Some could call him a magician, a conjurer of worlds that blended our harshest realities with our wildest imaginings. Gabriel García Márquez, the beloved Colombian novelist and Nobel Prize winner, defined magical realism. Upon his passing on April 17 at the age of 87 and in his home in Mexico City, the Internet was flooded with his quotations—vivid descriptions of the depth of life, the realities of death, and the candid humor for which he was known. As the world mourns the loss of one of the great voices in literature, we find solace in the gifts that he left to us: his books.
But if you’re new to Márquez’s work and stymied as to where to start, we suggest you consult this guide for the perfect first book and how to work your way up to some of his most famous works, including Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Start with: Chronicle of a Death Foretold
“He was healthier than the rest of us, but when you listened with the stethoscope you could hear the tears bubbling inside his heart.”
Márquez was known for many things, one of the best being his treatment of death and the exploration of the complicated emotions that surround it. In this postmodern novella, he uses his skills to breathe new life into old mystery tropes. While Márquez tells us from page one who the victim and killer are (and the motive), he keeps readers in heightened suspense as he examines the crime from all angles and showcases the effect the sudden death has on this small town. More concise than his more well-known works, Chroniclenonetheless provides any new reader with a clear sense of his style and what they can expect from further reading.
Get used to his politics with: The General in His Labyrinth
“Freedom is often the first casualty of war.”
In this moving tribute to Simón Bolívar, the leader and liberator of Gran Colombia, Márquez looks at the most intimate and tragic moments of the final days of a man so often regarded as a heroic revolutionary. While you grow to learn Márquez’s storytelling in Chronicle, The General in His Labyrinth will provide the perfect first look into his passionate commentary on Colombian politics.
Work up to: Love in the Time of Cholera
“Tell him yes. Even if you are dying of fear, even if you are sorry later, because whatever you do, you will be sorry all the rest of your life if you say no.”
This novel is an epic sweeping love story, the kind that melts stone hearts into crystal puddles. It chronicles the unyielding devotion of Florentino as he loses Fermina to another man and spends the rest of his life waiting for the chance to love her again. Read when you’re prepared for the depth Márquez’s soft heart and his ability to carry a reader through years of story.
Revel in: One Hundred Years of Solitude
“Death really did not matter to him but life did, and therefore the sensation he felt when they gave their decision was not a feeling of fear but of nostalgia.”
A novel that introduced many readers to the complex genre of magical realism, and a novel that Márquez worried would overshadow all other works, One Hundred Years of Solitude is an unforgettable journey. Readers unfamiliar with his works may be tempted to leap straight into the multi-generational tale of the Buendía family, but might I suggest you wait. Slowly devour a few of his other works; then, when you’re ready, read this to truly appreciate his ability to weave a powerful story together. It has inspired writers such as Anne Tyler, Isabel Allende, and Ian McEwan, and it will captivate readers as well.
Challenge yourself with: Autumn of the Patriarch
“…he had made himself victim of his own sect to be immolated on the flames of that infinite holocaust, he had fed on fallacy and crime, he had flourished in impiety and dishonor and he had put himself above his feverish avarice and his congenital fear…”
A winding journey of dictators, the power that they hold and the struggle to keep it. Márquez’s Autumn is a complicated, political work. Where One Hundred Years celebrates life, Autumn highlights the duality of human nature, in its best and worst appearances. It proves to be a passionate read, though one best experienced once you’re thoroughly invested in Márquez’s other works.