There could not have been a better celebratory ring to mark the occasion. While statistics might mean everything and nothing at the same time, on more occasions than not, they cease to be mere numbers. Hence, when I felt a surge of contentment and a sense of fulfillment overwhelm me as the covers gently came down upon the book that I had just finished, there was a seemingly just reason for such a euphoria and the attendant statistic attached to it. I had just completed reading book No.1000. The book in question was “Collected Stories” and the author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Residing in inspired solitude in Mexico City, and chimney smoking 60 cigarettes a day, Gabriel Garcia Marquez ripped the veil off fictional realism. A man who counted amongst others Debussy and Bartók as worthy LPs for his Record Player not only knew class, but oozed it himself. His conventional typewriter cranked out a domain of literary landscape the likes of which were neither seem before nor have been glimpsed since.
An extraordinary exercise in fictional realism, “Collected Stories”, contain twenty-six of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s original, ingenious and mesmerizing short stories, set out in the chronological order of their publication in Spanish from three volumes: Eyes of a Blue Dog, Big Mama’s Funeral, and The Incredible and Sad Tale of lnnocent Eréndira and Her Heartless Grandmother. The leitmotif in this collection is the author himself. His recurring originality pulsates and courses through the stories in unrelenting spasms. “In my dreams, I was inventing literature,” recalled Marquez in an interview. Yesterday’s dreams are today’s reality.
Laying out a diaphanous combination of mystery, mystique and magic, one of the greatest story tellers of his generation demonstrates with an incandescent brilliance the fact that he is blessed with the depths of perception, bestowed with the breadth of imagination and brimming with an originality that is putting it mildly – extraordinarily uncommon amongst most writers.
For themes, there is the miasma of poverty, the economy of happiness and a perennial tryst with mortality that jumps at the reader out of every page. Curlews that peck out the eyes of three men, a vanishing ghost ship, an old man with enormous wings and a woman who has been transformed into a talking spider complement and compete with one another to make the book a genuine marvel of modern literature.
Death occupies the initial portion of the book and is the ‘protagonist’ of the first eleven stories. Revolving around either persons who are dead or are in the transitory phase of making an exit from the tangible world before becoming part of the intangible plane, these stories have a grotesque and morbid (no pun intended) sense of humour. Employing a no-frills dead pan fashion, Marquez highlights the impermanent nature of life and the permanent feature of death. The ravages of death leave none in doubt about the ephemeral and often unacknowledged and unrecognized temporary world which merely flatters to deceive.
Garcia’s world is characterized by tumult and turbulence. Mirth and merriment on one side, massacres and mayhem on the other. Garcia’s world is also an oeuvre that has inspired not just imitation but also spawned a new realm of imagination. Folklore, verbal storytelling, stirrings from Spanish baroque overlapping various epochs form a continuous thread connecting the stories in this collection. Shades of Borges and other Spanish fictional realism writers is clearly discernible in the writings of Garcia Marquez. But the most telling aspect of this riveting mish-mash of stories is an inherent contradiction that begs reconciling. A reconciliation, even attempting which would lead a courageous man into territories uncharted and terrains unexplored. A contradiction between the arcane and the basic, the mundane and the metaphysical and the inevitable and ingenuity.
Reviewing Garcia Marquez and his now eponymous dream theatre of Macondo, John Leonard in the Times discarded economy with a vengeance as he gushed a stream of praise reserved for the highest echelons of writing. “With a single bound, Gabriel García Márquez leaps onto the stage with Günter Grass and Vladimir Nabokov, his appetite as enormous as his imagination, his fatalism greater than either. Dazzling.”
‘Gabo’ as Marquez was popularly known amongst his friends and admirers, didn’t just contend himself writing stories. He breathed life into objects whose very existence couldn’t be envisaged and bestowed a pair of soaring wings to imagination. Wings that took the art of imagining things to a height never scaled before. He also gave me the incontestable privilege and pleasure of penning the 1000th book that I devoured!