Gabriel Garcia Marquez Goes Home Again
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Now let's follow somebody who has been telling stories for a long time, Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He created the writing style known as magical realism. If the sun needs to set at one o'clock in the afternoon, the author just makes that happen.
This has been Gabriel Garcia Marquez's year in his native Colombia. Celebrations have marked his upcoming 80th birthday, the 25th anniversary of his Nobel Prize, and the 40th anniversary of his greatest literary work, "One Hundred Years of Solitude".
That book begins with the line: Many years later, as he stood in front of a firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia(ph) had to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
The novel took place in a town modeled on Garcia Marquez's home town, Aracataca, Colombia. But for 25 years the author did not return to the real town, until now. NPR's Juan Forero went along.
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JUAN FORERO: Trains have always played an important role in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's work. Decades ago, trains carried massacre victims, banana workers killed in uprisings; horrific images that fired the young writer's imagination. And it was on a slow, chugging train that Garcia Marquez returned to Aracataca as a young man, a trip in 1950 that would inspire him to become a writer.
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FORERO: So it was that the novelist and a big entourage boarded the Macondo Express on Wednesday, a vintage train prepared just for this trip and painted over with yellow butterflies - an allusion to the butterflies that infest Macondo in "One Hundred Years of Solitude". The train rumbled slowly through shantytowns and lush banana fields, and all along the tracks stood thousands of people hoping to catch a glimpse of a man so beloved here that he's simply known as Gabo.
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FORERO: Brass bands welcomed him. Garcia Marquez only waved, declining to make a speech or talk to reporters on this trip. It didn't bother Wilmer Polo(ph), who brought his whole family to a train station along the route.
Mr. WILMER POLO: (Through translator) This is his land, the land of Macondo. It's been 25 years. Now it was time.
FORERO: In his autobiography, Garcia Marquez remembers Aracataca as a good place to live, where everybody knew everybody else, located on the banks of a river of transparent water that raced over a bed of polished stones as huge and white as prehistoric eggs.
In Gabo's greatest novel, Aracataca becomes a forgotten, magical place of the quirky Buendia clan, a town of conflict and tranquility, love and love lost, a near paradise that never seems to live up to its potential. In a nutshell, it's Colombia, or even Latin America, all wrapped up in one small place.
Living here until age eight, Garcia Marquez's imagination was filled with the hair-raising stories told by his grandfather, Colonel Nicolas Marquez - grist for his books.
Jaime Abello is Gabo's close friend. Standing on a stage in Aracataca's central square, awaiting the novelist, he spoke above the din. He said the writer knows full well what he owes his hometown.
Mr. JAIME ABELLO (Writer): He wanted to maybe pay some tribute of love to this town, to this village, and to all the people. It's like coming back to say I love you and I belong to you.
FORERO: Music celebrating Gabo's return blared from loud speakers.
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FORERO: And children sang and clapped as Garcia Marquez passed by.
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FORERO: Cesar Montero was among the organizers of the visit.
Mr. CESAR MONTERO (Resident, Aracataca, Colombia): (Through translator) It's been 25 years since he's visited us, so we can't waste this opportunity.
FORERO: Writing about the 1950 trip that changed his life, Gabo recalled it as so decisive that the longest and most diligent of lives would not be enough for me to finish recounting it. To many here, this latest trip was just as important.
Juan Forero, NPR News, Aracataca, Colombia.