After rumors of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s sensitive health issues began to circulate around the Internet several years ago, readers worldwide began to fear the great Nobel Laureate (1982) had written and published his final books. Videos posted on YouTube featured a “farewell note” reportedly written by him and many acknowledged their respect for the man and his accomplishments. That fear proved groundless with the recent publication of a collection of speeches by Garcia Marquez titled I Didn’t Come to Give a Speech, and announcement that he was putting the finishing touches on a brand new novel called We’ll Meet in August.
How does a contemporary author reach that point where reading audiences throughout the global village wait with eager anticipation for whatever work he or she produces next? Unlike J.K. Rowling or Stephen King, Garcia Marquez has not had the benefit of seeing one novel after another transformed into a self-perpetuating movie franchise.
Nevertheless, his place in twentieth and twenty-first century literature is one that is now assured by the aforementioned Nobel Prize, the existence of more than 1,400 works published in some 53 languages, and representation via more than 158,000 library holdings. He has also enjoyed the distinction of seeing two of his books featured as a selection of Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club: One Hundred Years of Solitude in 2004 and Love in the Time of Cholera in 2007. The latter was, like works by Rowling and King, granted the honor of being made into a movie.
In Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Early Years, author Ilan Stavans provides an illuminating portrait of the cultural and historical conditions that gave birth to one of the most popular authors on the world literary stage. The book is not so much a painstakingly detailed biography of Garcia Marquez but more like a highly entertaining survey of the places, people, and moments that combined to nourish and evolve the author’s considerable talent.
Or, as Stavans himself put it, “My interest is at once in Garcia Marquez’s personal travels and in the historical backdrop against which that traveling unfolded.”
The Life Lived and the Tale Told
On the morning of March 6, 1927, Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, a small town on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The date is important because it marks a time of tremendous change for the town and its citizens as advances in travel and agriculture made Aracataca more subject to exchanges with the rest of the modernized world. There’s not much along these line Stavans can tell us which has not already been well documented. Garcia Marquez himself did, after all, share a great deal in his own autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale, the first of a projected three volumes.
What Stavans does provide is a brilliant perspective that places the author in a succession of contexts framed by definitive moments. In regard to Aracataca specifically, he widens the angle (so to speak) in such a way that we see both how the town gave birth to the writer and how the writer in turn helped bring new economic life to the town. He also takes us inside the “wide constellation of females” that watched over Garcia Marquez in his childhood and later inspired the creation of some of his most memorable characters.
Stavans allows us to witness Garcia Marquez’s intense love affair with reading, the romantic-comedy courtship that led to a celebrated marriage, the author’s adulthood apprenticeship as a journalist and script writer, and the progression of events that led to the composition of his most championed masterwork: One Hundred Years of Solitude.
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