Marquez: The passing of a master & the power of words

Last Thursday, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and considered by many as the world's greatest modern novelist, died in Mexico City, finishing his journey into immortality.

Everyone from Bill Clinton to Shakira have expressed their sadness over the passing of a man who personified the joy of crafting words.

The passing of Garcia Marquez is a stark reminder of the value of great literature and the need of civilization for great writers. We live in an age where the love for reading is fading, as the printed word is being quickly replaced by the storm of digital conversion. Book stores are becoming extinct because students and general readers simply download a work to digest and put aside like some fleeting encounter.

Much has been written over the last week by various newspapers and journals on Garcia Marquez as the pioneer of the literary genre known as "Magical Realism" where fantasy and reality blend in a way where lines are blurred.

In his novels for example, men in the jungle can hack at flowers which bleed real blood and roses can rain instead of water on a town. This style influenced writers such as Salman Rushdie and has even been emulated in movies such as "Like Water For Chocolate."

But Garcia Marquez was also a testament to the heroism and even "coolness" of a master wordsmith. I first heard about him at a very young age because my father, like Garcia Marquez, is a native of Colombia, the beautiful and violent land Garcia Marquez immortalized in his worldwide classics "One Hundred Years Of Solitude" and the beloved "Love In The Time Of Cholera."

In his home country, if not the region, Garcia Marquez was a rock star. That he won the Nobel Prize was a proud statement that Latin America produces some of the world's best writers, not just political unrest or drug smuggling.

Everyone from the upper classes to the poorest workers read and knew about Garcia Marquez. Dance clubs still play a famous cumbia inspired by his novels named "Macondo."

As a child I had always loved books. My mother read to me while I was still in the womb. I had grown up reading those typical rites of passage like "Charlotte's Web," "Charlie And The Chocolate Factory" and Dr. Seuss before progressing into grander material like "The Lord Of The Rings."

But it was in my late adolescence that I finally sat down to read "One Hundred Years Of Solitude" and discovered the real, burning power of writing as an art form, in its epic story of one family, the Buendias, in the imaginary town of Macondo.

Garcia Marquez told a magical, hot-blooded tale of the human condition, but also of his country. I recognized the folk tales, political violence, intense passions and family myths as things I had heard all the time around the dinner table. Anyone with a long family history from anywhere can relate.

It was a duel experience because having been born and raised in the United States, Garcia Marquez helped open a window into the region of my roots. It was the beginning of understanding where my father came from, why he had certain habits and memories from a country where European, indigenous and African cultures mix, where revolutions and upheavals are constant in parallel with old school romanticism.

As a lifelong bookworm who always feels like typing words is his only talent, the more I read about Garcia Marquez himself the more exciting the prospect of being a writer became. He started off as a journalist and knew writing would be his life even if it meant making little money.

Not only was Garcia Marquez a great novelist, he was also a fiery reporter not afraid to support the Cuban Revolution, the defining political earthquake of his and my parents' generation.

Indeed, Marquez remained close friends with Fidel Castro until his death. His classic article on the CIA-backed coup against Salvador Allende's socialist government in Chile is a masterpiece of both reporting and prose.

And yet Garcia Marquez became a world favorite because of the wonderful, universal appeal of his books. Anyone who has been inflamed with obsessive desire for someone else should read "Love In The Time Of Cholera," where a man yearns for the woman of his dreams for fifty years in early 1900s Colombia.

The novel is a masterwork in the way Garcia Marquez literally describes the feelings of the characters, the fragrance of plants, the inner thoughts of a rejected heart.

His novel "The Autumn Of The Patriarch" is a powerful, poetic tale fit for the age of the Arab Spring. In it he imagines a Caribbean tyrant who is so corrupt he has literally sold the ocean, leaving his oppressed island sitting on a vast, muddy landscape.

Authors of such scope and vision are rare. Today from the newest crop, perhaps only J.K. Rowling comes close to the kind of universal recognition and admiration of a Garcia Marquez. It might even be for the same reasons. Under all the magic and suspense "Harry Potter" is about the experience and hardships of simply growing up.

In the United States perhaps Stephen King is the closest we can offer from the living (snobs may scoff, but "The Green Mile" is quite excellent literature).

The occasion of Garcia Marquez's passing should be used to remind ourselves of the power and value of reading. Life moves faster, everything is downloadable and audiences digest television shows online at a binging pace books can't keep up with. Not to say there aren't some excellent stories being told on the screen ("Game Of Thrones" and "True Detective" being prime examples).

But we should never abandon the written word because words are one of our prime tools of communication. With words we pass on our experiences and histories. With words we write songs and can crystalize our feelings. With well-thought out words we learn about each other.

When we stop cherishing words we will stop communicating. Put aside the enforced textbook reading for a moment, open something that really does attract you and lose yourself in the magical realism of words.