Marlowe's Shade

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Truth and Magical Realism

I was introduced to Gabriel Garcia-Marquez in college. He remains one of my favorite writers. After renouncing liberalism, I've jettisoned many of my bohemian heroes, most recently among them Gabo's countryman Fernando Botero for his Abu Graib tonteria (although due to my wife's insubordination, one of his prints still hangs in the livingroom).

Garcia-Marquez may never suffer exile from my literary pantheon, but less than 100 pages into his memoirs, I'm exasperated. For one that despises Garcia-Marquez's com'pay Fidel Castro and his protégé Hugo Chavez more than a good Christian should, I've found it difficult to condemn Gabo. My justification had been the Cienaga massacre of '28, that Garcia-Marquez immortalized in One Hundred Years of Solitude. I reflexively accepted the account of the massacre which Garcia-Marquez and historians on the left blamed on the avarice of the United Fruit Company. I could understand how that traumatic event and the subsequent reports of corpses stacked in boxcars like bananas and thrown unceremoniously into a malodorous swamp could imprint young Garcia-Marquez with a perpetual anti-establishment view of life.

The trouble is that like his vivid memories of relatives who died soon after he was born, he himself admits his story is suspect. Reports of the numbers of victims varied so widely that no definitive number has ever been decided on. In the beginning of the second chapter of Living to Tell the Tale he describes how he went back in his role as a reporter and interviewed survivors and finally decided that the truth was unknowable amid the wildly conflicting accounts. Gabo the journalist gave up, but the novelist chose the highest number reported "in order to preserve the epic proportion of the drama" that it had become in his imagination as a child. He then brags about how a moment of silence was observed years later in the Colombian Senate "for the three thousand". Garcia-Marquez's fictional version had been accepted as the party line.

The massacre of the unknown number of strikers by the Colombian troops from Bogotá was a tragedy. The resulting departure of the United Fruit Company that was blamed for the incident was an economic cataclysm for the region as Garcia-Marquez more accurately relates. Magical realism makes for wonderful fiction and I have to admit that in a sense it is reality at least for the Caribbean Coast of Colombian. The ancestral village of my wife's family had healing springs, grottoes of visions, trees that righted themselves supernaturally after being blown down in hurricanes and in which images of the Blessed Virgin appeared.

But as we have seen in the riots over fanciful tales of flushed Korans and genocide justified by blood libels and fraudulent Protocols, bad things happen when magical thinking and fables invade journalism and history. And we would be wise to remember that most of the world is perceived this way.
papijoe 6:22 AM