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

Nobel laureate added a tropical air to Sweden

(Page 2 of 2)

If there was ever a last sentence that snaps a book shut in its readers' faces, that's the one. It gives you the uncanny feeling you've been reading the parchments yourself, but that's impossible, because they perished when Aureliano Babilonia got to them. This is a portrait of solitude so complete that it denies that you are even reading it.

Skip to next paragraph

But you are, and so have millions of others before you, making the book a best seller, and now its author has won the Nobel Prize. So Macondo is no longer a ghost town, but a literary location like Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County that people move into in their imaginations for the price of a paperback and never really leave.

Garcia Marquez's Nobel lecture was called ''The Solitude of Latin America.'' He said that Latin America is isolated because Europe doesn't know how to view it except by European standards, and because the horrendous reality of life there, where 120,000 people are missing because of repression, is hard to believe by any standards.

''Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels,'' he said, ''all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of our imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude.'' Furthermore, he added, that ''unbridled reality'' drives many into exile - 10 percent of Chile's population has fled - and that is its own kind of solitude.

The lecture was full of statistics as strange as the inventions of ''One Hundred Years of Solitude,'' but grimmer, underlining the fact that the town of Macondo, with its barbarous excesses, is not so imaginary.

But he finished his lecture by contradicting directly the romantically hermetic scene of Macondo's ruination.

He pointed out that the possibility of the total destruction of mankind, once thought of as a horrible fantasy, is now reality. But, he said, ''we, the inventors of tales, who will believe anything, feel entitled to believe that it is not yet too late. . . . A new and sweeping Utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.''

At the end of the Nobel weekend, there was an event for the Latin Americans called ''Encuentro con Gabriel Garcia Marquez.'' He read from a story at the end of it. Until then he sat in the audience with Latin Americans and Swedish fans of Latin culture, while exiles, their children, and artists sent by the Colombian government performed folk dances, sang crying songs to chugging and twinkling guitars, and recited poetry. In the audience and on stage were the Chileans, Uruguayans, and Argentines who found themselves here because they couldn't live with their countries' politics.

And the solitude ended, if only for a moment, with the improbable, primitive noise of a squealing Colombian flute, gourd rattles, guitars, and bongos. But what a moment: Two lines of dancers stepped on stage, walking sedately as they rattled their hips to the music. The women wore broad, white cotton skirts with big bands of bright calico and lace, which they held up to the side like fans, their hips moving in a subtle tremor as they strolled. The men wore white pants and shirts, red kerchiefs, and hats. They waggled their hips and held tin cans with flames coming out of them high overhead. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, sitting in the audience with his wife, children, and friends, held his hands up to clap with the music.

One of the many people who paid tribute that afternoon to the creator of this remarkable work was a tiny Swedish woman with short white hair standing up straight, surrounding her merry face like an aura. ''We are all citizens of Macondo!'' she proclaimed.

A common enough method of praise, but in this case it was a particularly outlandish idea. Macondo was supposed to have fallen in, a hot, dusty ruin of uproarious human folly. But because of the way Gabriel Garcia Marquez described it, charming and funny even in its horrendous overindulgences, readers are still taking Macondo to heart, giving the place Macondo symbolizes a second opportunity on earth.

What many love about Macondo is the everyday nature of the miracles that occur there, like the time a remarkable beauty ascends to heaven with the sheets she is folding. Here, life was imitating art: Garcia Marquez's presence caused such delight that on that snowy Sunday afternoon in December, a certain part of Stockholm was tropical.