I have a great affection for Leaf Storm. And a great compassion for the guy who wrote it. I can see him clear as day: he's a boy of twenty-two, twenty-three, who thinks he's never going to write another thing in his life, this is his only chance, so he tries to put everything in, everything he remembers and everything he's learned about technique and literary craft in all the authors he's read. - Gabriel Garcia Marquez: El Manifesto (Bogotá, 1977)
Leaf Storm (1955) is the story of a colonel, a man of accepted aristocratic background, who finds himself in opposition with the town because he holds firm to the obligation of burying his friend, the Belgian doctor. The problem is that the doctor was despised for his 'crimes' against the townfolk of Macondo - crimes which began with his refusal to attend to the town's wounded following a political uprising. Now, he has committed the worst offense against the laws of God, that of committing suicide. The colonel seems to have been the doctor's one true friend and the only one who might have tried to understand his solemn, mysterious presence in Macondo:
I thought of his life, his solitude , his frightful, spiritual disturbances. I thought of the tormented indifference with which he watched the spectacle of his life... I thought that inside of myself I'd uncovered the mysterious force that from the first moment had led me to shelter him, and I felt the pain of his dark and stifling room like an open wound. I saw him as somber and defeated, crushed by circumstances. And suddenly, with a new look from his hard and penetrating yellow eyes, I felt the certainty that the secret of his labyrinthine solitude had been revealed to me by the tense pulsation of the night.
The novel follows varying themes of honor, duty and shame through the points of view of the three main characters: the colonel, his daughter and his grandson. Its timeline spans all of half an hour during which the narrators flashback to events of their family life and the slowly withering town of Macondo, while giving the reader pieces of the doctor's story. The colonel reminisces over the corpse of the doctor:
It's two-thirty, I think. Two- thirty on September 12, 1928; almost the same hour of that day in 1903 when this man sat down for the first time at our table and asked for some grass to eat. Adelaida asked him that time: "What kind of grass, doctor?" And he in his parsimonious ruminant voice, still touched by nasality: "Ordinary grass, ma'am. The kind donkeys eat."
What a classy, satirical way to say the man is vegetarian!
The back and forth manipulation provides the reader with puzzle pieces of the story that clearly proves a Faulkner influence. Garcia Marquez has also borrowed a plotline similar to Sophocles' Antigone, where Antigone finds opposition to burying her brother.
Leaf Storm is García Márquez's first novel and, like his subsequent novels, it is built on memories of his childhood and his birth town of Aracataca, the model for Macondo. In Leaf Storm, Garcia Marquez touches on the deterioration of the once-booming village.
10 years ago, when ruin came down upon us, the collective strength of those who looked for recovery might have been enough for reconstruction. All that was needed was to go out into the fields laid waste by the banana company, clean out the weeds, and start again from scratch. But they'd trained the leaf storm to be impatient, not to believe in either past or future... We only needed a short time to realize that the leaf storm had left and that without it reconstruction was impossible. The leaf storm had brought everything and it had taken everything away.
Many of the characters are versions of real people in his family: starting with the most obvious is the colonel who is based on GGM's grandfather Nicolás; Martín is loosely based on GGM's father Gabriel Eligio; Isabel is modeled after his mother Luisa; naturally Gabriel is the little boy. The doctor is also a character from García Márquez's childhood in Aracataca, a pharmacist named Don Emilio. The list goes on.
Leaf Storm was a delightful read; an easy, vibrant narrative of rich, unusual events accented by GGM's own history. I'm in the middle of this amazing storyteller's authorized bio by Gerald Martin, which is simply fascinating.
Macondo - a town creatively modeled from Aracataca where GGM was born and the place of his renowned, Nobel Prize literary masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude.