Imaginary regions: travel book ‘journeys’ to fictional literary locations

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Sam Jones (The Guardian, May 9, 2022) writes about Regiones imaginarias,a Spanish anthology that explores places created by authors such as Gabriel García Márquez and Chinua Achebe.

Despite the decades that have passed since they were conjured into existence, not everything has changed in Macondo or in Umuofia. The denizens of Gabriel García Márquez’s fictional Caribbean town remain condemned to solitude and questionable realities, while the people of Chinua Achebe’s allegorical Nigerian village are still dealing with the fallout from the things that fell apart.

Both places feature in a new Spanish anthology called Regiones imaginarias (Imaginary Regions), which uses texts, maps and photographs to explore 10 of the most famous locations in fiction and the real places that inspired them.

As well as Macondo from One Hundred Years of Solitude and Umuofia from Things Fall Apart, the book sets out in search of regions including William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha countyJuan Rulfo’s ComalaAbdul-Rahman Mounif’s Hudayb, Andrea Camilleri’s Vigata, and RK Narayan’s Malgudi.

The project emerged from conversations between the book’s creators, the journalists Bernardo Gutiérrez and Luis Fernández Zaurín. “Luis and I are fascinated with how, in the works of some authors, reality and concrete places on planet Earth are explained, shaped, and sometimes even changed, by means of imaginary regions,” says Gutiérrez. “These places are not that far removed from reality; in a way, they serve to interpret that reality.”

The pair came up with an original list of 40 or so fictional places, including purely imaginary areas such as Middle-earth and Lilliput, before alighting on 10 places rooted in reality.

The book – published by Menguantes, which specialises in unusual travel writing – dispatches 10 writers and photographers on 10 quests and also uses a cartographer to map the fictional areas. Its basic aim, according to Gutiérrez, is to explore the extent to which fiction helps us to interpret reality and to address issues from conflict and racism to history and memory.

Gutiérrez made two trips to seek out Macondo and to document it in his epistolary contribution to the anthology. He was also lucky enough to meet García Márquez and to confirm his suspicions that Macondo was not solely based on Aracataca, the town in the Colombian Caribbean where the late Nobel laureate was born in 1927.

Although Aracataca went as far as holding a referendum on changing 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 talked about politics but also about Macondo. He asked me if I’d found Macondo in Aracataca and I said: ‘Yes. But also in Ciénaga.’ And he said: ‘Yes. It’s in Ciénaga too.’”

On his travels, Gutiérrez saw for himself how thoroughly the imaginary has come to infiltrate the real. While many of the people Gutiérrez met had never read One Hundred Years of Solitude, its episodes were as familiar to them as their own family lore – proof, it seems, of the enduring strength of the 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 changing it in very interesting ways,” says the journalist.

Take, for example, the infamous Ciénaga banana massacre of 1928, which appears in fictionalised form in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

“In the book, 3,000 people are killed, but I investigated it and got hold of a contemporary report and no more than 100 people were killed,” he says. “A kind of myth was constructed with Macondo that kind of ended up spreading through the whole region.” [. . .]

For full article, see

[Photo above by Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images: A woman places a banner outside the house where Gabriel García Márquez was born, now a museum.]

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