Friday, January 30, 2009


Gabriel Garcia Marquez's story "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" has been wandering through my mind lately, probably because his autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale, has been sitting next to my bed. When I go to bed at a decent hour (not that that happens), I read a little bit. It's amazingly written - sounds so much like his fiction that I didn't realize it wasn't a story at first. It did start to occur to me that the narrator's life sounded as if it must have been similar to the author's, and then I read the inside panel, and, sure enough, it wasn't fiction at all.

Anyway, the story is just a little long for a blog post, so I've linked to it above instead of including its text, but it's not too long to read if you have just a few minutes. And it's something special.

I did have a reason for thinking that the story belongs in the IF world. Marquez's special style of writing has been called "magical realism" - you'll see that immediately when you read the story. He's talking about the non-natural but in an extraordinarily matter-of-fact way. I'm not sure it's entirely a "style," though - I'm inclined to think he, as a person, just saw the world differently than other people. And I also think "magical" might be just a tad off. Angels are supernatural, but they're spiritual, not magical.

It seems as though Marquez, with his special sight, saw the invisible spiritual around him so clearly that it just wove into the fabric of his reality, not disturbing, or disturbed by, the fact that the latter was gritty and broken and sometimes sad. And so you have a great creature with enormous wings and miraculous powers and rheumatic lungs and a bit of senility and a bald head.

And that's a little like us, isn't it? Motherhood is elementary nature, and science on which every medical school student is tested, but it's also miraculous and mysterious and strange. And since the miracle part generally happens spontaneously, without heavenly lights and the rending of the earth, or talismans or spells or prayer, people wandering the gritty streets forget that it's miraculous at all. For us, though, it does require prayer, and maybe heavenly lights too; like Marquez, we see what's invisible to others, because our waiting and suffering have opened our eyes. And maybe a little like the angel - not serene and celestial and pristine, with shining eyes and quiet harp-playing; we're broken and battered, maybe a little beyond the ordinary years for our walk of life, and possibly going just a little crazy.

But that doesn't mean we don't have wings; and when the world isn't looking, our feathers will grow in, and someday, perhaps with an unseen, uncomprehending audience, we'll flap lamely away into the distance and across the sea.


  1. Wow, you gave me goosebumps. Beautifully written...bravo. I love Marquez and I love the story you're referring to. Great definition of magical realism, too, by the way. I taught a unit in it and used Marquez's story "The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" as one of the texts and I always found it challenging to define MR to students without having them think of it as fantasy or sci fi or something. Anyhow, MR is a style because it is found in other authors' work, not just Marquez's, although he is considered the "father of MR" in a way. If you like MR you should read "Like Water for Chocolate." It's the primary text I used in my unit and a beautifully written novel. It also touches on IF a bit. And it's a quick read. :)

  2. I came to your post from Karen's blog ( and agree with her that it was well worth the link. What a lovely, moving post.

    Every now and then I run into someone else who understands how miraculous my son is to me. I know them by the way they say soft-spoken things like, "He is such a blessing" or "You must be so in love." I really love encountering people who know how I feel each day, four months now, but still every day.