“Nunca hay que vender la tierra. Es lo único que queda cuando todo lo demás se acaba.”
English: “Land is something one should never sell. It is the only thing left when all else is gone.”
– Isabel Allende, La casa de los espíritus, The House of Spirits (1982)
Note: Because I didn’t write a book review in a while … x ec
So, I’m currently taking an American short story class because 1) I love short stories, and 2) I need to finish my minor. As a typical discussion class, we examine various texts, representative of the American canon and compare how each author and relevant work tie into a certain theme. Last week’s theme, “Fantasy and the supernatural,” had a special story: Un señor muy viejo con unas alas enormes (English: A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings, 1955), a short by one of most recognizable writers of the 20th century, Gabriel García Márquez.
Before diving into this story, there are some things that need to be clarified. Firstly, I find that categorizing García Márquez into an American short story is tone deaf. Although it’s geographically correct to refer to his works as part of American literature, we all know that when we hear America, we (incorrectly) only think of the United States. You can’t just pick one of the best parts of Latin America and reject the rest of their diverse culture.
Beyond this, I feel that American literature lacks imagination and magic; there is an interesting article written in The Atlantic which talks about the inevitable pitfalls for Americans because of this missing creativity. García Márquez’s writing is therefore separate from the typical American literary design because he effectively uses fantastical themes to give both the writer and readers solace, in comparison to the somber and the inevitable fall of society tones that many American writers use.
Secondly, this isn’t the first time that I have read this story. Prior to this class, I read this in one of my Spanish elective courses because you can’t study Spanish literature without García Márquez – he’s even talked about in English-speaking creative writing courses as a model! However, no two professors will speak on the same text in exactly the same way, so I believe that it was great to experience this story in two different perspectives.
Here’s a quick summary of the text:
After three days of rain, an old, unkempt man with large wings lands in Pelayo and Elisenda’s backyard. To the disbelief of the two, a neighbor suggests that this man must be an angel. However, the old man’s presence begs the age-old question of physical evidence and faith, as the deeply religious town are torn between mocking and praising the winged man.
In this short story, García Márquez demonstrates the use of magical realism, where the supernatural and other fantastical characteristics are presented in a mundane setting. A common theme of magical realism is the passing of time; time becomes fluid like water, but still fits perfectly with the logic of the plot. In this story, we see the use of this technique with the entrance of the old man. His wings are clearly a part of him, as we know that people aren’t genetically predisposed to have them, which establishes the fantastical aspect.
The historical implications of this technique are important because during the time of publication, García Márquez’s native Colombia was facing La Violencia (English: The Violence), a 10-year civil war. We see a rural town that’s effectively run by the words of Fr. Gonzaga, a show of the importance of religion as government to the rural folk. When a “divine” figure who doesn’t fit the archetypes of God’s angel enters their lives, touched by mortality, we see that their actions aren’t consistent with their religious beliefs.
If this man is really an angel, then it shakes not only the foundation of the Church, but also the town, which is heavily reliant on the religion because he didn’t understand Latin or Aramaic, the “languages” of God. However, if he isn’t an angel, the townspeople are still hypocrites because the tenets of Christianity state to help the poor, yet no one truly helps him, only Pelayo and Elisenda’s child seems to bring the old man some semblance of happiness.
Gabriel García Márquez, shows us why we need to be well read. Though he isn’t as reactionary as other writers, he is a great example of reactionary writing. These types of stories are not only great to read, but they’re invaluable history lessons about the author’s home country’s political, social, and economic turmoil. Some writers try to escape these terrible situations through writing beautiful art, or they are extremely critical of their country’s situation. Either way, it’s a treat and a warning to work towards a brighter future.
Image Credit: Wild Works
I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?
– Zhuang Zhou, popularly known as Zhuangzi, Chinese philosopher, influential during the Warring States period (370 BCE-287 BCE)
“Once you are my friend, I am responsible for you.”
– Antoine Marie Jean-Baptiste Roger, comte de Saint-Exupéry, known as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, French writer, poet, aristocrat, journalist, pioneering aviator (1900-1944)
Image Credit: Odyssey
ORIG. Middle English:
Right as bitwixen adamentes two
Of evene might, a pece of iren set
Ne hath no might to meve to ne fro-
For what that oon may hale, that other let –
Ferde I, that niste whether me was bet
To entre or leve, til Affrican my gide
Me hente, and shoof in at the gates wide,
And saide, “It stant writen in thy face
Thyn errour, though thou telle it nat to me;
But dreed thee nat to come into this place,
For this writing nis no thing ment by thee.
