I wrote this reflection for the Philippine Online Chronicles.
I was reading the final pages of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Of Love and Other Demons when I learned the news of his death.
In this brief novel of just over a hundred pages we meet the daughter of a plantation owner. Growing up with the black and mulatto slaves in his father’s mansion, she acquires their culture and is promptly sent to a convent for exorcism shortly after she is bitten by a dog with rabies.
On the other side we meet a priest assigned to exorcise the girl but instead fall madly in love with her. He immediately sees through the farce of demonic possession as a code for the possession of a lower class culture incomprehensible to the guardians of spiritual order and private property.
Of Love and Other Demons is, as usual, a very beautiful book, a testament to Marquez’s conviction that the real demons are not supernatural but in oppressive social relations that prevent men and women from attaining their full human potentials.
And indeed, a depiction of history and society in all its color and surreal qualities is a constant in his literary works.
This is why I’ve been an avid reader of his books in spite of the sometimes difficult language of his intricate prose from One Hundred Years of Solitude back in High School up to the Chronicle of a Death Foretold and the Autumn of the Patriarch in more recent years.
That. Plus the fact that he is a friend of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution among other movements for social justice and national liberation in the Latin Americas.
In his 1982 Nobel Lecture, Marquez said that it is this “outsized reality” of repression and social injustice in Latin America and not merely “its literary expression that has deserved the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters.” This is not merely a reality of paper, said Marquez,
but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths, and that nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune.
This for me is what makes Marquez’s writings so powerful. His fictions blend the magical and the real and yet they speak the truths of his homeland and his people.
He thus cautions writers against losing touch with the facts of social existence. In a Paris Review interview just months before being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Marquez warns: “In trying to transpose reality he can end up losing contact with it, in an ivory tower, as they say.”
Marquez bears an acute sense of recognition of how the literary is political and the immense responsibility that comes with this realization. In his own way, Marquez has lent his pen for the truth and given voice to the voiceless.