Monday, October 24, 2005

Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is one of the giants of Latin American literature, and my library has many of his novels and short story collections. I have enjoyed several, including Love in the Time of Cholera and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Both include mesmerizing stories unlike anything written north of the Rio Grande. Reading Living to Tell the Tale, I find that many of those stories are somewhat true; the author listened to every family tale and retold them in his fiction. His work earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.

As an experienced reader of Garcia Marquez would expect, he does not construct his memoir of youth in a chronological manner. He starts with adolescence, moves back to early memories, and follows with his school days. The latter part of the book recounts his newspaper work and early writing career; dates are particularly confusing in this section. Living to Tell the Tale ends with his leaving Colombia to cover a story in Switzerland. He did not return to his homeland for three years.

I like the beginning. While he is working for a newspaper in Barranquilla, living mostly in a outdoor cafe, with one year of law school behind him, his mother appears and demands that he return to Aracataca with her to sell his grandparents' house. They take a slow riverboat, a crowded train, and even walk to get there. When they arrive, nothing is as they expected. His mother does not sell the house, but they see old friends. In rich prose Garcia Marquez describes their every move and the many people they encounter. It is very like a story from his fiction.

I found the account of his early writing career very interesting. He really wanted to be a poet but wrote editorials for newspapers to make ends meet. While in school, his writing ability was noticed, and several publishers sought him for their papers. Out of school, he spent more than he earned and his friends often had to feed and shelter him. He wandered through the homes and bordellos of all classes, meeting every politician, policeman, criminal, and writer in Cartagena, Sucre, and Bogota.

I am leading a discussion on Living to Tell the Tale later this week. Garcia Marquez includes many names in the text, and I wish the book had an index to help me re-find what he wrote about these important people.

Devoted readers of his novels and short stories will want to read this first of three memoirs.

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. Living to Tell the Tale. New York: Alfed A. Knopf, 2003. ISBN 1400041341

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