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Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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I wonder if Garcia-Marquez is capable of writing a bad story. Certainly this selection of twelve are like polished gemstones. They might not be shiny or scintillating, but they are so solid, so satisfying. Each of them centers around Latin Americans, mostly Colombians, and their strange experiences in Europe. Back in South America, they move in familiar patterns, they feel at home, but in Europe, unknown and unseen forces affect them, they are prey to the pitfalls of strangeness, they can't see anything coming until it runs them over. While the gigantic geography, turbulent history, and luxuriant and untamed nature of South America fosters magical realism in authors, at least in Garcia-Marquez and some of the other greats, they also produce characters very much larger than life. Europe has always seemed to me a much tamer place, having reduced uncertainty over centuries--- more set in its ways, with fewer surprises, established, sedate. Garcia-Marquez perhaps sees it in a similar way and it unnerves his Latin American protagonists. An ex-dictator lives in a student garret, sells his jewels, and undergoes a useless operation. A woman disappears "by accident" into a mental institution and a playboy dithers in a cheap Paris hotel, not knowing a word of French, while his young wife dies in a hospital. A postal clerk spends years trying to see the Pope to convince him of his daughter's saintly qualities. He lugs the deceased but uncorrupted daughter around in a huge case. An aged ex-prostitute feels death is at her door, but actually it is something else. Nobody really feels at home, nobody can trust their feelings, because everything works differently. Europe isn't exactly an alien place for them, but they are, each time, unwitting victims of the unexpected.

Garcia-Marquez is one of those authors who seem to write about ordinary people whose lives take strange twists. But the worlds they inhabit, the people around them, the

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