1955, (originally published as La Hojarasca)
Have I mentioned here that I am learning Spanish? Not content with bursting my brain with learning verb conjugations (it has taken me an inordinately long time to move on from the present tense- quite a drawback for a historian!), or sitting puzzled over News in Slow Spanish (which although slow, is not slow enough for me!), I have enrolled in a Coursera course on the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez which begins today. One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my favourite books and it seemed a good way to struggle with Spanish while reading something that interests me. No, I am not reading the books in Spanish: I’m having enough trouble reading the lecture notes and following the videos on the course because the ‘translate’ function doesn’t seem to be working for the subtitles. As a result, if I get through even one week’s work in the six weeks allocated, I’ll be doing well. However, it has prompted me to plunge into a cram-reading of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
It seems fitting, therefore, to start off with his novella Leaf Storm, which was his first published work. It appeared in 1955 after a seven year search for a publisher. It is only short: about 90 pages although it is hard to tell on an e-reader. I kept feeling that I had read it before, which I have, because he picked up the same themes in much of his other work. It’s as if he was trying the story on for size in novella form, which he later expanded into a whole body of work. It is set in Maconda, the fictional village to which he returns again and again.
The story starts with an epigraph from Antigone, and this short novella, like the earlier Greek story, focusess on a contested funeral. It is told from three perspectives: an unnamed small boy, his mother Isabel, and his grandfather, the Colonel. The three people are sitting in a closed room with the body of the doctor, who had committed suicide, each with their own thoughts. The child is preoccupied with the discomfort of his formal clothes and the wonder that he’d been kept from school to come sit with this body. The daughter thinks about the dead doctor, and his strained relationships with the villagers, and his generally disapproved concubinage with their former servant. The colonel gives the widest perspective of all, as he reflects on the hatred of the village for this doctor because of his refusal to treat wounded soldiers during one of the civil wars that convulsed the country after the arrival of industrialization.
It is hard now to appreciate the novelty of a multi-perspectival narrative because it is relatively common now. However, the frequent references- even now, 66 years later, to the 1950 film Rashamon as the prime example of a multi-perspective work, highlight the strangeness of the narrative technique that Gabriel Garcia Marquez developed at much the same time.
The novella itself is easy to read (in English!) but I must confess to not being able to easily detect the difference in voice between the Colonel and his daughter Isabel. However, as I often find with my favourite authors, Garcia Marquez is a master in being able to slip seamlessly between past and future without interrupting the narrative with asterisks or chapter headings. The element of an eerie timelessness is here, and a sense of the teeming physicality of the village- both memorable features of his other work.
And so- onward to the next book!
Read because: I’ve enrolled in the ‘Leer a Macondo’ Coursera course to challenge my budding Spanish.
Format: e-book The Gabriel Garcia Marquez Library: Fifteen of his best-loved books.