Was Gabo an Irishman?: A Literary Bridge Between Cultures

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Was Gabo an Irishman?
Was Gabo an Irishman?

During my trip to Feria del Libro in May, I noticed, in the cockpit placed at the center of Corferias to honor Macondo, the literary town of One Hundred Years of Solitudea woman signing a big pile of yellow books.

Who this lady was, I’m still not entirely sure. One of the authors? Editors? But the book I had seen before.

Was Gabo an Irishman? had been floating around my newsfeed, my Amazon recommendations, my acquaintances’ to-read list, and mine as well….just not something I thought I’d get around to soon.

But I am so glad I did because I realized something, and I’ll let you in on the secret, there’s some serious literary activity going on in Colombia!

About the Book

It was published this year by Papen Press and includes twenty-six literary essays, all written in English, a prologue, and an Editors’ note all centered around, you guessed it, Gabriel García Márquez.

The authors, diverse in nationality, speak personally about their experiences with the Nobel Prize winner’s fiction, the territory that inspired it, the history of that territory, Colombians themselves, and more.

Quote
A quote from “The General in his Labyrinth” as an epigraph to the essay “The General in my Labyrinth”

My First Impression: Was Gabo an Irishman?

As a Colombian, it was difficult for me to take in the title.

First off, because I wouldn’t have chosen it. In terms of marketing, it speaks very little of what’s inside, even with its adjacent “Tales from Gabriel García Márquez’s Colombia.”

When people saw me reading it, they constantly thought the book was by the Colombian author himself.

Second, I had to think about what it meant. Was Gabo an Irishman? No, he wasn’t. Reading that felt intrusive.

My mind screamed: “don’t take him away!” but after catching myself and unclenching, I read the essay inside with the same title and realized that if someone saw their culture in García Márquez, it was a cultural extension of a hand. “We’re alike,” it said.

I realized that this author’s work was so much bigger than me. Reading this book was a bridge between cultures, honoring a year of grief, remembrance, and shared identity through literature.

Highlights

It’s hard to choose a favorite essay.

Although I did see a reoccurrence of perspectives and awe, each story had a personal touch. Yes, magic realism is a huge part of it, how could it not be?

But, there’s also mention of history, politics, nature, urbanity, superstition, self-exploration, and so much more.

  • The very first essay had me hooked. It’s titled “Octavio and the Witch” and was written by Barry Max Wills (see his blog here) and it perfectly narrated the outside perspective of the superstition that is such a fond characteristic of Colombian culture.
  • “The Banana Republic of Urabá” by Gwen Burnyeat spoke to me as an academic, a young woman, a Colombian and on so many more levels. It subtly included small details such as the names of some of my favorite authors like Chinua Achebe and Edward Said, it narrated Burnyeat’s travel to Apartadó, one of Colombia’s most forgotten and conflictive regions, a story I followed with admiration and curiosity.
  • “Big Papa’s Funeral” by Jordi Raich was one of the most interesting. With Raich being a high-profile expert on Colombian politics and former head of the Red Cross in Colombia, it’s a thoroughly informative read. It leads you through a web of Colombian history while retelling a personal story that makes sense of the political situation we can’t help but face when living in Colombia.
  • While most authors choose to explicitly explain their relationship with the honored author’s literature, Asier Santillan Luzuriaga, former head of Human Rights, attempts a different approach with his literary essay “Conjuring a Storm.” Asier tells the story of an anthropologist who unexpectedly turns into a shaman’s right hand for conjuring a storm during a drought.

These are just to name a few. Frankly, all of these essays touched me on a personal level.

The observations made by these authors are beyond the black-and-white perspectives we so often see on Facebook groups, how-to blog posts, etc., they have depth that I haven’t seen before written from a foreign perspective on these topics.

The editors chose an excellent variety of essays that maintain a high level of writing. The advantage of the format is that if you don’t particularly enjoy an author’s style or story, you can quickly move on to the next.

Chalk art portrait of García Márquez at Feria del Libro Bogotá
Chalk art portrait of García Márquez at Feria del Libro Bogotá

Most Mentioned Garciamarquian Works

We’ve all read One Hundred Years of Solitude, or attempted to.

So it was, bar none, the most mentioned novel of his. However, the essayists had read much more. Novels, short stories, articles, essays and one author claims that if she had a grocery list that he had written, she’d probably love it too.

Love in the Time of Cholera was also a favorite, followed by The General in His Labyrinth, Living to Tell the Tale, Of Love and Other Demonsand Memories of my Melancholy Whores.

All of these and more can be found in English in local bookstores such as Librería Nacional and even in some Éxitos.

What You Will Take From It

  • You’ll face the reality of how magical Colombian speech and literature is (no joke, I realized that even the way we talk in Colombia is surreal).
  • You’ll relate to the authors whether you’re Colombian or foreign.
  • You’ll want to read and reread books by García Márquez.
  • You’ll be inspired to think of Colombia differently.
  • You’ll laugh.
  • You will encounter many more sources of information and literature in which these authors work, such as The Bogotá Writers, The Bogotá Post, Banana Skin Flip FlopsFlavors of BogotáSarepa, Colombia Calling, and many more.

Overall, it fulfills its purpose, to be “at once singularly Colombian and universal in theme” and I sincerely hope there’s more writing of this nature on its way to being published.

Where to Find it

It’s available on Amazon, also in Kindle version on Kindle unlimited. In Cartagena, you can find the book at Ábaco Libros and in Bogotá at Madrigera del Conejo.

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