He died on Holy Thursday (the same day as Ursula Iguarán, one of the mythical founders of Macondo), tormented by mischievous fiends like the ones who possessed the heroine of his Love and Other Demons. Back in Catholic High School, where our instruction (mostly in English) consisted of North American writers, Spanish novelists before the time of Franco, and outdated Latin American novels, Gabriel García Márquez´s One Hundred Years of Solitude entered our consciousness with all the force and violence of a Caribbean hurricane.
For the first time we saw that our reality was not strictly Puerto Rican. We came to the novel late (my battered paper copy from back then belongs to the 16th edition, 1970, of its Buenos Aires publication in 1967). One Hundred Years of Solitude was a rare phenomenon in Latin American literature—a bestseller. The novel confirmed what José Martí had prophesied in his essay Our America (1891): “Whatever remains of village in America will awaken.” We were, and knew ourselves to be from then on, Latin Americans.
As we read García Márquez we were not surprised that an angel with very great wings could appear in our backyard, for we lived with people who held conversations with angels and spirits on a daily basis. We were not astounded to read that a gorgeous young woman ascended to heaven glorified by her clean linen—this was a re-enactment of the Assumption of the Virgin, to whom we prayed daily. Macondo was all cities, all villages in Spanish America. And we knew Colonel Aureliano Buendía, who promoted “thirty two armed uprisings and lost them all.” Pedro Albizu Campos, a Harvard lawyer and WW I veteran, had died poor and infirm after a life of struggle for Puerto Rican independence; Ernesto “Ché” Guevara had perished in the Andes region during his failed Bolivian insurrection. Magical Realism was our daily bread, and García Márquez’s lucid, striking prose bound us all in a shared mythology that nurtured a richer, more diverse sense of the Americas.
Over the years, my admiration for One Hundred Years of Solitude was superseded by my deep regard for one of his lesser known works, his novel about the last days of Simón Bolívar—a paean that is comparable to Whitman’s verses on the death of Lincoln. In The General in His Labyrinth, the Great Liberator of the Americas journeys down the Río Magdalena during his final days. Weak, delirious and infirm, he meets a vision of horror: the widows of those who had died in the Wars of Independence stood “dressed in black, aligned on the river bank like thoughtful crows under the scalding sun, waiting for a charitable greeting.”
“We are the widows now,” said the General. “We are the orphans, the crippled, the outcasts of Independence.”
¡Ay, Gabriel! You will not fade away. Remain with us, like José Arcadio Buendía, tied to the chestnut tree in our backyard, “barking in a strange tongue, green spume foaming at the mouth.” Those condemned to 100 years of solitude will find their second chance upon the earth.