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.