Marquez and “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship”

June 18, 2007

First, I know that I promised a Komunyakaa piece for an upcoming post and apologize for the bait-and-switch. I am more upset than you about this. The book that I was to take the piece from is missing, and I suspect a great book heist sometime in the past week or so. How the thieves would miss my other awesome books, not to mention the television, the computer, the printer, and the PS2, is curious to me. But the word lives on. And I have switched out the Komunyakaa piece for a brief passage from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship.” Here’s the bibliographic info for those of you who might be inclined to check it out from the library or buy it here for a few bucks (plus postage and handling):

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. Leaf Storm and other Stories. New York: Harper Colophon Books, 1979.

The short stories in this collection are some of the finest I’ve read. The title piece, “Leaf Storm” is like Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying only set in the small Latin American town of Macondo and, at times, more lucidly told by the multiple narrators Marquez employs to offer the perspectives, motives, and interactions through various lenses. Like most of Marquez’s short fiction, the sense of religious mystery pervades the tales. And these mysteries are thematically woven through the stories by characters who, confronted with the surreal, provide the human drama so important to strong short fiction.

The following quote opens the story. Told in the third person in driving, frenetic prose, we are in the perspective of a misathropic young man who intentionally grounds a ghost liner into the coast of his small town. This eight or so page story is one long paragraph. It’s one long sentence, for that matter, but it reads fluidly enough, and the reader auto-locates the natural pauses in the speaker’s cadence. It’s an amazing feat, truly, to constuct language without relying on the standard conventions of grammar and mechanics. Instead, we seem to slide into the speaker’s mind with enough ease that we accept Marquez’s technical and stylistic choice without even realizing it. Without further blather:

“Now they’re going to see who I am, he said to himself in his strong new man’s voice, many years after had seen the huge ocean liner without lights and withou any sound which passed by the village one night like a great uninhabitated palace, longer than the whole village and much taller than the steeple of the church, and it sailed by in the darkness toward the colonial city on the the other side of the bay that had been fortified against buccaneers, with its old slave port and the rotating light, whose gloomy beams transfigured the village into a lunar encampment of glowing houses and streets of volcanic deserts every fifteen seconds…”

As I mentioned earlier, a sense of religiosity is one of the trademarks of Marquez’s brand of magical realism. And it’s important to note that the ghost ship is taller than the village’s steeple. We have to believe this is not accidental on Marquez’s point; instead, we should realize that the ghost ship’s looming silence casts a sort of shadow over the town, looming over the “encampments” we glimpse in the circling motion of the “rotating light.” It’s an interesting juxtaposition between faith (represented in the steeple) and the regular intervals of light and dark over the town.  

 I suggest finding a copy of the collection in a library or used book store near you, if only to read “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship.” Judge this cover:


Pretty cool, eh?