I have been circling Gabriel García Márquez for decades, almost too afraid to approach his work at all. On and off the reading lists his works go, a constant pendulum of my ambition or lack thereof. When staring at our Bingo squares and realizing a few short stories and novellas were likely to help my progress I went on the hunt for a few and The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World by Gabriel García Márquez came up. Here we go, I thought – here’s the way in.
The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World tells the story of what happens in an isolated fishing village when an unknown dead man washes ashore. He is handsome and oversized, and something about him speaks to the villagers, who begin to view the man as one of their own and treat him as such. Márquez is known for his magical realism. He’s one of its biggest names. I’ve spent time over the past few years with Isabel Allende which I think helped me tackle this work by Márquez. The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World isn’t very long at all – less than 2.500 words. But it deceptively packed with layer upon layer of depth. García Márquez packs a punch with each and every one of those words. I’m reading in translation; my Spanish is not up to snuff to read in the original I’m sad to say. The version I read was done by Gregory Rabassa who was one of García Márquez’s preferred translators, so I feel comfortable that García Márquez’s intent made it through.
Do I think I know with one hundred percent certainty what that intent was? No. Which is kind of the joy of magical realism sometimes. There’s also a journalistic style happening here, a sort of removal from the action and the characters. No one is named but the drowned man, and then it’s a name given to him after death by strangers. It is the empathy of the villagers that stood out to me – they variously imagine him having to bow his head to make it through doorways, or never having a chair secure enough to sit in when visiting, or being whispered of behind his back – as they internalize his lack of otherness. He was unknown to them, until they took time to let their empathy play its role.
Bingo Square: South America. Gabriel García Márquez is one the great names in South American literature.