Friday, October 30, 2009

Gabriel Garcia Marquez by Gerald Martin

The year 1955 would see the publication of Garcia Marquez's most famous newspaper story. It was based on a immensely long interview, in fourteen sessions of four hours each, with a Colombian navy sailor, the only survivor of eight crewman who fell overboard from the destroyer Caldas when she rolled out of control- supposedly during storm- on the way back from refitting in Mobile, Alabama, to her home port in Cartegena. After the fourteen- part series had come to an end, El Espectador put out a special supplement reprinting the entire story with what it claimed was "the biggest print run any Colombian newspaper has ever published."

Garcia Marquez, with his rigorous and exhaustive questioning, and his search for new angles, had inadvertently revealed that the boat had not pitched and rolled in a violent storm but had sunk because it was carrying illegal merchandise which was improperly secured; and that regulation safety procedures were grossly inadequate. The story put El Espectador in direct confrontation with the military government and undoubtedly made Garcia Marquez still more of a persona non grata , a troublemaker considered an enemy of the regime. Garcia Marquez must undoubtedly have been a marked man and, although he characteristically played down the dangers of the time, it is easy to imagine his feelings whenever he had to walk home a night through a grim, lugubrious city (Bogota) floating uneasily in the tension of a military dictatorship. It is something of a miracle that he survived unscathed.

Many years later the story was republished, after Garcia Marquez became a world-famous writer. It was entitled The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor ( Relato de un naufrago, 1970). It became one of his most successful books, selling 10 million copies in the next twenty-five years. Garcia Marquez never directly challenged the reactionary government in 1954-5 but in report after report he took up a point of view which was implicitly subversive of official stories and thus challenged the ruling system more effectively than any of his more vocal leftist colleagues, guided always by rigorous investigation, reflection and communication of the realities of the country. All in all, it was a sustained and brilliant demonstration of the power of the story-teller's art and of the power and central importance of the imagination even in the representation of factual material.


  1. "The Sea of Lost Time" was an important development in Marquez's writings, although initially an isolated one. It has caused chaos and confusion among the literary critics because it seems to give many different messages all at once. Composed in Mexico City during 1961, the story is a continuation, though in a much lower key and with no declamatory interventions by the narrator, of the mode he had initiated in "Big Mama's Funeral". It was what in Latin America and eventually elsewhere would be known as "magical realism", a technique already developed by Austurias, Carpentier and Rulfo, in which the story, or part of the story, is narrated through the world-view of the characters themselves without any indication from the author that this world-view is quaint, folkloric or superstitious. The world is as the characters believe it to be.

    Or almost. Because in "The Sea of Lost Time" there is, in fact, a character who knows more than the others. The post-Cuban Garcia Marquez, who had confined himself to national issues in "Big Mama's Funeral," now- for the first time- introduces the question of economic imperialism through the character of Mr. Herbert, a "gringo" who comes as a kind of secular evangelist to the small, semi-abandoned town. In the days before he appears the villagers know something transcendent is afoot because there is the smell of roses everywhere in the usually salty and fish-filled air. The the newcomer arrives and makes an announcement:

    "I'm the richest man in the world," he said. "I've got so much money I havn't got room to keep it any more. And besides, since my heart's so big that there's no more room for it in my chest, I have decided to travel the world over solving the problems of mankind."

    Needless to say, Mr. Herbert solves no problems; he completes the impoverishment of the town, enriches himself still further, and goes his way. But before he does he paints pretty pictures in the minds of the inhabitants- like a Hollywood movie-maker- and leaves them with dis-satisfactions they never had before and longings they can hardly even express.

    It is perhaps surprising that someone as close to the Communist Party as Gabriel Marquez had been for several years now should have waited so long to apply this diagnosis- imperialism- to his country's ills. It has to be concluded that between the actually existing socialism that he had witnessed in Eastern Europe in 1955 and 1957, and the United States, whose culture had fed so much of his magazine and newspaper work, and whose writers had done so much to make him what he was, the choice for him was not easy- whereas most Latin American writers from the previous generation would not have hesitated simply to launch attacks on the hated gringos.

