Gabriel Garcia Marquez : The Early Years by Ilan Stavans

As I relate in the preface, I was dumbstruck when I first read him as a twenty-one-year-old in my native Mexico. It suddenly became clear to me that words have magic: when used meticulously, they are able to conjure alternative universes, some more appealing than our own.

I ran across the Gabriel Garcia Marquez biography by chance. I was looking up some facts about one of my favourite authors, the one that enchanted me with “Love in the time of Cholera”, “Of love and other demons” and “The General and his Labyrinth” and I came across this book talking about his early years.

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So I decided to pick it up, give it a go and see where it takes me. Unfortunately, it focused mostly on one book and one only and the only little precious information I was able to gather, I had read before in various articles.

th.jpgBut no book by this cadre of myth-makers (the term was coined by the British man of letters V. S. Pritchett) compared remotely to One Hundred Years of Solitude, a veritable lesson in what a friend described as neobarroco, the neo-baroque style that defined the literature from the region. I didn’t just read it; I devoured it.

I was on my bed, near the window. I remember going to the bathroom twice. And I recall reaching chapter eighteen, with only two more to go before the end, as the sun began to rise. I was dumbstruck. Could a novel really be this good? We retain forever the memory of the moment when certain books imposed themselves on us because nothing feels the same afterwards. That afternoon I went to Librería Gandhi on Avenida Miguel Ángel de Quevedo, a favourite haunt of mine, bought every García Márquez title I could find, and binged on them for weeks.

I think they mislabelled the book. This wasn’t a biography. It goes into some detail of the author’s life and it does show some parallels between Marquez’s life and the book that became and international bestseller and his masterpiece – One Hundred Years Of Solitude. But it does not touch any of his other books. It does not talk about anything else other than “One Hundred Years of Solitude”.

The masterful One Hundred Years of Solitude is a sweeping genealogical narrative about an entire continent and its people: its corrupt politicians, its religious aspirations, its gender disparity, and its natural and historical calamities. Like Cervantes’s opus, which is purportedly written by a Moor, García Márquez’s novel is presented as a palimpsest: a manuscript drafted by a gypsy. What is one to make of the fact that such fringe social types on which it stands?

I would have hoped for a bit more. Instead I got something similar to a highschool grade paper written about one specific book and with some factoids about the author. And from the 254 pages, about 30 were introduction, 30 were the notes and references and the rest were widely spaced comments about how the novel made him feel and some snippets about the author’s life.

García Márquez wrote for long hours, secluded from everyone else, on a typewriter. In an article entitled “El amargo encanto de la máquina de escribir,” he discussed the difference between writing in longhand and typing. He suggested that the former had an aura of mystery but that the latter was the inevitable outcome of modern life. “Truth is that everyone writes in whatever way possible, because the hardest thing of this arduous business isn’t how one handles tools, but the way one succeeds in putting one word after another.”

I would say – avoid buying this book. It’s a bore-fest about “One hundred years of Solitude”. 1/5

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