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The greatest tribute to Gabriel García Márquez is acknowledging the world he came out of.
Death does not come with old age, it comes with oblivion.” Gabriel García Márquez feared silence more than the end of his physical existence. The oblivion that comes with losing one’s mind. Not the silence enveloped by the magical and the mundane, the quietude and violence, the smell of bananas and the breath of the Caribbean that made his novels masterpieces beyond his country and continent. Pablo Neruda had hailed One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) as the “greatest revelation in the Spanish language since Don Quixote”. But the book that made Gabo an international celebrity, secured the Latin American “boom” a worldwide readership and changed the course of Spanish American literature, was not the writer’s own favourite. That label was reserved for The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975).
Apart from the difficult, loneliness-inducing fame One Hundred Years brought Gabo, the novel didn’t begin either magic realism of the Latin American variety or the boom. Alejo Carpentier is a fitter candidate for the title “father of magic realism”. But Márquez put his signature on it. At least three other novels — Cabrera Infante’s Three Trapped Tigers (1965), Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Green House (1966) and Carlos Fuentes’s A Change of Skin (1967) — begot the boom, but Márquez is the primary reason that phenomenon continued to define the post-boom generation of writers, even as they proclaimed their hatred for it. In The General in His Labyrinth, Simón Bolívar is broken and delirious, a vulnerable human being. That doesn’t destroy his myth, just as Gabo’s long silence and illness have taken nothing away from his legacy.
The greatest tribute that can be paid to this tallest pillar of a great literary tradition is the acknowledgement that the Spanish American civilisation did not acquire its sophistication in the 1960s. It just took its richness and the plurality of its Spanish, Indian and Black heritage for granted. That is the world Márquez, his politics and his prose came out of. A world so extreme that fact and fiction are one and the same, almost magical.