Gabriel Garcia Marquez has died. Some writers and artists are waymarkers in our lives and he was one for me. There’s a book called The Fragrance of Guava, which is a transcript of a conversation that he had with his friend, the Columbian writer and diplomat, Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza. In it he is asked about Magical Realism. Here’s Mendoza’s question and his answer. The line about the circus is absolutely spellbinding.
“The way you treat reality in your books, especially in One Hundred Years of Solitude and in The Autumn of the Patriarch, has been called ‘magical realism’. I have the feeling your European readers are usually aware of the magic in your stories but fail to see the reality behind it. . .”
“This is surely because their rationalism prevents them seeing that reality isn’t limited to the price of tomatoes and eggs. Everyday life in Latin America proves that reality is full of the most extraordinary things. To make this point I usually cite the case of the American explorer F. W. Up de Graff who made an incredible journey through the Amazon jungle at the end of the last century and saw, among other things, a river with boiling water, and a place where the sound of the human voice brought on torrential rain. In Comodoro Rivadavia, in the extreme south of Argentina, winds from the South Pole swept a whole circus away and the next day fishermen caught the bodies of lions and giraffes in their nets. In Rig Mama’s Funeral I tell the story of an unimaginable, impossible journey by the Pope to a Colombian village. I remember describing the President who welcomed him as bald. and stocky so as not to make him look like the President in power at the time, who was tall and bony. Eleven years after this story was written, the Pope did go to Colombia and the President who welcomed him was bald and stocky just like the one in the story. After I’d written One Hundred Years of Solitude, a boy turned up in Barranquilla claiming to have a pig’s tail. You only have to open the newspapers to see that extraordinary things happen to us every day. I know very ordinary people who’ve read One Hundred Years of Solitude carefully and with a lot of pleasure, but with no surprise at all because, when all is said and done, I’m telling them nothing that hasn’t happened in their own lives.”