Monday, March 29, 2010

The Trifecta Completed

For some reason I had a feeling this day would come. Today is a joyous day, a day of celebration, for I have the distinct honor of writing a highlight reel of my literary adventures. Well, okay, I'm really not as excited as the preceding sentence might have suggested, but I'm still pretty stoked. Lets get this show on the road!

The three contenders for MVN (Most Valuable Novel) this season are El reino de este mundo by Alejo Carpentier, Cien años de soledad by Gabriel García Márquez and Leyendas de Guatemala by Miguel Ángel Asturias. Each of the three has played well this season, but there can only be one true champion. Lets recap the excitement of this season.

Leyendas was the first player to get notice this season, and for good reason. Page after page, we were left dazzled by the visceral natural imagery and sense of fantasy in the novel. Coach Asturias really did an amazing job of bringing Guatemalan legends to life. Talking animals, divine signs from nature and an unhealthy obsession with linking the old to the new in Guatemala are just some of the features that made this novel stand out from the pack. Ultimately, however, Leyendas came up a bit short in the magical realism league. It definitely had some aspects that one might consider "magical" but came up pretty short in the realism department. Can't argue that this contender definitely made a significant impact though.

Next up we have El reino de este mundo by Alejo Carpentier. It's hard not to like this novel, it's really got some good moves. Set during the Haitian revolution, El reino has roots firmly planted in reality. Many of the characters were real people, and the same applies to many of the events contained within the novel. Luckily, the novel takes some liberties with its base of reality and embellishes the truth in a mystical and captivating way for the reader. Much of the mysticism in the novel helps create a contrast between the differing beliefs, attitudes and religious practices of the colonials in Haiti and the black slave populace. An interesting feature of this novel was undoubtedly the way in which Carpentier explored the gray area between what was distinctly colonial and what was distinctly black. Just as the color gray is a mixture of black and white, Carpentier explored the idea that the lines between colonials and slaves became blurred over the course of the revolution, and a third "hybrid" class was the result (This insight isn't pure bs, it's an observation from the literature for our wikipedia article). In the end Carpentier illustrates the brutal cyclical nature of conflict in the pursuit of progress.

Last but not least, Mr. Márquez's masterpiece, Cien años de soledad was probably one of the most captivating pieces of literature to ever grace my eyes. Reading Cien años was probably one of the single most moving literary experiences I have ever had. From the first page to the last, Márquez tells a story that is truly captivating. While the pacing of the novel itself feels frantic and the passing of time does not always seem continuous, Márquez manages to create an unbelievably deep and complex work. The novel illustrates the rise and fall of the Buendia family, which also coincides with the ascension and demise of the town in which they lived. Oh yeah, there's a revolution that happens too. While telling his story, Márquez tries to create a sense of "reality" through the characters and setting of the novel. However, this reality is distorted and spiked with magical elements. In this respect, Márquez creates a deeper sense of fiction, within his own fiction.

The difficult question that now must be answered is what can be said about these novels, in a comparative sense? As Jon mentioned in one of the first lectures, these novels represent the path to the birth of what we now refer to as magical realism. Leyendas was a bit raw as a novel and, in many respects, was not so much a novel about magical realism but rather a retelling of legends for future generations. As with any good story teller, Asturias presented the legends with his own personal twist that enriched the legends. Of the three novels, I feel that Leyendas has the least in common. Carpentier and Márquez's novels undoubtedly have the most in common. Thematically, Márquez and Carpentier both use their novels as a means to provide commentary and the brutal nature of armed conflict, and the futility of revolutions. This theme is central to Carpentier's novel, but plays a somewhat lesser role in Márquez's work. What really separates the two novels is the fact that Carpentier's setting and characters are based in reality, whereas Márquez creates a reality. Both novels have so called "magical" elements coursing through the pages, but the impact of these magical elements seems more pronounced in Márquez's novel.


  1. Hey Pat. First of all I just wanted to say that I really liked the style of your post. Very entertaining! I too agree that Gabriel Garcia Márquez's novel was amazing. Initially I was extremely worried as I found the descriptions to be lengthy and unnecessary. However, as I kept reading the descriptions actually drew me further and further into the world of Macondo.

    As I have not read any books within the magical realism genre before this class, I had somewhat of a stereotypical image of what the novel would be like. Boy was I wrong. I don’t know if I have interpreted things correctly, but to me it seems as if the messages contained within the previous two novels, although extremely important, were not as numerous as those within the work of GGM. Cien años de soledad seems to contain layer after layer of significance ranging from identity crisis to the effects of modernization to to the price of war. I can’t help but think that GGM has merged the predominant fantastical elements held within Austurias’ work and mixed them with the historical and real elements of Carpentier’s composition. As a result, a beautiful story is generated containing such depth achieved through its correlation between the real and the fantastical. This must be why Cien años de soledad is held as being one of the definitive pieces of the magical realism genre. I enjoyed this book far more than I had anticipated.

  2. I agree completely with the comment above your style of writing is really fun, and I like the contest. I agree that Marquez is the winner, and truly embodies magic realism in his writing, to the point where the magical goes unnoticed. But maybe he is a bit of a cheater because he did have a bit of a head start due t the influences of the authors authors.

  3. I completely agree with the comment above, your writing style is very fun and I like the contest. I would have to agree, Marquez is definitely the winner, his writing embodies magic realism as he incorporates the fantastical so well into the normal, the magical goes unnoticed. But I must say he may be a bit of cheater because he had a bit of headstart due to the influences of the other authors.

  4. "there can only be one true champion." .... so, who is it?

    I guess it's kind of implied that Márquez takes the cake, but... does he really? Is there a surprise underdog here?

    I particularly liked Jesse's comment: "GGM has merged the predominant fantastical elements held within Austurias’ work and mixed them with the historical and real elements of Carpentier’s composition. As a result, a beautiful story is generated containing such depth achieved through its correlation between the real and the fantastical." - I always saw it as GM perfecting the genre... but I guess you're right - in doing so he takes what has worked from before and adapts it. ... but then again, I'm not sure that alone accounts for his deeply layered and complex work.

    I guess any way I look at it, Cien Años wins: entertainment, literary value, complexity... perfect book.