Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Living To Tell The Tale

Gabriel Garcia Marquez has to rank on almost anybody's top ten (five?) list of living novelists. Living to Tell the Tale is the first part of Marquez's autobiography covering his life from the beginning (1927) till the date he proposes to his wife (1950). Do not be mislead by the neatness of this scheme- there is nothing linear in Marquez's time narrative which shifts effortlessly from one era to another in the space of a sentence.. He narrates his college days, and then comments on something Bill Clinton witnessed and then moves back to the April 9 riots in Bogotá resulting from the Gaitan assassination. Although his life lacks the drama of, say Hemmingway (no Spanish civil war, bull fights et al), there is enough material in there to keep one riveted. Be warned though: there are large doses of Colombian literature and politics.

In some respects, Living to Tell the Tale, has the classic ingredients of a writer's life - the relative penury; an absent father; the predominance of women in early life; social and political revolution; literary influences -everyone in Colombia seems to have been a poet or writer. It also seems that everyone is Colombia was shagging incessantly. GGM's father sired a number of illegitimate children who ultimately came to live with their eleven other siblings. Marquez's own encounters with women are as casual as lighting up a cigarette - redeemed only upon being discovered in bed by a husband or machete wielding lover. Like some of us, his parents forced him into becoming a lawyer (he failed the exams) while his friends led to him journalism as the next best thing to being a writer. His heart remained in writing and the genesis of many of his characters and the legendary town of Macondo are traced in some detail.

As with any literary autobiography, what is interesting is the creative process which leads to the finished product. Although the period under review predates the better known novels, Marquez does provide the background to his brilliant but later Chronicle of a Death Foretold- I told you there was no time narrative at work here. On a personal level what fascinates me about Marquez is his "magical imagination".I assumed -wrongly - that this arose from Catholicism (miracles and the like) and the native Indian influence (belief in the supernatural). The answer seems to be much simpler and less pretentious: Marquez has a fantastic natural imagination. His dreams and (more frequently) his nightmares are powerful sources. He cites A Thousand and One Nights as one of his early literary influences - the power of imagination to spin a riveting magical story. Other inspiration came from the Americans (Steinbeck, Faulkner) - Colombia being a "natural continuation" of the American/Atlantic coast. Borges was spinning magic at the same time too. The ultimate inspiration came to him from Colombian life around him expressed in a series of truly eccentric friends and family - legitimate and otherwise. In a wonderful interlude, he describes taking a bus in Cartagena, and swears that he saw a faun board the bus, sit with the other passengers and get off many stops later - indeed he smelt the faun. Predictably, nobody believed him.

Where Living to Tell the Tale does succeed is in evoking, in the least complicated terms, a life of tireless pursuit, frustration, poverty and political turmoil in honest and unsentimental terms. Unfortunately there is much less about the novels here than I would have liked, but then again, there's always the second volume to look forward to.


Blogger ~`~ said...

I abolutely loved 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' and Living to Tell the Tale is definetly on my reading list.

11:58 am  
Blogger Sin said...

For some reason, GGM has always left me cold. I may have to go back and re-read him though, just to make sure that I really (dis)like him.

2:21 pm  

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