Aaron Schachter: I'm Aaron Schachter. This is "The World". Merriam-Webster defines "magical realism" this way - a literary style associated especially with Latin America that incorporates fantastic or mythical elements into otherwise realistic fiction. And today we mourn the author who, more than anyone else, is responsible for making magical realism so popular around the ground. Gabriel GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez died yesterday in Mexico City. The Colombian writer and Nobel prize winner was eighty seven. GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez, or "Gabo" as he was also known, was of course best known internationally for his two most celebrated novels - "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of Cholera". But curiously the author saw himself as a journalist first and as a novelist second and as a realist above all. Here's what he once told the BBC about his literary style.
Gabriel GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez: [Speaking Spanish]
Interpreter: I invent nothing. People always praise my imagination, but I believe I am a terrible realist. Everything I invent was already there in reality.
Schachter: Many in Latin America agree that there's nothing magical about the way GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez described people and places, even if his characters were visited by ghosts or floated impossibly far above the ground. Writer Daniel AlarcÃ³n, a frequent contributor to our show told Marco Werman about where GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez's writing came from.
Daniel AlarcÃ³n: He came from a tradition of storytelling and a tradition of oral history and exaggeration and kind of a cultural tradition that a lot of us understood that we all came from I remember when I was in Cartagena a couple years ago and I was in a cab and the cabbie was like, "[Speaking Spanish]", "This is Gabo's house," and he says, "[Speaking Spanish]".
AlarcÃ³n: Meaning "Here in the Caribbean we all have great stories, he's just a good typer", typist. "He's just a good typist."
Schachter: In fact AlarcÃ³n wouldn't use the label "magical realism" at all to describe GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez's work. He says the genre has simply been co-opted by too many lesser writers.
AlarcÃ³n: There's nothing wrong with the phrase itself. To me there were many writers who suddenly would make cats very big or a girl whose hair wouldn't stop growing or they just add elements of surrealism and make that stand-in for invention and emotion and real nuance.
Schachter: AlarcÃ³n says what Gabriel GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez excelled at was depicting a certain kind of reality - the kind you often encounter in small-town Latin America where he says time moves at a different speed and things happen according to a different logic than what we are used. That's what GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez's fictional town of Macondo like.
AlarcÃ³n: So I'll give you an example. Like a bus company in Peru, in Lima. It turns out there's a bunch of fake buses that have painted their buses exactly the same and are running the same route and they are not a part of the company, but everyone thinks they are and they are stealing passengers from the real company. That's Macondiano. You realize you are in a world with its own logic.
Schachter: Our partner and founder of Radio Ambulante, writer Daniel AlarcÃ³n. The way Gabriel GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez wrote about Latin America changed the way the region is viewed around the globe, but he also influenced countless writers around the globe like Hamid Ismailov. He's the official writer-in-residence and he says One Hundred Years of Solitude had a huge impact on him and other young writers in his native Uzbekistan.
Hamid Ismailov: One should remember that we were living in the Soviet Union and the Soviet Union was one of the most ideological places to live, very propagandistic. The whole world outlook was very bleak for us and MÃ¡rquez was the first who brought the color in this world. His "One Hundred Years of Solitude" was completely different to everything we were sort of reading about at that time. It was the sort of village life, Macondo is a village in the middle of nowhere. And another very interesting point was it was neither the Soviet literature nor the American or the Western literature. It was the third-world literature and it made us sort of look at our own roots and all of a sudden to remember how magical is our literary tradition, how magical is, for example, "One Thousand and One Nights" in our literature. So it helped us to rediscover ourselves.
Schachter: Hamid, did you get a lot of books from outside the Soviet Union at the time?
Ismailov: At the time he was not one of the disallowed or prohibited writers because the Soviets, the Communists, they thought that it's a sort of village life, it doesn't create any ideological harm, and they allowed him, but he was so popular. But then other books of MÃ¡rquez appeared like, for example, "Autumn of the Patriarch" or "No One Writes to the Colonel" and so on and so forth, which were absolutely, in a sense, anti-Soviet ones, but the floodgate was already open.
Schachter: Did the fact that he was writing from Colombia, from the developing world, make a big difference?
Ismailov: I think so. I think so. Especially for the writers at the edges and suburbs of the Soviet Union like, for example, Uzbek writers, Kazakh writers. Once again the village in the middle of nowhere was taken as the sort of middle of the world, the center of the world, and everything was happening somewhere, not in Moscow, for example, or not in St. Petersburg or not in New York or Washington, but was happening somewhere else. So, little by little, the value of the ordinary life was creeping in with the help of MÃ¡rquez's books.
Schachter: So it gave you guys permission to write about kind of the little villages in the Soviet Union?
Ismailov: Yes, and the real life of these villagers because what is called the magic realism in fact was the sort of real life of ordinary people seen by their own eyes. For example, I myself made a tribute to GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez by writing "The Railway", the life of one station, where everything seems so magical, but in fact it's just real life seen by the eyes of a child. Once MÃ¡rquez famously said that, "Until I was seventeen I lived in Macondo and ever since nothing has happened to me." So basically he returned to the literature, this playfulness of childhood.
Schachter: Do you think you guys realized more than other perhaps that, as you said, magical realism was more realism than magical?
Ismailov: Yes, for us it was, for example, what my granny used to tell me, because the storytelling is such an important part of human being and with every story it's human nature to add something sort of magic, something albeit kind of hyperbolic. Every storytelling school everywhere in the world loves to embellish, to make it much more beautiful stories they are in reality and he released this technique for the whole world.
Schachter: Hamid, for someone who hasn't read MÃ¡rquez, where should they start?
Ismailov: His classic is "One Hundred Years of Solitude", but I would recommend his shorter stories, for example, "No One Writes to the Colonel". I'll start with the more realistic stories and then gradually go to his magical realism.
Schachter: Hamid, lots to think about. Thank you so much.
Ismailov: Thank you.
Schachter: Uzbek novelist and the BBC's official writer-in-residence, Hamid Ismailov.