‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’ by Gabriel García Márquez

I think it’s fair to say: I do not know magical realism if I do not know this story. There is so much humor, heart, and grief buried in its pages. It is a very short story with a novel’s worth of imagination, and honors the short story as the novel’s equal. By that I mean; if I’d imagined this story’s conceit, in all its richness, I might have said this isn’t just a short story, it’s a novel. And it would’ve failed. I cannot sing a praise about Gabriel García Márquez that isn’t a cover song, so I’ll just tell you a few things I love about this story. There is so much joy in the worldbuilding–it is a tremendous example of how the examined anatomy of a concept can drive the story forward. Every paragraph is surprising and powerful, and is a joy to read to see what invention Márquez will derive from his character next. The Angel’s “consolation miracles” is one of my favorite moments in all of literature:

“Besides, the few miracles attributed to the angel showed a certain mental disorder, like the blind man who didn’t recover his sight but grew three new teeth, or the paralytic who didn’t get to walk but almost won the lottery, and the leper whose sores sprouted sunflowers.”

I am always grateful to share this story with new writers, because it is one of those stories that almost always illuminates – brings joy to the reader, shows them the possibilities within fiction, gives them space to build a concept and let it spread its enormous wings.

First published in La Hojarasca, Ediciones SLB 1955. First published in English in Innocent Eréndira and Other Stories, Harper & Row, 1978. Also in Collected Stories, Penguin, 1996. Available online here

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