The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings (short story) by Gabriel García Márquez

Yesterday I read The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings (short story) by Gabriel García Márquez and today I can’t stop thinking about it. It was written in 1955 and included in Leaf Storm (La Hojarasca), Márquez’s collection of short stories and a novella (also La Hojarasca) published in the same year. There’s no kindle edition of La Hojarasca, so I’ll have to wait a few days to continue that feast.

While I’m waiting, here are some thoughts on The Very Old Man with Enormous Wings. The plot is rife with Márquez’s masterful twists and turns, as he sets the surreal (a battered old man with enormous wings shows up on the beach) alongside the mundane (Pelayo and Elisenda’s child is ill, they think because of the stench of dead crabs–three-days of rain has brought on an army of them.) Characters are quirky; often with an all-too-human complexion (e.g. Elisenda tires of visitors marching through her chicken coop to see the old man and begins charging a nickel for the experience, a decision that nets her a fortune). Marquez pokes fun at institutions (Father Gonzaga can’t determine on his own if the old man is an angel, and so appeals to Rome. The Vatican swamps him with requests for further information can he speak Latin?) and at human failings (towns people abandon this freak show and rush to another when a woman who disobeyed her parents as a child turns into a tarantula.

Márquez’s colorful, masterful, prose, which seems to translate beautifully (Gregory Rabassa translated the version I read), plays in my head with marvelous imagery and tantalizing teasing. There’s a joyful exuberance in Márquez’s world, and it bursts into the worlds of his stories. Visiting these worlds is one of my most cherished literary joys.


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