on February 16, 2003
In twelve short stories, Garcia Marquez proves that he is not only capable of writing deeply, he is capable of writing concisely. The stories in this book are extremely thought provoking, relating to the human spirit and little oddities about people.
There is one story in particular that I will not forget. It is about a woman who gets stranded with a flat tire, and hitches a ride with a bus to a mental institution. The story unfolds from there, and I don't think I have ever felt so deeply troubled by a single story like I was in this case. Of the twelve stories, I liked 8 or 9, the others were a little boring (or maybe I did not get them). I highly recommend it, especially for those who do not have the patience to read GM's "One Hundred Years of SOlitude" and would like an intro to the author.
As I read "Strange Pilgrims," the collection of short stories by Colombian-born Gabriel Garcia Marquez, I was reminded of the classic television series "The Twilight Zone." Like some of the best episodes in that series, many of the stories in "Strange Pilgrims" are rich in irony and psychological intrigue, and incorporate elements of the macabre and the fantastic. And many of the stories have twist endings. This collection has been translated into English by Edith Grossman.
These stories deal with Latin Americans on voyages, for various reasons, to Europe. The book thus has a trans-Atlantic, international feel. Highlights of the collection include "Bon Voyage, Mr. President," about a deposed head of state seeking medical attention in Switzerland; "The Saint," a supernatural tale of a father seeking canonization of his daughter from the Pope; the creepy "The Ghosts of August"; and the grotesque "Seventeen Poisoned Englishmen."
Throughout the book Garcia Marquez presents many images that are beautiful or disturbing, but often memorable: a drowned man floating with "a fresh gardenia in his lapel," a moray eel nailed to a door, a bedspread stiff with the dried blood from a murder. An added bonus is the appearance of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda as a fictional character in one of the tales. "Strange Pilgrims" is a varied collection of weird treats from a master storyteller.
I wonder if Garcia-Marquez is capable of writing a bad story. Certainly this selection of twelve are like polished gemstones. They might not be shiny or scintillating, but they are so solid, so satisfying. Each of them centers around Latin Americans, mostly Colombians, and their strange experiences in Europe. Back in South America, they move in familiar patterns, they feel at home, but in Europe, unknown and unseen forces affect them, they are prey to the pitfalls of strangeness, they can't see anything coming until it runs them over. While the gigantic geography, turbulent history, and luxuriant and untamed nature of South America fosters magical realism in authors, at least in Garcia-Marquez and some of the other greats, they also produce characters very much larger than life. Europe has always seemed to me a much tamer place, having reduced uncertainty over centuries--- more set in its ways, with fewer surprises, established, sedate. Garcia-Marquez perhaps sees it in a similar way and it unnerves his Latin American protagonists. An ex-dictator lives in a student garret, sells his jewels, and undergoes a useless operation. A woman disappears "by accident" into a mental institution and a playboy dithers in a cheap Paris hotel, not knowing a word of French, while his young wife dies in a hospital. A postal clerk spends years trying to see the Pope to convince him of his daughter's saintly qualities. He lugs the deceased but uncorrupted daughter around in a huge case. An aged ex-prostitute feels death is at her door, but actually it is something else. Nobody really feels at home, nobody can trust their feelings, because everything works differently. Europe isn't exactly an alien place for them, but they are, each time, unwitting victims of the unexpected.
Garcia-Marquez is one of those authors who seem to write about ordinary people whose lives take strange twists. But the worlds they inhabit, the people around them, the very fabric of their existence seem to me utterly fantastic. His talent lies not in presenting ordinary life, but extraordinary life. You accept a little more, a little more until suddenly you find yourself believing in the unbelievable. In the great warrens of Western civilization, but also in the daily grinds of Asia, Africa, or Latin America, life may take interesting paths, or curious twists, but for the most part, it is very predictable. These stories all have only the veneer of predictability; underneath the realism is full of spooky holes. Yet, that is not only due to a magical tone as in novels like "The Autumn of the Patriarch" or "One Hundred Years of Misunderstanding", it is due to the author's constant combination of known daily life with near-fantasy. You can hardly draw the line between them, so closely does he knit. Great stories by a truly great talent. Read them.
on May 18, 2006
"Strange Pilgrims" is a wonderful, but sometimes overlooked, collection of 12 short stories from the Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The stories that compose the collection vary in length and quality, but even the less successful among them are worthy of the reader's attention. The stand-out stories include "The Saint", "Maria dos Prazeres", "Miss Forbes's Summer of Happiness" and "I Only Came to Use the Phone" -- a bizarre and haunting tale of a young woman whose car breaks down in a Spanish desert, on a rainy afternoon. She is unwittingly picked up as a hitchhiker and mistaken for a mental patient who is taken to an asylum. This theme, of the familiar merging with the nightmarish is explored again in "The Trail of Your Blood in the Snow."
