Commentary & Opinion
12:50 pm
Sun July 27, 2014

David Nightingale: Gabriel Garcia Marquez

What better, for summer reading, than the writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez?

'Gabo', as he is known affectionately in many countries of S.America, was the liberal and left-wing author of such books as “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, “Leaf Storm” (his first), “Love in the Time of Cholera” and many others, and was a literary friend of not a few world leaders, including the young Fidel Castro. Indeed, it was only when Bill Clinton became President that Garcia's travel ban to the US was lifted and he was allowed a visa – with Clinton describing him as one of his favorite authors.

Gabo (or when he was small, Gabito) was born in Colombia in 1927. Colombia of course has both a Pacific coast and a Caribbean coast, and he spent much of his youth in and around the latter.

He and a sister were at first raised by his grandparents [ref.2] in the small inland town of Aracataca until about the age of nine. Gabito loved his Liberal grandfather, Colonel Nicolas Marquez Mejia, who would take the little boy everywhere – bank, Post Office, cinema, circus – and in “One Hundred Years of Solitude” it is clear that Jose Arcadio Buendia is largely modelled after this grandpa. His actual father, a young, politically Conservative (disapproved of by the grandparents) womanizer, who made many attempts at opening a pharmacy in various small towns, was not close, and drifted in and out of the boy's life for short visits, while making Garcia's mother pregnant 11 times in all.

When Gabito was about 10 the family moved up to Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast, where they lived in poverty, the father sometimes earning a few pesos painting store signs. Garcia's biographer [ref.1.] Gerald Martin describes the pre-teen boy as pale, underfed and underdeveloped. One of Gabito's teachers in Baranquilla, Rosa Elena, said that the boy was 'quiet, hardly spoke, very very shy and never liked sports.' Nevertheless, his classmates liked him – partly because he could write funny stories about various topics, including the teachers.

The educational system in Colombia is/was slightly different from ours and at 15 he was sent by river boat and train to the cold and damp capital, Bogota, 8000 feet up in the eastern Andes. He arrived essentially penniless and without warm clothes, on a day that he described later as the worst day of his life. A distant relative met him however, and he was to apply for a scholarship to college or secondary school – but the line of applicants stretched from the Ministry of Education along 2 streets. By a stroke of luck, the director of educational grants recognized him from the river boat and took him to the front of the line. He did well in the exams and was offered a free place in the National College for Boys, not in Bogota but in the city of Zipaquira.

Garcia Marquez just got his baccalaureate, and although he knew he wanted to be a writer his mother advised law school first, back in Bogota. His heart was not in it, and fortunately there was an uprising in the capital after the first year, so he found himself doing his second year of the law degree back in the 16th century coastal town of Cartagena, where he supported himself writing for a liberal newspaper at night and going to law school by day.

There isn't time to describe his period in Rome, his 2 years of extreme poverty in Paris, sharing a dingy room with a lovely Spanish would-be actress – nor her pregnancy and hemarraging – nor how he was reduced to finding deposit bottles. As he told his biographer, 'there is public life, private life, and secret life'. Once, in Paris, taking someone's garbage out, he managed to find some food in it.

His novel “Leaf Storm” was published in 1955 when he was 28. He married at age 31 and was 40 when “One Hundred Years of Solitude” came out – to worldwide acclaim, allowing him to leave journalism.

“Love in the Time of Cholera” appeared in English 3 years after he had received the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature. At the age of 72 he was diagnosed with lymphoma, but was able to go on writing stories and novels almost up to his death in 2014 at age 87.

'Gabo', as he is known affectionately in many countries of S.America, was the liberal and left-wing author of such books as “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, “Leaf Storm” (his first), “Love in the Time of Cholera” and many others, and was a literary friend of not a few world leaders, including the young Fidel Castro. Indeed, it was only when Bill Clinton became President that Garcia's travel ban to the US was lifted and he was allowed a visa – with Clinton describing him as one of his favorite authors.

Gabo (or when he was small, Gabito) was born in Colombia in 1927. Colombia of course has both a Pacific coast and a Caribbean coast, and he spent much of his youth in and around the latter.

He and a sister were at first raised by his grandparents [ref.2] in the small inland town of Aracataca until about the age of nine. Gabito loved his Liberal grandfather, Colonel Nicolas Marquez Mejia, who would take the little boy everywhere – bank, Post Office, cinema, circus – and in “One Hundred Years of Solitude” it is clear that Jose Arcadio Buendia is largely modelled after this grandpa. His actual father, a young, politically Conservative (disapproved of by the grandparents) womanizer, who made many attempts at opening a pharmacy in various small towns, was not close, and drifted in and out of the boy's life for short visits, while making Garcia's mother pregnant 11 times in all.

When Gabito was about 10 the family moved up to Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast, where they lived in poverty, the father sometimes earning a few pesos painting store signs. Garcia's biographer [ref.1.] Gerald Martin describes the pre-teen boy as pale, underfed and underdeveloped. One of Gabito's teachers in Baranquilla, Rosa Elena, said that the boy was 'quiet, hardly spoke, very very shy and never liked sports.' Nevertheless, his classmates liked him – partly because he could write funny stories about various topics, including the teachers.

The educational system in Colombia is/was slightly different from ours and at 15 he was sent by river boat and train to the cold and damp capital, Bogota, 8000 feet up in the eastern Andes. He arrived essentially penniless and without warm clothes, on a day that he described later as the worst day of his life. A distant relative met him however, and he was to apply for a scholarship to college or secondary school – but the line of applicants stretched from the Ministry of Education along 2 streets. By a stroke of luck, the director of educational grants recognized him from the river boat and took him to the front of the line. He did well in the exams and was offered a free place in the National College for Boys, not in Bogota but in the city of Zipaquira.

Garcia Marquez just got his baccalaureate, and although he knew he wanted to be a writer his mother advised law school first, back in Bogota. His heart was not in it, and fortunately there was an uprising in the capital after the first year, so he found himself doing his second year of the law degree back in the 16th century coastal town of Cartagena, where he supported himself writing for a liberal newspaper at night and going to law school by day.

There isn't time to describe his period in Rome, his 2 years of extreme poverty in Paris, sharing a dingy room with a lovely Spanish would-be actress – nor her pregnancy and hemarraging – nor how he was reduced to finding deposit bottles. As he told his biographer, 'there is public life, private life, and secret life'. Once, in Paris, taking someone's garbage out, he managed to find some food in it.

His novel “Leaf Storm” was published in 1955 when he was 28. He married at age 31 and was 40 when “One Hundred Years of Solitude” came out – to worldwide acclaim, allowing him to leave journalism.

“Love in the Time of Cholera” appeared in English 3 years after he had received the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature. At the age of 72 he was diagnosed with lymphoma, but was able to go on writing stories and novels almost up to his death in 2014 at age 87.

References:

1.  Col. Nicolas Marquez Mejia, and Tranquilina Iguaran

2.  “Gabriel Garcia Marquez – A Life”, by Gerald Martin; Afred A. Knopf, NY, 2009

Dr. David Nightingale is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the State University of New York at New Paltz, and is the co-author of the text,  A Short Course in General Relativity.

 

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