Despite the decades that have passed since they were conjured, not everything has changed in Macondo or Umuofia.
The inhabitants of Gabriel García Márquez’s fictional Caribbean town remain doomed to loneliness and questionable realities, while the people of the allegorical Nigerian village of Chinua Achebe are still dealing with the aftermath of things that fell apart.
Both places appear in a new Spanish anthology called imaginary regions (Imaginary Regions), which uses text, maps and photographs to explore 10 of the most famous places in fiction and the real places that inspired them.
In addition to Macondo from One Hundred Years of Solitude and Umuofia from Everything Falls Apart, the book sets out in search of regions that include William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Juan Rulfo’s Comala, Abdul-Rahman Mounif’s Hudayb, Andrea Camilleri’s Vigata and Malgudi by R. K. Narayan.
The project arose from conversations between the creators of the book, the journalists Bernardo Gutiérrez and Luis Fernández Zaurín.
“Luis and I are fascinated by how, in the works of some authors, reality and specific places on planet Earth are explained, shaped and, on occasion, even changed, through imaginary regions,” says Gutiérrez.
“These places are not so far from reality; in a certain way, they serve to interpret that reality”.
The pair came up with an original list of some 40 fictional locations, including purely imaginary areas like Middle-earth and Lilliput, before landing on 10 locations rooted in reality.
The book, published by Menguantes, which specializes in unusual travel writing, sends 10 writers and photographers on 10 missions and also uses a cartographer to map the fictional areas. Its basic objective, according to Gutiérrez, is to explore the extent to which fiction helps us interpret reality and address issues ranging from conflict and racism to history and memory.
Gutiérrez made two trips to look for Macondo and document him in his epistolary contribution to the anthology. He was also lucky enough to meet García Márquez and confirm his suspicions that Macondo was not based solely in Aracataca, the Colombian Caribbean town where the late Nobel Prize winner was born in 1927.
Although Aracataca went so far as to hold a referendum to change its name to Aracataca-Macondo 16 years ago, Gutiérrez also points out that if you look at the nearby municipality of Ciénaga on Google Maps, it says ‘Capital of magical realism.’
“I spoke to Gabo for about 15 minutes at a dinner in Havana a couple of years before he died. We talk about politics but also about Macondo. He asked me if he had found Macondo in Aracataca and I said: ‘Yes. But also in Ciénaga.’ And he said, ‘Yes. He’s in Ciénaga too.’”
In his travels, Gutiérrez saw for himself the extent to which the imaginary has infiltrated the real. While many of the people Gutiérrez met had never read One Hundred Years of Solitude, his episodes were as familiar to them as his own family tradition, proof, it seems, of the enduring strength of Caribbean oral tradition.
“With Macondo it’s not just about an interpretation or a modification of reality: Gabo’s own fiction has ended up interfering with reality and modifying it in very interesting ways,” says the journalist.
Take, for example, the infamous Ciénaga banana massacre of 1928, which appears in fictional form in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
“In the book, 3,000 people were killed, but I looked into it and got a contemporary report and no more than 100 people were killed,” he says. “With Macondo, a kind of myth was built that somehow ended up spreading throughout the region.”
Not all the pieces in Imaginary Regions are reports or semi-fictional. For her return trip to Umuofia, Nigerian writer Chika Unigwe chose to write a short story centering on Okonkwo’s great-granddaughter, the doomed protagonist of Everything Falls Apart.
Achebe’s book, which he read when he was relatively young, opened Unigwe’s eyes to a version of the past that was radically different from the one he had been taught.
“[It] It showed me that my people had a history, a civilization, a way of life that was thrown to the ground by colonization,” he says. “For the first time, colonization was presented to me, not as a benign and benevolent project, but as a violent invasion that forced the suicide of one of the most prominent men of Umuofia. That’s wild.”
Although Unigwe’s protagonist Obiageliaku lives in a different Umuofia than her great-grandfather, she bears the burden of family shame, and the society in which she lives remains painfully patriarchal and still struggles with its colonial legacy.
“I wanted it to enter into a dialogue with Achebe’s novel, expanding on that conversation and inserting a woman into the center in a way that would have provoked Umuofia,” says the writer. “I hope it teaches us that the imaginary, not just the imaginary spaces, can be platforms to have honest and relevant conversations.”
Gutiérrez agrees that fiction can be a more flexible and subtle material than historical or geographical facts when it comes to tackling big questions.
“Although the book is a kind of bridge or dialogue with fiction, the idea was not only to talk about these imaginary regions from an academic or theoretical point of view, but also to go in search of them through trips and expeditions,” he said. . He says. “And that’s what gives the book its real problem.”