Gabriel, Gabriel Garc, Cambridge Introduction, Nobel Lecture, Gregory Rabassa, Chapel Hill, hermetic books, tree of knowledge, Cambridge University Press, University of North Carolina Press, Biblical terms, generative power, a second chance, Latin America, repetition, the Apocalypse, world literature
Garcнa Mбrquez, Gabriel (Aracataca, Colombia, 1927--Mexico City, 2014)
When Gabriel Garcнa Mбrquez died, newspapers around the world said that his novel One
Hundred Years of Solitude was the only book that competed with the Bible in sales in some
countries. The relation with the Bible was not accidental: Garcнa Mбrquez told an
interviewer that when he decided to be a writer he read all the novels in world literature
from the Bible to the present, and in another interview he said that if people believed the
Bible they could believe the things in his novel too. It is significant that he called the Bible a
novel, and said that it was a "libro cojonudo," a book with testicles, that is, something with
generative power. There are places in his work that this generative power can be felt,
although Garcнa Mбrquez does not usually make explicit Biblical references.
One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) begins with the founding of a town, Macondo,
on the edge of an earthly paradise, and ends with the destruction of that town in a hurricane
that reminds many readers of the Apocalypse. In fact, the last line of the novel says that
when Aureliano Babilonia finished deciphering the parchment manuscripts left by
Melquнades the town was destroyed, without a second chance or the possibility of
repetition. This ironic rewriting of the Apocalypse, not as a beginning but as a definitive
end, was recalled by Garcнa Mбrquez in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in which he said
that the people of Latin America
would have a second chance: the message of the social
gospel associated with liberation theology
is expressed here in Biblical terms, though in a
profane rather than a sacred way.
Some paradigmatic examples of Biblical generative power in the novel are the flood
near its end which recalls the story of Noah (perhaps also present in the Spanish galleon
found in the jungle near the beginning), characters who are endowed with extraordinary
powers and appetites and who live to extreme old age, continuing to inhabit Macondo even
after they fade into death, and the persistent presence of miracles: levitation, clouds of
yellow butterflies, women who give off unearthly perfumes that penetrate into the skulls of
the men who are captivated by them, nudity perceived as revelation. The prodigious
experiences that the novel relates evoke a world of innocence prior to original sin
, hint that
the secret meaning of that world is concealed in a manuscript in an ancient language (here
Sanskrit, not Hebrew), and suggest that books are a kind of tree of knowledge that tempt
and transform their readers. The Bible is a polyphonic work, and Garcнa Mбrquez's novel
aspires to be a book that includes many others, that speaks in a range of voices, and that
moves easily from the real to the supernatural and back again.
Many Biblical names appear in Garcнa Mбrquez's work, not only in his most famous
novel, though here we note the presence of Melquнades, Rebeca, Jacob, Solomon, Moses and
Zosimo, Satan's challenge to God, and a proliferation of virgins. The Catalan bookseller
notes in Aureliano Babilonia an interest in hermetic books, and affirms their usefulness in
killing cockroaches, none perhaps as effective as the Old Testament. The world of the
ancient Middle East comes to Macondo in the visits of the gypsies and the presence of
"Turks" (used in Latin America to refer to Syrian and Lebanese immigrants) who are the
merchants in the town; Melquнades has often been viewed as a version of the Wandering
Jew, and a priest invokes that figure as a dangerous monster. The exuberant energy of the
novel, like God's voice in the whirlwind in THE BOOK OF JOB
, speaks of first and last things, of
time and eternity, of individual and collective destiny.
Religious practices inspired by the Bible, including Christian, Jewish and Muslim
beliefs and superstitions, abound in One Hundred Years of Solitude, though often in a jocular
way. For instance, when the priest drinks a cup of hot chocolate and levitates several
centimeters off the ground, Josй Arcadio Buendнa speaks several sentences in church Latin.
The Christian calendar infuses the action of the novel, as when the many sons of Aureliano
Buendнa go to mass on Ash Wednesday, only to find that the cross on their foreheads is
indelible, and will be used to identify them by their father's enemies, who hunt them down
one by one. Ursula Iguarбn, the matriarch, dies on Holy Thursday at the age of about a
hundred and twenty. The wars in the novel between liberals and conservatives are allegedly
about the secular or religious nature of the state, but in the final analysis
this is less about
belief than about the trappings of belief. Garcнa Mбrquez is more interested in the power of
stories than in their truth; his major novel undoubtedly is a modern retelling of the Bible,
one that emphasizes its ludic and extravagant dimensions.
Daniel Balderston and Hernбn Martнnez Millбn, University of Pittsburgh
Bell--Villada, Gene. Garcнa Mбrquez: The Man and His Work. Chapel Hill
: University of North
Carolina Press, 1990.
"Gabriel Garcнa Mбrquez: Only the Bible sold more copies than his work." The Times of India.
Web. 30 May 2014.
Garcнa Mбrquez, Gabriel. One Hundred Years of Solitude. Trans. Gregory Rabassa. New York:
Harper & Row, 1970.
------. "Nobel Lecture: The Solitude of Latin America." Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2013.
Web. 30 May 2014.
Martin, Gerald. The Cambridge Introduction
to Gabriel Garcнa Mбrquez. Cambridge:
Cambridge UNIVERSITY PRESS
Swanson, Philip, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Gabriel Garcнa Mбrquez. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 2010.