Twelve magical short stories about the lives of Latin Americans in Europe peacefully co-exist in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s brilliant collection Strange Pilgrims. I like much better the Bulgarian title, which happens to be exactly the same as the original title, Doce Cuentos Peregrinos, or in other words Twelve Pilgrim Stories. The author wrote most of the stories in the 1970s and the 1980s but they weren’t published up until 1992. The path of these pilgrims was just as magical as their creator’s imagination – they were lost, destroyed, written and re-written numerous times but only the most persistent twelve survived.
Living as an exile from his native Columbia himself, Gabriel Garcia Marquez skillfully explores the immigrant’s soul. His characters are in different places in their lives, inhabiting various parts of Europe but they share one thing in common – for one reason or another they have been dislocated from their home land. It seems to me that for Latin Americans, and generally for passionate nations such as Italians and Spanish, being further away from home is more painful and more unbearable. Some of the stories are more realistic and could have easily happened. In others Marquez is himself – combining the magical with the real and taking the reader to the edge of his imagination. He won the Nobel Prize in 1982 “for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts” and I don’t believe I can say it in any better way.
The exiled Latin American president dying from a mysterious sickness, the man who spends more than 20 years trying to have his deceased daughter recognized as a saint, the woman who accidentally ends up in a mental hospital, the over-the-hill prostitute who trains her dog to cry at her grave and the boys swimming in Madrid apartment full of light are among the characters in this anthology, spreading from Vienna and Geneva to Barcelona and Naples. In some tales there is a strong longing towards the past and the way things were. The characters return 20 or more years later to see that everything has changed and nothing is the way they remembered it was and they it is supposed to be according to them. In the preface of the collection Marquez admits a similar feelings. Upon publishing the novels, the author decided to travel to the same places and see for himself that things were just the way he described them. He was astonished to find out they weren’t. His recollections about cities and places had more to do with imagination than with reality, so the author committed to yet another revision.
Probably my most favorite story is Sleeping Beauty and the Airplane. It is among the shortest ones in the middle of the anthology and you can easily overlook it among the more magical and impressive ones. It’s like a small diamond, lost among the bigger, brighter and more shining ones. And yet for me it had the strongest impact – it was gentle, beautiful, even sensual. A man trapped on the Paris airport because of a snow storm meets the most beautiful woman he has ever seen – if you believe in love in first sight, this is it. After hours of waiting and when almost all hope of ever flying to New York is lost, our protagonist is one the plain and by a pure miracle the same woman is sitting next to him. However, she spends the entire flight sleeping in ignorance of the man in-love silently adoring her. When the plain lands she leaves just the way she appeared – quickly and without leaving a trail. I don’t know what it is about this story that just makes it so special for me. Maybe it’s the simplicity with which we can just quietly appreciate beauty. Maybe it’s the strange fact that some events leave a deep impact on us, however small they might be. Maybe it’s the power some people exert on us, by just being there. Maybe is nothing of the above and maybe it’s all of it. I just loved it.
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