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Echoes of solitude

A girl is scrunched up around a book underneath her duvet. Her bed sits in a sea of clutter—clothes both clean and dirty are strewn amongst piles of papers and all the trivial objects that teenagers imbue with such meaning. The words of Gabriel García Márquez surround her like a smoke, enveloping her in a world of golden fishes, love, guilt, death and war. She breathes them hungrily, barely appreciating the richness of the language, simply inhaling rich tales from an author whose country she would struggle to place on a map.

At that time, she could never have known that she would find her home in Colombia. Or that those words would return to her time and again in the coming years. Right then, it would be untrue to say that this book changed her life. Or that any book could have changed her life since she devoured them so quickly and so vociferously, gobbling the wisdom and experience that she was too scared to wring out of reality.

But it would not be so whimsical to believe that this book, along with so many other favourites at the time, planted the seeds for the real journeys she would later make. What fantastical seeds they were. Bean-stalking, dragon slaying adventures; living, working and travelling through Asia and Europe before finally putting down roots in Gabo’s magical country. In Colombia, not only have his words flowered in her mind, but she has nurtured them, with a duality that surprised her—at every turn, flavouring her knowledge of the country and her understanding of his work.

Almost a quarter of a century later, here he is, at Christmas time, as she watches video animations projected onto the buildings around Plaza de Bolívar. She is in two minds about the lavish lights that weigh down and transform every available structure of the city. She thinks of the citizens of Macondo, nonplussed by the new technology brought to them by the railroad that was pedestrian next to the gypsies’ magic carpets. And, as Gabo’s yellow butterflies jerk across the façade, so the projection feels two dimensional next to the vibrancy of the people gathered in the square and the traders along the Septima.

Here he is, with her in Ciénaga, where the banana massacre he depicted actually happened. But now the massacre is another shadow in the blazing sun and she is introduced to new dimensions of Colombia.

She is utterly entranced by the warmth and intelligence of new friends, and by their stories, as they bring generations of extraordinary characters to invisible places at the dinner table. She hears of a house that has to be physically split in half by a wall built by warring factions of a family since both sides are so attached to their home that neither can leave. She marvels at this culture where storytelling has not been strangled by cynicism, and again fragments of Gabo and the Buendía family flutter through her mind.

It strikes her that the theory of this genre of magic realism that she once studied is somehow irrelevant. For it is the most natural reflection of the weight of generations that seem to accompany and almost inhabit some of the families she has encountered. Stretching time and allowing ghosts, is the only way that fiction could possibly capture the way that these people still crowd into day-to-day life. And only through this genre, can one possibly get to grips with the frequently contradictory nature of the country, and perhaps of all human beings.

Here he is again as she grapples to understand a country still weighed down by the violence of a civil war—this inescapable part of the national narrative that in many ways is yet to be expressed. She was born in a country at peace; whose politics have been utterly tamed, and is sensitive to the fact that she cannot ever truly comprehend this war because she has never lived it. But how can a people who have been through so much suffering be some of the warmest and most fun-loving that she has ever met? How can one reconcile the statistics of violent crime with the bottomless humanity she has encountered? And a growing, perhaps unspeakable suspicion that somehow this horrible violence has forged the depth of character she has come to love and admire.

Enter Gabo. Not with answers, but with an un-judging empathy. Some of his characters fall into war as if it were a natural part of their personality to do so. He doesn’t need to use the absurdism of Heller’s Catch 22, he simply posits that parts of human nature are drawn to war—and he follows the consequences through to their natural conclusions. In his world, the conservatives exist, the liberals exist, people exist—and the rest is inevitable.

Finally, he is here as she falls and breaks her heart. While her friends at home offer support for this cataclysmic event, it is her friends in Colombia who are able to catch her with an acceptance of a love that passes. That acceptance doesn’t diminish the intensity of the feeling, it is simply la tusa—the corn husk left after the sweet yellow grains have been eaten—a Colombian way of naming the intense love-loss pain. And as sleepless nights drive her back to devouring books, so the Macondo generations are there with her again, their seemingly endless stream of love and loneliness in all its guises signalling to her that this can pass; showing her a world of other possibilities.

And perhaps it is chance. But since we are here in a more mystical world, perhaps unbeknownst to her, those words really did plant their seeds in her heart and finally they have brought her home.

Emma Newbery graduated with a degree in English with Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, UK. She considers herself extremely fortunate as she has visited 50 countries in the name of both work and play. She worked with Russia, Germany, Japan, Turkey and the UK as an international relations consultant for their Olympic bid campaigns. She also backpacked from Japan to the UK almost completely by land and sea (with only one small jump by air). Three years ago she began to build a home in Colombia, and is currently the Managing Director of The Bogotá Post (www.theBogotá English language newspaper in Colombia that provides news, features, entertainment and sport. She is unusual amongst her travelling friends in that she wants to stay right where she is.

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