Because of the enormous reach of his reputation, García Márquez is now seen not just as another major author, but as the prime symbol of the surge of creativity in Latin American letters in our twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Doubtless there are other novelists who at the very least came close to equaling the Colombian’s achievement: Alejo Carpentier from Cuba, Julio Cortázar from Argentina, Carlos Fuentes from Mexico, and the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa all come readily to mind. But it is García Márquez whom readers have come to perceive as standing for that ongoing literary ferment, much as the names “Tolstoy” or “Dostoevsky” are at times employed as a kind of retrospective shorthand for the arrival and impact on the world cultural scene of extraordinary writing from a backward and barbarous Russia.
Of course it is in great degree the accessibility and translatability of this shy Colombian’s art that has made possible a world readership so astonishing in its scale. An erudite and conscientious craftsman, García Márquez has nonetheless fashioned an oeuvre that, with the exception of The Autumn of the Patriarch, can be savored and comprehended by readers having no especial literary sensibilities or skills. He is that phenomenon rare in our time—a writer both sophisticated and popular, the latter in the sense not only of “widely purchased” but also “of the people.” In this regard García Márquez stands in the tradition of the nineteenth-century novelists, whose high art combined the common touch and thus enabled them to speak to large audiences, and who, in the notable case of Hugo, by representing a progressive and humane politics, could inspire genuine affection among their millions of devotees and serve as a positive example to them.
As I suggested in chapter 1, García Márquez’s public presence in Colombia and Latin America resembles that of Hugo in the France of his time. Virtually every ordinary Colombian knows who García Márquez is, and tens of millions of Latin Americans have read at least something by the man—a newspaper article, a story, or the one hundred years of Macondo. So much is his work in the public realm that in the 1980s the fine Panamanian salsa singer, composer, and (more recently) screen actor Rubén Blades recorded an entire album of songs with lyrics based on eight García Márquez short