In "I Sell My Dreams", the protagonist meets Pablo Neruda ("He moved through the crowd like an invalid elephant, with a child's curiosity in the inner workings of each thing he saw, for the world appeared to him as an immense wind-up toy with which life invented itself") and discusses the labyrinths of Borges, among other things. "Light is Like Water", a charming ode to the power of a child's imagination, is a story brimming with surreal imagery.
These 12 tales perfectly define the genre of 'magical realism'. The collection also seems like a fine place to start for those seeking to familiarize themselves with the work of Garcia Marquez, before tackling epic novels like "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of Cholera". These are the kinds of stories that seem to stick in the reader's memory and welcome repeated readings.
on December 7, 1998
An incredibly inventive and thought-provoking collection, "Strange Pilgrims" is reminiscent of Milan Kundera's "Book Of Laughter and Forgetting", as well as Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried". Constructed as interweaving short stories, these twelve misfit pieces all deal with moving themes: loneliness, death, travel, the otherworldly nostalgia that these phenomena provoke, and ultimately the sadness of being lost in your own experiences. Like Kundera's "Laughter and Forgetting", "Strange Pilgrims" does not attempt to draw lucid conclusions between its seemingly unrelated characters. Instead, Garcia-Marquez simply allows the reader to develop his own relationship to the text. At times, "Strange Pilgrims" achieves what Garcia-Marquez so eloquently refers to when speaking of writing in the book's introduction-"the closest a human can get to the experirence of levitation." Highly recommended.
on May 2, 2016
Garcia Marquez will go down in history as one of the greatest writers of Magic Realism in the 20th century. His short stories are some of my favorites as it does take a while to get to know all the characters of his novels.
"Strange Pilgrims" is no exception. Latinos in exile will always miss their home despite their imperfections. They will always be in a strange land with customs they don't know or understand. And they will always meet strangers who are even more odd than they are.
There are no normal people in this collection of short stories. There are no normal situations. Then again, what IS normal? Just as the protagonists themselves are often confused and bewildered, so will the reader be.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: you will be missed! Thank God, we have your books to remind us of this writer who understood the outcasts of Latin America. May you never be forgotten!
on August 9, 2015
This is my favorite collection of short stories and one of my favourite books of magical realism. Most people know Gabriel Garcia Marquez for his novels, but he was a master of the short story form. There are unforgettable gems in here like "I Only Came to Use a Phone" about a woman who hitches a ride and ends up in an insane assylum and my favorite story "Light is Like Water" about two boys who beg for a boat in their apartment and end up drowning some boys and flooding the city with light. If you want a good introduction to the genre of magical realism, this is it: beautifully written, strange stories where magic is rooted in reality.
on April 19, 2014
Written by the incomparable master of this genre. I'm a long-time fan but never cease to be touched by the humor and humanity in these beautifully executed works. Strange Pilgrims is a series of short stories that are the perfect introduction to the oeuvre of one of the great Latino-American writers, as these stories are so finely crafted that they beg for more.
on August 2, 2000
I will be brief in praising this book. Gabriel García Márquez is the most celebrated and BELOVED novelist in the Spanish language since Cervantes, the author of Don Quixote. If you have not read him before, YOU SHOULD! But enough of the "good medicine" talk. García Márquez is entertaining. In these stories you will be witness to strange events told with a straight face, and in achingly beautiful prose. A woman's hand trailing blood in the snow, a lovely, sleeping beauty on board a plane, a man in Rome with a small coffin containing his daughter's body... These stories have a light touch-- they get your interest and entertain you! No need for me to go on... check it out for yourself!
on November 3, 1998
True to form, Marquez writes beautifully. He is blunt with his words in such a way that ties them together purely. You feel as though you are in the stories, not simply imagining them. In a way, these stories are like a good mystery or even horror film; you know something isn't quite clear, yet you continue to watch because it all comes together in the right way. These stories leave you with a just a bit more insight into people and human nature. They leave you satisfied, which, in my opinion, is the sure sign of great writing.