William Edelen: Gabriel Garcia Marquez



The Contrary Minister

For years I have had a mystical, “kindred spirit”, friendship with a man whom I never met. Over the years I have read everything about him, and many things by him, and my admiration grew year by year.

He died a week ago, a Thursday morning at age 87 in Mexico City. (I am writing this on a Thursday morning.) He was the winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982. Critics have called him the Master of the opening paragraph of an essay or book. He said that in the opening paragraph you either lose your reader or capture him.

In his greatest work “One Hundred Years of Solitude” his opening paragraph hit him when he was several hours out of town on a trip with his wife, Mercedes. He stopped the car, whirled around and headed back to his study in Mexico City to re-write the opening paragraph about ice.

I have tried to remember that in every essay I have written.

Marquez was a beloved Colombian novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist, known affectionately as Gabo throughout Latin America.

Considered one of the most significant authors of the 20th century, he was awarded the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, as well as the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature. He pursued a self-directed education that resulted in his leaving law school for a career in journalism. From early on, he showed no inhibitions in his criticism of Colombian and foreign politics.

I loved the fact that he was a maverick and his own man. I wrote in my opening paragraph that he “died” a week ago. Well, not really. Great artists never really die, their work continues on for centuries. Nobody who writes great literature ever dies. One Colombian writer said, “Being a contemporary of Marquez was like living in the time of Homer. Gabo in a beautiful mythic and poetic way explained our origins. His verbal imagination and creative force were astonishing.”

I wrote that he was his own man. He told the U.S. in effect to “go to hell” when his Visa was revoked for visiting with Castro. He and Castro were gourmet cooks and loved exchanging recipes. His Visa was revoked so he could not teach at Harvard, the University of Chicago, and etc… where he had received invitations. “Gabo” was very critical of some of the social policies in Cuba and perfectly open about it, but the paranoid U.S. State Department was sure they were plotting against America.

Marquez and I shared the fact that our grandmothers, on our mother’s side, were the most important figures of our young lives. My west Texas grandmother who homesteaded a plot of dirt and cactus, was at 96, one of the most joyful human beings I have ever known. Everything was deep fat fried… and at age 96 I am sure she had no idea how bad that had been for her.

A few of Marquez’ gems:

“Nobody can take away the dances you’ve already had.”

“Fiction was invented the day Jonah arrived home and told his wife he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale.”

“People grow old because they stop dreaming…”

“To all… I want to say…. do not think you should stop falling in love when you grow old… you will grow old when you stop falling in love.”

“Nobody teaches life anything…..”

“Think of love as a state of grace: not the means to anything, but the alpha and omega, an end in itself.”

For some mystical reason that cannot be explained, Gabriel Garcia Marquez speaks to me in his life and writings. I must not be alone since he has been translated into more than 30 languages. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” sold more than 20 MILLION copies. The first printing sold out in one week.

His body may be dead… but his spirit and creativity… with the beauty of his writings… and time on this earth… will continue on and on. There is a great immortality in the arts that have so enriched the human condition.



Every now and then a book touches into a place deep below conscious awareness, some sort of cellular memory. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” is such a book.

I married a Colombian woman back in the middle 1990’s and we went back to the North Coast to visit her family living there. I read “One Hundred Years” while we were staying at her Mother’s house, and as I read out loud some of the great descriptive passages and the names of the Families, my wife would comment how those names and places with those fantastic scenes were the real deal…those Family names and places are still going! Marquez merely embellished it all with great imagination, and his ability to write great prose, but it was based on real people and places in Colombia. Life is full of the Magnificent and Marquez reminded me of that. That was his genius.