You didn’t have to read the book but live it,” writes Petro in his biography.

Petro is not the only president who uses One Hundred Years of Solitude as a political conceptual framework—upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016, former President Juan Manuel Santos also spoke of the second chance on earth and of that Macondo where “no one could know for sure where the limits of reality were”. “Gabo is not just a few books that are there, but he is alive in our public discourse,” adds Abello. “Almost all the presidents have cited Gabo, but the one who cites him the most is Petro, with frequency and intensity, and it would be good if we framed that now in a public policy, so that we take advantage of Gabo’s legacy in the education sector or in culture diplomacy.

Mercedes Barcha Pardo and Gabriel García Márquez in Los Angeles, in 2008.
Mercedes Barcha Pardo and Gabriel García Márquez in Los Angeles, in 2008.steve pyke

Part of the infinite power of One Hundred Years of Solitude is that it does not have a single reading. The book does not change its letters but it reinvents itself in each reader, and with each generation. Pilar Quintana, Colombian novelist and winner of the Alfaguara award in 2021, considers that the most political reading “speaks more about the person who reads, than about the book. They are readings away from the literary, and it’s great that the book finds that circle of readers, but that does not depend on the author, that is the reader’s prerogative. Of course, literature can be a reflection of societies, it allows us to think about ourselves, but when I read a book I also live in another universe, in another world, not mine, and that is super powerful. What García Márquez achieved was to create a magnificent universe.”

As the years go by—the 40 for the Nobel Prize, the 55 for the book—Quintana says that what amazes One Hundred Years of Solitude is that a Colombian, from a small provincial town has managed to write a masterpiece of universal literature. “As the years go by, and one matures and sees what one can do as a writer, and then one sees what this man did at the age of 40, write that monumental work of literature in Spanish that is up there with The QuijoteWell, I still find it impressive to have been alive when that miracle happened. It was as if Colombia had won the World Cup,” says Quintana.

Every year there is a Nobel, but only once in a while does one appear who enters that summit of universal literature, and that implies that the book does not stop finding different readings. There are strange consequences in those readings, says Quintana. The author of The dog Y The Abysses She has found reviews in Europe that say her novels are magical realism, like Gabo’s classic, as if a Colombian author could not leave the genre that international readers loved. “What I do couldn’t be further from magical realism, I’m as realistic as it gets,” she says. Gabo’s legacy can also lead to wrong readings of what Colombian literature is, although that, of course, is neither the Nobel’s nor the novel’s fault.

“García Márquez spoke in his Nobel Prize speech about the chronicles of the Indies, which invented or discovered a new continent for the Europeans,” says Colombian novelist Juan Gabriel Vásquez. “In a sense, it’s the same thing he did One hundred years of solitude: he invented Latin America for several European and even North American generations. Then come the consequences that have nothing to do with the novel, but belong to the manipulation that readers make of it. And so it can be said that A hundred years it opened a door to understanding a misunderstood or unknown culture, and at the same time it created a version of Latin America that has later served others to justify simplifications, shortcuts or cheapening of our complex reality. As I say, this is not the fault of that extraordinary novel.”

Colombian writer and Nobel laureate for literature Gabriel García Márquez poses for a portrait session in Cartagena, Colombia, on February 20, 1991.
Colombian writer and Nobel laureate for literature Gabriel García Márquez poses for a portrait session in Cartagena, Colombia, on February 20, 1991.Ulf Andersen (Getty Images)

Álvaro Santana Acuña is a professor of sociology at Whitman College, United States, and author of the book Ascent to Glory (in the process of being published in Spanish) on how One Hundred Years of Solitude It went from being a book of the Latin American boom to a classic work of universal literature. “In recent years the reading of magical realism has been giving way to more realistic interpretations of the book,” he says of the more political approach taken by political figures like Petro.

Santana says that, when it was published in the sixties, the novel read more like a work that had a lot of humor. “And it is true that A hundred years it is full of jokes, sarcasm, and that way of reading it has been lost, now there is more talk of death and violence in the novel”, he says. “In the 1970s and 1980s, reading predominated as a work of magical realism, and in the 1990s as a post-colonial work. Now I would say that it is a classic work that highlights the realistic side, but also reads, for example, the role of women giving it feminist interpretations; or the degradation of the environment in the novel is seen as a parable of the modern world that ends in the final apocalypse. That is why it is not a dead work, it is a work that continues to tell us things”.

More readings to come One Hundred Years of Solitude. The Netflix platform, for example, working on an adaptation to the novel, in series form and produced by Gabo’s sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo. “How can the Netflix adaptation change readers’ adaptation of the novel?” asks Santana. Pinocchiofor example, is now read more with Disney’s eyes than as Carlo Collodi described it in his book; Peter Pan it’s more light-hearted in its Hollywood version than what James Matthew Barrie wrote. “Perhaps, in the Netflix adaptation, we will see an interesting use of special effects, which can once again give the work that stronger reading linked to magical realism,” says Santana.

One Hundred Years of Solitude It has the virtue that it has been a work that has a diverse public, popular and elite, Latin American and universal, for those who want to see it on television or listen to a political speech. The novel can have humor, climate change, war or hope. A classic that, decades later, has never been left alone and continues to have many opportunities on earth.

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Gabo: 40 years since the Nobel, a very present loneliness