“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
That is how One Hundred Years of Solitude begins; the novel by Gabriel García Márquez which undoubtedly proved to be one of the fundamental reasons behind the Royal Swedish Academy’s decision to award the Colombian author the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Considered to be his defining work, One Hundred Years of Solitude is celebrating its 50th anniversary, as the imaginary town of Macondo and the story of the Buendia family told by García Márquez in a extraordinary genealogy spanning six generations, continues to inspire as many interpretations as it does readers.
Other important dates connected to the celebrated writer affectionately known as Gabo to his friends and followers, include his 90th birthday (1927-2014) and 35 years since his Novel Prize win.
García Márquez has written other seminal works, including No One Writes to the Colonel, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Love in the of Time of Cholera and The Autumn of the Patriarch. However, One Hundred Years of Solitude is considered to be his greatest, and one of the finest examples of Spanish literature.
These dates could not have been overlooked in activities geared toward preserving his memory organized during the 26th Havana International Book Fair.
The festivities began on February 16 with the inauguration of a statue of García Márquez in the Liceo Artístico y Literario’s garden, at 16 Mercaderes Street, in Havana’s historic center, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The life-size bronze statue, created by Cuban sculptor José Villa Soberón, takes the form of Gabo, carrying books under his arm and rose in other hand, dressed just like he was when he received the Nobel Prize, in a traditional outfit from the Colombian planes called a liquiliqui.
The statue was unveiled by Havana City Historian Eusebio Leal, who also announced the title of the work: Retrato en el jardín. Also in attendance was Colombian Ambassador to Cuba, Gustavo Bell, who gave special thanks to Leal “For having enthusiastically embraced the idea of immortalizing here, in the very heart of the capital’s colonial center, the most illustrious of the postal clerk of Aracataca’s children.”
The afternoon was reserved for a panel honoring García Márquez and the 50th anniversary of his seminal work at the Casa de las Américas, one of the Fair’s secondary sites; moderated by essayist Jorge Fornet, director of the Casa’s Literary Research Center.
Participating in the discussion, held in the institution’s Che Guevara Hall, were Ambassador Bell; José Calafell, representing Editorial Planeta (which publishes García Márquez’s works in Mexico) at the Fair; and Cuban author and National Prize for Literature winner, Leonardo Padura.
THE VINDICATION OF A FILMMAKER
Various activities as part of this year’s Book Fair also took place across the Havana neighborhood of Vedado. The Casa del Alba, another of the event’s secondary sites, played host to the presentation by the Pablo de la Torriente Brau Cultural Center’s La Memoria publishing house, of a book which represents an enriching addition its catalogue, and addresses the fundamental work of the Center, as suggested by its title: Los días de Manuel Octavio; by the renowned historian and critic Jorge Calderón (La Habana, 1939). The book makes a genuine contribution to studies into Cuban cinema and vindicates a great, but largely forgotten, filmmaker; Manuel Octavio Gómez (1934-1988).
A similar sentiment was also expressed in the prologue of the book by Luciano Castillo, director of the Cinematheque of Cuba: “Manuel Octavio was a very important film maker, with a solid filmography and who up until now has not been duly studied by critics and the media…in Los días de Manuel Octavio… Jorge Calderón contributes to the filmmaker’s definitive discovery.”
Above all however, the work remembers Manuel Octavio Gómez, whose works are marked by thematic plurality and formal searchers, apparent in two classics of Latin American cinema, La primera carga al machete(1969)andLos días del agua(1971), followed by Tulipa,Patakín,Gallego, and El Señor Presidente.
Calderón, speaking to Granma International noted how his investigation spans not only Manuel Octavio’s professional career, but also explores the man behind the camera, his roots, background, concerns, studies, interests, development, how and why he became a filmmaker.
“Naturally I analyzed his filmography, how he chose certain issues, characters, locations, his use of light and music.”
In addition to Octavio’s filmography, the work features an extensive bibliography, many photographs and an intimate depiction of his life as told through interviews and the opinions of critics and the filmmaker’s colleagues, including composers Sergio Vitier and Roberto Varela; designer María Elena Molinet; actors Miguel Benavides, Samuel Claxton, Salvador Wood; and directors, Julio García Espinosa, Enrique Pineda Barnet and Manuel Herrera.
Jorge Calderón has also written other works which revive some of Cuba’s key cultural figures, including the biographical essay María Teresa Vera (1986) and Nosotros, la música y el cine (1997). In 1970 Calderón received a special mention from the Casa de las Americas Prize for his testimonial work Amparo: Millo y Azucenas.
FROM BATABANÓ TO THE WORLD
It is perhaps only possible to stop the process of forgetting through timely action. Thus the significance of a book which best represents works related to the theme of memory presented during the Fair. The work is an extensive text by critic and journalist Toni Piñera about visual artist Vicente Hernández (Batabanó, 1971), whose title takes the name of the painter (Ediciones s-g).
On presenting the case study, which contains countless illustrations, at the headquarters of the National Visual Arts Council, Piñera described Hernández’s work as a “visual storytelling…in which he appropriates the landscape in an unusual way…and in which his particular perspectives and use of color stand out.”
Believed to have been born in Surgidero in Batabanó, a town on Cuba’s southern coast, some 70 kilometers from the capital, this is the universe that Piñera recreates in his book, characterized by meticulous description and technique, and because, as the author himself stated during its presentation, the work is aimed at recovering fragments of our collective memory.
Hernández offers a panoramic vision of the world, drawing on the stunning iconography of his native town.
With an extensive history of personal and collective expositions, in Havana, the United States, Mexico, Brazil, the Netherlands, Spain and Argentina, his works have been sold at two renowned New York-based auction houses: Sotheby's and Chistie's.
The 26th Havana International Book Fair (February 9-19) with its dozens of presentations, panels, and thousands of readers who descended upon the main site at the San Carlos de La Cabaña Fortress as well as secondary locations, dispel any doubts surrounding the future of books.
And as the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges stated: “I always imaged that paradise would be some kind of library.” Now we have the chance to expand our own personal libraries with texts whose leit motiv is memory.