Book Reviews

Collected Stories

Collected Stories

Gabriel García Márquez

Reviewed on April 19, 2017
You have to stay with this collection for awhile before it starts to grow on you, for it is compiled in chronological order, and throws the spotlight on the evolution of this writer and his craft as he matures towards winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The 26-story collection is comprised of selections from three volumes of short stories that were published in the 1960’s and ‘70’s. The stories in the first volume, Eyes of Blue Dog, are the hardest to read as they are interior monologues and reminiscences with very little action or movement, the protagonists often pre-occupied with death. The characters feel and sense their world viscerally, and the titles bear little resemblance to the content of the pieces, and yet, given that the author was in his twenties when these stories were written, it foreshadows the literary maturity that was to develop later. We see some dialogue and movement appear in the later stories in this volume. There is a tendency to repeat lines like “The curlews pecked out our eyes” or “A horse kicked me in the head” to emphasise the direness of the characters’ situations. And when the Negro who sang in the park comes to take our protagonist away to “sing in the choir” we realize that the latter is dying; when the torrential rains run for days, floods the town and addles the mind, we are “shown” this by the townspeople seeing and smelling bodies from the graveyard floating in the streets - great imagery!

The second volume, Big Mama’s Funeral, is set in Macondo, Garcia Marquez’s fictional hometown and the one he immortalized in his novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude. The corrupt mayor, the rich industrialist, the thief and other characters like the Buendia family flit in and out of the stories playing different roles. The writer’s irony begins to appear in these stories: the widow of the rich man who believes her dead spouse was noble when he was a mass murderer, the artist who gets beaten up for exposing the rich man’s corrupt soul, the blind grandmother who “sees” everything in her granddaughter’s life. The author even has his take on the Wandering Jew story, a metaphor used throughout literature. The final story, from which this volume gets its title, is a grand metaphor to the death of the old way of life and the birth of the new one, the rule of the landed gentry giving way to democracy. It is also a story in which Garcia Marquez’s fiction, in this collection, transcends the micro view to take on the macro one.

The third volume, The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother, seems pre-occupied with taking the author’s vision down to the level of children. Two of the tales are subtitled “A Tale for Children,” and speak of strange people and ships that appear from out of the sea to teach us lessons. Yet, other pre-occupations, not necessarily juvenile in content, emerge: the dying and corrupt senator who sacrifices his reputation to feast on the body of a young girl, a theme that Garcia Marquez fully developed in his final novel, Memories of My Melancholy Whores; the balance of good and evil, both needing each other to survive. The final story from which the volume gets it’s name, is the longest in the entire collection, and its title says it all: poor Erendira the 14 year-old virgin is exploited to the fullest by her wicked grandmother and is indentured to the old whore for life. Despite the exaggerated situations that are typical of magic realism, some interesting truths emerge: smugglers do not interfere with the Church - wrong enemy to take on!; those who are abused and manipulated will abuse and manipulate; when one is focused on escape, one often leaves loved ones behind. The imagery is also magical: the wind is always howling outside Erendira’s tent as she travels the desert country selling her body, the wind of her misfortune, we think; the grandmother’s blood is green, with envy of her granddaughter’s youth and promise, we wonder: glass changes colour when the love-struck Ulises (Erendira’s lover) touches it, testament to seeing things with rose-tinted glasses, perhaps?

Although the geography we travel through in this collection is around coastal Colombia, our travels through human experience is far, wide and deep. This is a great collection to understand the evolution of a writer from his narrow beginnings to the expansive weave and heft he achieved in his later writing.
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