When McOndo Takes On Macondo

Muralidharan PC
3 min readSep 3, 2018

--

Is the magic wilting in magical realism?

The world has seen a lot of changes since Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ hit the literary firmament in 1970. Back then, the English reader first tasted a never-never land — a fantastic place called Macondo where children levitated, peasants convened with ghosts and leaders who lived forever. It was an effervescent image of Latin America that was clearly unseen or unheard earlier. It was a Latin America that influenced writers, charged the critics and had millions of readers spellbound. It was also the way the world imagined Latin America to be.

But as the old adage goes, all things must pass. Even magical realism. At least that’s what the Chilean author Alberto Fuguet believes. Thanks to Fuguet and his clan, a new Latino voice has taken the literary world by storm and is challenging the realm of magical realism. It is street savvy, realistic and unashamedly downtown — smartly called McOndo, a clever spoof on Marquez’s village. According to Fuguet, McOndo is a blend of Macintosh, McDonald’s and Condos.

The McOndonians believe that Latin America is no paradise. Life’s secrets are revealed far more splendidly in shantytowns and old coffee cups than in iridescent butterflies. The mundane is never marvellous here. It is stark, insipid and irreverent. The mood is highly hallucinatory, the stories painted on a sombre canvas of urban life that reeks of drugs, sex, money, music and death.

The McOndonians burst into the scene in 1996, when a host of 18 writers, all under the age of 35, published a collection of short stories titled “McOndo”. The literary establishment’s reaction was nothing short of derisive contempt. The critics found the stories shallow and flippant. Most of them considered these young writers as a gang of rich, spoiled, quasi-intellectuals addicted to the steamy pop culture of Latin America.

Nonetheless, Fuguet and his clan were excited over the galactic maelstrom that McOndo stirred up. In the words of Paz Soldan, a Bolivian McOndo author, “The worlds depicted in McOndo novels are closer to the Latin American experience than in Garcia Marquez’s world.” McOndo, in a true sense, simply unveiled the changing demographic of Latin America. The environment that the Latinos lived in was crowded, polluted and deep in squalor rather than the dreamy, salubrious world that magical realism portrayed.

Today, McOndomania has spread into streams outside literature. It has invaded pop music in the form of Mexican rap that kids devour. Even some films produced in Mexico are purely McOndonian in spirit. The imagery in these films reflects the landscape described in the preface to McOndo: “big… crowded, polluted, with highways, and subways, cable TV… five-star hotels built with laundered money.”

That said, it’s not as if the McOndo clan doesn’t acknowledge the power of magical realism. Paz Soldan reinforces, “We love Gabo. We just don’t want to imitate him.” A new form of expression is all that they promulgate. Then again, it’s not quite sure today whether McOndo will attain the global recognition that magical realism enjoyed. Rewind to Latin America seventy years ago, when a new boom of writers emerged in the same manner, narrating tales of the New World. Prominent among them were Jorge Luis Borges and Carlos Fuentes. But the one who created history was Gabriel Garcia Marquez. After “One Hundred Years of Solitude” was translated into English, he became the most prominent voice of that immensely gifted group.

Since then, Marquez has sold millions of copies, read in over three dozen languages, and has found a permanent place among the doyens of literature. But the other writers from that boom are either dead or have given up the genre and the new ones lack the vision of the old. And that has resulted in the rising downfall of magical realism.

Most of the McOndo writers sell briskly in their local languages, yet find it hard to get their work translated across their borders. But the storm is slowly brewing. It won’t be long before the literary world gets fully drenched in the McOndo spirit. If Fuguet’s prognosis is right, magical realism may soon be a thing of the past, as passé as the image of Juan Valdez and his mule in the Colombian coffee fields.

--

--