‘Innocent Erendira (and Other Stories)’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I’ve never been a great fan of short stories. The lack in depth of narrative or characterisation results in a shortcoming, a dissatisfaction. Yet in 38 pages of Innocent Erendira(or, to give it its full title, The incredible and sad tale of innocent Erendira and her heartless grandmother), there is depth of narrative and characterisation by the bucket load – and a great deal more. It is the story of a young girl who accidentally burns down the desert home of her obese grandmother – and, as a result, is forced into the life of prostitution and slavery to repay her debt. It’s a magical story – a larger-than-life grandmother who builds her retinue and revenue on the basis of Erendira’s earnings as they move from isolated town to isolated town across haunting desert landscapes. But eventually, Erendira meets the young Ulises, and they plot to kill the grandmother.

Written in 1972, The incredible and sad tale of innocent Erendira and her heartless grandmother is the longest (and newest) of stories in the Picador 1982 publication – with other stories from as early as 1948 and only a few pages long. True magical realism, which juxtaposes the mundanity of reality alongside the fantastical and magical: folktale magic and the supernatural, qualities that make disturbing subjects more palatable. The abuse of Erendira by her grandmother: the beautiful Laura Farina dispatched by her own father to bestow sexual favours on Senator Onesimo Sanchez (Death constant beyond love).

Marquez, in his stories, is not condoning but highlighting the plights of young girls within the sex trade – the abuse is part of the patriarchal establishment, from family to politics to church. But his focus is much wider – the oppressed, the dispossessed, the powerless. Identifying as both a native of Colombia and South American, Marquez is only too familiar with a history that is full of bloody doctrines and dictators – and his short stories poetically but critically highlight this. Erendira is beautifully accessible – unlike many of the other stories contained within this compendium. Prime examples of magic realism they may be, but my personal preference lies with the novels of Marquez, where time spent allows more immersion than a five-page story such as Eyes of a blue dog (1950).