Strange Pilgrims – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

“He sat on a wooden bench under the yellow leaves in the deserted park, contemplating the dusty swans with both his hands resting on the silver handle of his cane, and thinking about death.”

Strange Pilgrims is a lightning tour of Europe, from wind-swept towns in Portugal and Spain to snow-clad Geneva and Paris. The central theme is of Latin Americans adrift in Europe, and many of the stories also involve death, either directly or as a motif. The focus is on what it is to be in a strange land, perhaps reflecting some of Marquez’s time as a virtual exile from Columbia. Might be valuable reading for UKIP or the Fronte Nationale, if they were looking to understand immigrants a bit better.

The name, somewhat obscurely, comes from the fact that it has taken Marquez years to write the stories (originally drafted in the 70s, they were published in 92): they have been pilgrims from the wastebasket to his desk and back multiple times, before finally emerging in their final – or at least current – form.

As is usual with Marquez, his stories are visually stimulating, creating whole pictures in your mind leavened with moments of humour. Several stories also feature magic realism, for which he is best known. Some are terrifying (one in particular, “I only came to use the phone”), and others are touching or inspiring. The line above opens the first of the 12 stories, a particularly good one about a former president trapped in Geneva by medical problems he cannot afford to have treated, nothing left but his dignity. In another, a newly-married couple travels to Europe only to find themselves trapped apart by a language and custom they do not understand, to a tragic end. All are worthwhile, and all bear Marquez’s classic stamp of humour mixed with stunning imagery and emotion.

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