We’ll Always Have Macondo: Remembering Gabriel Garci­a Marquez, Part 1

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.  At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe house, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs.  The world was so recent that many things lacked names and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez

Like so many others, I remember the day I cracked open a used copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude and read the startling opening lines.  It was the summer between high school and college, and I was tucked into my dim bedroom, attempting to escape the heat, feeling slightly intimidated but also quite sophisticated as I flipped through to the first page of this literary juggernaut.  I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

I remember reading the book in one huge gulp, though of course that’s not true.  What is true is that what I remember of the days that followed is reading the book, and very little else.

Both described at the same time how it was always March there and always Monday, and then they understood that Jose Arcadio Buendi­a was not as crazy as the family said, but that he was the only one who had enough lucidity to sense the truth of the fact that time also stumbled and had accidents and could therefore splinter and leave an eternalized fragment in a room.

one hundredI remember jotting down a short quote–“There is always something left to love”–and feeling like it meant something important.  And I remember hazily nearing the end and wondering what in the world I would do when I had to close the book, and then reaching the last page and the “fearful whirlwind of dust and rubble” swept through Macondo, wiping out the city and exiling it from the memory of men, but of course not really.  Not from our memories.  Instead, those final lines sent me searching for more more more more and I stumbled from Marquez to Jorge Luis Borges, Alejo Carpentier, Mario Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende, Jose Saramago, and my favorites,  Julio Cortazar and Carlos Fuentes.  I immersed myself in el realismo magico, despite my inability to read or speak Spanish, pushing the Interlibrary Loan system of the early 90s to its outer limits.  I started a small literary magazine–which I edited for almost a decade before it imploded in truly spectacular fashion with the idea of cultivating and promoting North American magic realism.

And when Gabriel Garci­­a Marquez died on April 17 all of this came tumbling out of the past and into the present and without thinking I cracked open One Hundred Years of Solitude, again but as always, for the first time.  The tributes started rolling in immediately, of course, numerous obituaries and remembrances, all with the same basic facts but different spins, depending on how much attention was paid to his politics rather than his writing.  A fair amount of ink (or pixels, I guess) was spent defining the term magic realism, despite the fact that Marquez himself eschewed definitions, famously insisting that his work was not fantastic and that everything in his books had happened to himself or an acquaintance.

I like the way Salman Rushdie described it, in his New York Times column on Marquez: “The trouble with the term ‘magic realism,’ el realismo magico, is that when people say or hear it they are really hearing or saying only half of it, ‘magic,’ without paying attention to the other half, ‘realism.’ But if magic realism were just magic, it wouldn’t matter. It would be mere whimsy, writing in which, because anything can happen, nothing has effect. It’s because the magic in magic realism has deep roots in the real, because it grows out of the real and illuminates it in beautiful and unexpected ways, that it works.

With that in mind, and with my battered copy of Solitude beside me, I scanned my shelves for books where that happens, where magic illuminates something real and true.  Here’s what I came with:


city of the beasts skellig bless me ultima green angel please ignore







  • City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende

Alex and his new friend Nadia are accompanying his intrepid grandmother on an Amazonian expedition in search of the Beast when they are kidnapped by the People of the Mist, a mysterious tribe with remarkable powers.

Michael, struggling to adjust to a new house and a new neighborhood while worrying about his seriously ill baby sister, discovers the enigmatic Skellig hiding in a decaying garage and enlists Mina, the girl next door and the one person he can confide in, to help nurse the strange creature back to health.

  • Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Antonio Marez is only six years old when Ultima, a curandera with the power to heal, moves in with his family, offering Tony guidance and protection as he navigates the demands of conflicting cultures and spiritual traditions.

  • Green Angel by Alice Hoffman

Left alone when the city across the river is destroyed and her family lost, Green withdraws into a devastated land where nothing grows, until a strange boy encourages her to connect with other survivors and replant her garden.

Lucky’s secret dream life competes with the brutal reality of a dysfunctional family and persistent bullying, but even the jungles of Laos can’t save him from the dealing with his troubles forever.

Haunted by her ex-best friend Charlie after his death, Vera struggles to decide whether to help clear his name despite the fact that he betrayed her, while maintaining the lowest of low profiles, keeping her grades up, delivering pizza’s, and pursuing a complicated relationship with an older coworker.

For as long as A remembers, each day has begun with A waking in a different 16 year old body, and A is good at living day to day and leaving no trace.  But when A meets Rhiannon and experiences a real connection for the first time, the urge to form a relationship despite the obvious obstacles becomes overwhelming.

Conor’s nightmares, triggered by his mother’s cancer treatment, show him a very different monster than the one that appears outside his bedroom window, but the stories told and demands made by the real monster finally persuade Conor to reveal his own great and terrible secret.

  • Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

When Haroun’s contempt for fanciful stories shatter’s his father Rashid’s ability to spin a tale, Haroun embarks on an epic quest to find and free the Sea of Stories, the source of inspiration and magic for all storytellers.

  • Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

Uncannily charismatic Ruby, Chloe’s older sister, seems to have the entire town in the palm of her hand, but after a disastrous and ill-conceived swim uncovers a dead body, even Ruby can’t prevent Chloe being sent away, nor can she prevent Chloe from discovering the truth about that night when she returns two years later.

Underachieving Ed Kennedy is fully content to drift through life playing cards, hanging with his dog, and secretly loving his best friend Audrey, until the day he foils a bank robbery and starts receiving anonymous and vaguely threatening messages that force him to get involved in the lives of those around him.

every day monster calls haroun imaginary girls i am the messenger






Cheers, Gabo!

–Julie Bartel, currently reading Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick