Living to Tell the Tale — By Gabriel García Márquez

Book Reviews

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is the story of Gabito, as he was called by his mother and best friends in life. It is a book of a fundamental narrative, that describes the writer’s memories between 1927 and 1950. It is also a story of personal and professional success. A success that was clearly and unequivocally elusive, for many years.

Garcia Marquez was the first son of a family of eleven children. His father was a telegraphist and his mother was stay-home-mum. They did not have a comfortable life, especially after the death of his grand-father and their numerous moves across the Atlantic Coast of Colombia looking to establish his father’s pharmacy homeopathic services. This book is a look at a person that despite not having favourable economic circumstances, enriched himself since very young with his family, social and cultural mechanics and relationships. These relationships depicted in some way an odd reality, usually crossing the limits between the material, the dreams, the memories and the beliefs of those times. At the end, the conditions in which this author was born and raised, only helped him to enlighten his mind even further, and his excessive and fiercely desire for reading, allowed him to develop and extraordinary talent.

Garcia Marquez, as he said it himself, was more an oral storyteller that other thing when he was back at school in Bogota. He decided later to start writing some short stories moved by a comment of Eduardo Zalamea —a critic at an important Colombian newspaper—, who said that there were not writers within the younger generations. Some of those stories were later published by Zalamea himself. In Cartagena and Barranquilla he worked as a journalist. Those were rewarding times, more because of the friends he made, that pushed him to keep writing, than for his academic achievements. His life was disorganised, he slept and ate literally whenever and wherever he could, his unwanted studies at law school finally collapsed, but at least he had all the poetry and books that he wanted, mostly given by his numerous friends in both cities, who were outstandingly active in literature and journalism as well. It was precisely through those books that Garcia Marquez met some authors that defined his career as a writer. He talks about many, but his favourites were William Faulkner, Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Borges and Dostoevsky. And of course, the Ancient Greeks, only after his friend, Gustavo Ibarra, told him that he could always be a writer, but he never would be a good writer if he didn’t know the Ancient Greeks.

The honesty of Garcia Marquez relating his own rhetoric was refreshing, as he never was never pretentious about having a supernatural talent or an easy way to success. At the beginning, he did not like himself as a writer. He observed that the times he wrote for The Heraldo Newspaper in Cartagena, everything was more of the same and he did not manage to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My conclusion is that through his personal experiences, his style found its way.

In between those personal experiences are the tumultuous 40s and 50s in Colombia, and what came after that. the author did not narrate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan’s murder and what happened on that horrible day of April 9 1948 from any political point of view, but as an eye witness of the end of a life and the continuity of a violence that covered the whole country. Politics was not either a subject of his interest. His priorities were rather family, cultural and social interactions.

I observed an excessive love from Garcia Marquez towards his family and friends. Because after all his experiences in life, especially in his youth, it was really when he returned to the memories of his childhood that he found his style and inspiration as a writer. His friends, who were also poets and great readers, guided him to become the writer he was. It was not only about the professional opportunities, but also because of a bullet-proof friendship that also included harsh critics to his work, lending of extraordinary books that Garcia Marquez could have never afford to buy at those times, infinite talks about literature, films and society, and even lunch buying when there was no money for him to eat.

I was impressed to find out that Garcia Marquez first book, Leaf Storm, was rejected by a prestigious Argentinean editorial. However, my surprise did not last long, as this is the life of every single writer. After many disappointments, Garcia Marquez decided to include the critics that he considered were appropriate and modified his literary mistakes. Step by step he built his success.  

The opportunity of getting the insights of Garcia Marquez life should not be put aside. It could have an extraordinary value for someone who wants to be a writer. Patience, discipline, love and absolute passion for the chosen profession, against all odds, support from family and friends, are fundamental for a life of triumph and happiness.


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