    It merely added to the anguish that this story, "The Sea of Lost Time", was narrated from the anti-imperialist perspective which Cuba had given him yet he was not in touch with Cuba- on the contrary, it seemed to have spurned him. So in Mexico, blind as he was- without a political soul, as Mao Zedong might have said, now that he'd lost Cuba- he began to wonder, not for the first time, whether he should give up writing literature for good and move, as soon as he could, to writing film scripts. He had a family now and he could not in conscience sacrifice Mercedes , Rodrigo and the unborn child to his largely unfulfilled literary vocation: if he failed to make the big breakthrough when he was single, why should they suffer while he tried again and again to succeed?. Film work seemed like the most logical aspiration for a man in his situation, and it was in that direction that he turned his endeavors. After all, it was still a form of writing.

  2. In early August of 1966 Garcia Marquez accompanied his wife Mercedes to the post office to mail the finished manuscript of "One Hundred Years of Solitude" to Buenos Aires. They were like two survivors of a catastrophe. The package contained 490 typed pages. The counter official said: "eighty-two pesos". Garcia Marquez watched as Mercedes searched in her purse for the money. They only had fifty and could only send about half the book: Gabo made the man behind the counter take sheets off like slices of bacon until the fifty pesos were enough. Thy went home, pawned the heater, hairdryer and liquidizer, went back to the post office and sent the second tranche. As they came out of the post office Mercedes stopped and turned to her husband' Hey, Gabo, all we need now is for the book to be no good."

    Two weeks after publication it was first place on the best-seller list and the initial print run of 8,000 was looking totally inadequate.

    The printing of "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" (1981) was more than for any other first edition of any literary work in the history of the world: two million. This meant buying 200 tons of paper, ten tons of cardboard and 1,600 kilos of ink. Forty-five Boeing 747s were needed to transport the copies out of Colombia alone (it was also printed simultaneously in Spain and Argentina).

  3. In January 1988 Garcia Marquez made a turn to theatre. "Diatribe of Love Against a Seated Man" premiered at the Cervantes Theatre in Buenos Aires on 20 August of that year. The play, a one-act monologue starring Graciela Dufau, is set like "Love in the Time of Cholera" in an unnamed site which is unmistakably Caragena de Indias. Graciela's first words are "Nothing is more like hell on earth than a happy marriage!"

    Novels have narrative irony built in but a play relies on dramatic irony, which needs a different kind of creative intuition, one for which Garcia Marquez appears to have little feel. Worse than this, though, worse than even the lack of dramatic action, the play's most daming flaw appears to be a deficit of serious reflection ans analysis. Like "Love in the Time of Cholera" in part, "Diatribe of Love Against a Seated Man" deals with marital conflict (as indeed had "No One Writes to the Colonel", over thirty years before); and the central proposition- that traditional marriage doesn't work for most women- is obviously an important one, albeit one that this sixty-year old author was by now insufficiently modern to explore in a radical and meaningful way. Sadly, "Diatribe of Love Against a Seated Man" is a one dimensional work which, unlike "Love in the Time of Cholera", adds little or nothing to the world canon of great works about love. Garcia Marquez had said not long before that he had never wanted to be a movie director because "I don't like to lose". The theatre was an even riskier venture. Here for once he had lost. He would never try again.

  4. "Gabriel Garcia Marquez; A Life" by Gerald Martin; Alfred A. Knopf, N.Y. 2009

    Garcia Marquez became quite close to Fidel Castro, often vacationing with him. He wrote a lengthy chronicle of Cuban military adventures in Africa, which Mandela himself has reported were instrumental in ending apartheid. He also persuaded Fidel to release many political prisoners. He was well acquainted with many 'left politicians 'of very high standing both in Latin America and Europe.In addition, he served on several international human rights commissions,and organized several film, writing academies.

    For all its 600 or so pages, Martin still considers this biography to be quite abbreviated. However, Marquez always remained secretive about his private life and destroyed all his working notes and manuscripts as he went along.

  5. What does Gabriel Garcia Marquez think about making a telenovela movie of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” ?
    Find the answer in an interview with Gabriel (imaginary) in