Ne by noon but he Loves servent be;
For thou of love hast lost thy taste, I gesse,
As sik man hath of sweete and bitternesse.
TRANS. Modern English:
As between adamantine magnets two
Of even strength, a piece of iron set
That has no power to move to or fro-
For though one attract the other iwll let
It move – so I, that knew not whether yet
To enter or leave, till that Scipio my guide
Grasped me and thrust me in at the gates wide.
And said, “It appears written in your face,
Your error, though you tell it not to me;
But fear you not to come into this place.
Since this writing is never meant for thee,
Nor any unless he Love’s servant me;
For you for love have lost your taste, I guess,
As a sick man has for sweet or bitterness.
– Geoffrey Chaucer, The Dream Visions, Parlement of Foules, also known as The Parliament of Fowls, lines 148-161 (approx. 1382)
All great and precious things are lonely.
– John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952)
Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.
– Albert Camus, French philosopher, author, and journalist (1913-1960)
“I didn’t know anyone could see it,” Samuel said. “You know, Lee, I think of my life as a kind of music, not always good music but still having form and melody. And my life has not been a full orchestra for a long time now. A single note only – and that note unchanging sorrow. I’m not alone in my attitude, Lee. It seems to me that too many of us conceive of a life as ending in defeat.”
– John Steinbeck, East of Eden (1952, Chapter 24)
“And the geography of the thing–the geography of them–was completely and hopelessly wrong.”
– Jennifer E. Smith, The Geography of You and Me (2014)
I love rereading books that have captured my heart the first time. As a romantic, I’m a sucker for teen romance, specifically novels that also have a deeper meaning besides the love story. This time, Jennifer E. Smith’s The Geography of You and Me is a book that I want to share.
Interestingly, I discovered this piece back in 2014 while trying to borrow Steve Kluger’s lovely book again at the library. I was smitten not by the cover, but by the synopsis, which is as follows
Lucy lives on the twenty-fourth floor. Owen lives in the basement. It’s fitting, then, that they meet in the middle — stuck between two floors of a New York City apartment building, on an elevator rendered useless by a citywide blackout. After they’re rescued, Lucy and Owen spend the night wandering the darkened streets and marveling at the rare appearance of stars above Manhattan. But once the power is back, so is reality. Lucy soon moves abroad with her parents, while Owen heads out west with his father.
The brief time they spend together leaves a mark. And as their lives take them to Edinburgh and to San Francisco, to Prague and to Portland, Lucy and Owen stay in touch through postcards, occasional e-mails and phone calls. But can they — despite the odds — find a way to reunite?
Smartly observed and wonderfully romantic, Jennifer E. Smith’s new novel shows that the center of the world isn’t necessarily a place. Sometimes, it can be a person.
Like most, Lucy and Owen’s story began somewhere. For them, it was in an elevator during a blackout in New York City. Unlike many, theirs travels thousands of miles across Europe and the United States; Lucy and Owen’s lives quickly diverge after their initial meeting. They manage to keep in contact despite leading very different lives because both provide something that the other is searching for. For Lucy, it’s a desire for change from her lonely lifestyle, while Owen seeks something more permanent, like a home.
However, time and distance eventually takes a toll on the two. While the words aren’t explicit, here, Smith expects her readers to read between the lines, seeing what isn’t being said, as the lines literally become shorter. Lucy and Owen’s exchanges become shorter and shorter, a reflection of how their physical separation has affected them.
Throughout their interactions, there’s an understanding that the two love each other. However, it isn’t so explicit to the point that you know how it’ll end. On one hand, you keep rooting for Lucy and Owen’s happy ending together, but there’s also a sense that this may not happen immediately, if ever. One thing that we know for certain is that the two have feelings for one another.
I know that many don’t believe in it, but I’d like to believe that fate exists. The best love stories contemplate fate by showing character growth and/or sharing the ill-fated tale of star-crossed lovers, not just a transparent love triangle. There’s something so romantic about the latter because the promise of a happy ending in the next life that couldn’t be achieved in this life just tugs at your heartstrings. If it’s meant to be, then it’ll eventually be realized, and if not, then it may happen at the next one.
Luckily for them, Lucy and Owen’s story isn’t a tragic one. Their eventual reunion highlights a popular and romantic theme – love will prevail. Though they’re quite young, the two manage to get over the long distance “curse”. They realize that while their physical bodies may be in two separate locations, that doesn’t mean much when their hearts are both in the same place – in the elevator during a blackout in New York City.
Click here to purchase this novel.
I love you the more in that I believe you had liked me for my own sake and for nothing else.
– John Keats, English Romantic Poet; one of the main figures of the second generation of Romantic poets (1795-1821)