Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

Nobel laureate added a tropical air to Sweden

By Maggie LewisStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / January 13, 1983


It was easy to find Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Stockholm on Nobel Prize weekend; he was always in the center of a knot of Latin American journalists and fans, from the Grand Hotel to the Operaterassen restaurant to the Concert Hall where the prizes were given out, and back. They gave warmth, color, and the noise of excited voices speaking Spanish to an otherwise frozen and stony-looking city, where manners are more circumspect and all you hear on the streets are quiet ''Ja, ja's'' of thoughtful agreement. Even though it's pitch black at 3 p.m. in Stockholm in December, and the rest of the day is grayish, Garcia Marquez walked around in a constant high noon of flash bulbs and TV camera lights.

Skip to next paragraph

In a city known for its formality, here were people in thick sheepskin coats babbling the way teen-agers waiting for the Beatles used to. Whenever they could, they pressed close to the short, bristling-mustached Colombian author, some to ask questions (''Will you return to Colombia?'' ''No, I'll stay in Mexico and write''), others to kiss him on the cheeks and say ''felicitaciones, '' with glowing eyes. When he was gone, they questioned each other fast: ''He's gone?'' ''Where did he go?'' ''Do you know what his chauffeur looks like?''

Julietta, a novelist writing for a newspaper in Buenos Aires, marches up and down in the lobby of the Grand Hotel. Her brown eyes flash as she worries aloud Garcia Marquez is upstairs changing for the Nobel Prize ceremony; as he passed her earlier she had given him a letter of introduction. Tiny, elegantly dressed, she alternately harasses her photographer and apologizes, holding up a neat, red-nailed hand: ''I'm so distracted. Please pardon me.''

Other photographers and TV cameramen come in and stand around, and the lobby is abuzz with rapid Spanish chatter. This is an important time for the Latin American population here, she says; most of them are in exile, and Garcia Marquez's winning the prize not only makes them proud, it seems politically significant to them.

Stockholm, though an unlikely place of exile for someone from Latin America, is a magnet because the Swedish government makes it a policy to accept such refugees, according to a Swedish Embassy spokesman.

The other prizewinners, also staying at the Grand Hotel, have come down with their wives on the elevator and marched through the light of the television cameras. They stand out in the shadows, while the crowd ignores them and surges toward the stairs. Sure enough, Garcia Marquez and his wife come down grandly by stairway. To everyone's delight he is not wearing the white tie and tails the science prize winners are buttoned into, but a high-collared white shirt and pants, the formal wear of Colombia. Julietta looks solemnly at him, like a matador, then makes her rush. They bustle through - a talking, kissing, squeezing crowd - and at the door of the hotel, Garcia Marquez holds his coat open for the cameras to record his outfit. There at his side, like the angels they show helping heroes in baroque paintings, is Julietta, holding his coat. She is asking him her question.

Garcia Marquez and his party, and even the winning scientists, whoosh away in their limousines in a few minutes, and the press has dispersed. ''Barbarosa!'' the photographer is saying to Julietta, probably complimenting her on the raw, barbarous nerve it took to hold the coat and ask the question, and she is shaking.



* It's not just Garcia-Marquez-mania that keeps this little knot of Latinos at the door of the Grand Hotel. It's solitude, and it's Gabriel Garcia Marquez's understanding of it, and it's the feeling that somehow with his fame he will drag Latin America out of its solitude.

His best-selling novel, ''One Hundred Years of Solitude,'' is about the town of Macondo, whose charm and curse is solitude. Macondo is so isolated that people there tell a priest they don't need him, because they have lost the evil of the original sin.

The final scene is both horrible and beautiful, like a lot of what Garcia Marquez writes. Aureliano Babilonia, the last survivor of the Buendias, a family with the mythical import of biblical families, is deciphering the Buendias' history, written by an old magician in Sanskrit. The story was a prophecy, written before the hundred years of solitude began. Mauricio Babilonia has caught up with the prophecy. He is reading about the demise of Macondo as it happens.

"Before reading the final line, however, he had already understood that he would never leave that room, for it was foreseen that the city of mirrors (or mirages) would be wiped out by the wind and exiled from the memory of men at the precise moment when Aureliano Babilonia would finish deciphering the parchments, and that everything written on them was unrepeatable, since time immemorial and forevermore, because races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.''