OBITUARY: Gabriel Garcia Marquez (27 March 1927- 17 April 2014)By Barbra C. Manyarara
The news of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s passing on Thursday 17 April 2014 quickly filtered down to me although I was far away from media access. Two of my undergrads sent me messages of condolences, followed by another two from family overseas. They had been purchasing most of my study material on this writer, seeing as Amazon will not deliver to Zimbabwe. Each of the messages started with, “Mama, mudhara wenyu afa.” (Mom, your old man is dead.) Another of my callers was my own hubby telling me, “Your old man is gone,” to which I retorted, “I thought you were my old man!”
To all these concerns I made the gentle reminder that Gabriel Garcia Marquez has only been promoted to a better place without pain because authors do not die, they live on through our reading of their works. All these messages recognise the special relationship I have with Gabriel Garcia Marquez for I have spent the last three years studying his representations of sexualities in several of his works.
Literarily, I first met Gabriel Garcia Marquez when I was recovering quite unsatisfactorily, (according to my doctor), from a life-saving op and running out of satisfying reading material. In the end it was a choice between a lame copy of Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) or Voltaire (without the benefit of even schoolgirl French). My copy of One Hundred Years clothed with the usual Penguin austerity starts with page 377, so I meet Jose Arcadio at a moment when he has taken up with children in a relationship whose significance at this point, I have no idea of at all. Still I am intrigued and flip through to discover that after page 422, there is page 41. From page 41, I could now read through to the end, that is, back to page 422 again. Despite missing that poignant first sentence, “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice,” I was fascinated!
Once I was back on my feet, it was imperative that I find a complete copy and was fortunate enough to be loaned a Harper Perennial, complete with the Buendia family tree. Finally able to satisfy my curiosity and typically an academic mercenary at heart, I did a quick paper on a linguistically determined understanding of the concept of time in the novel One Hundred Years. It did not stop there. With quiet but steady fascination, I began to “eat, drink” and “sleep” Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The result: I am studying for a D. Litt et Phil on this man’s representations of sexualities in some of his novels. Studying Garcia Marquez’s works privately was just not possible. All good things become better when shared; I soon introduced the author to undergrads.
It was at the Catholic University in Zimbabwe that I sneaked Garcia Marquez’s The incredible and sad tale of innocent Erendira and her heartless grandmother (1972) into the course, African American and Caribbean literature, and got away with it. Although I would have liked Isabel Allende to keep Garcia Marquez company, geophysical specificity of the course boundaries prevented such an adventure. I have yet to design a course that can justify the inclusion of the two magical realists and those of Africa and the rest of the world, that is, where the magical exists alongside the ordinary. This tale made the students rather sad, perhaps they over-concentrated on the sadness of the story’s title, the grandmother’s cruelty and perhaps the reality of commercial sexual exploitation of children but they still enjoyed it and were talking of hunting down its film version(s).
For me, the value of Garcia Marquez’s work will always lie in his metaphoric representations of thematic concerns in modes that are accessible linguistically and stylistically. His use of metonymy balances his expression of ideas that ordinarily might be thought offensive in some way. From this point, Garcia Marquez’s works regularly grace my reading lists for literary theory or any other courses open to his inclusion whether on the basis of period, region or any other category. Thus Garcia Marquez ignited my fascination for Latin American literature and in turn, a better appreciation of literatures from nearer home and from rest of the developing world.And for this gift I say, “Rest in eternal peace Gabriel Garcia Marquez.”
++Barbra C. Manyarara is Lecturer in English Languageand Literature Teaching at the University of Zimbabwe.