A few days ago I was talking to the same friend who loaned me the David Maine books and rhapsodized about Louise Erdrich, and I mentioned I was reading more of Jim Harrison's exemplary novellas, going so far as to say I thought he was the premier writer of that form. He asked me if I'd read Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novellas. When I said that I had not he gave me a copy of "Collected Novellas" by Garcia Marquez, saying that, for him at least, they were the finest examples of that form he had ever read, high praise indeed from a man of his prodigious and critical literary experience. Having been slightly disappointed by Mr Harrison I immediately turned to Garcia Marquez.
The prose in these stories was at times stunningly evocative. One of Garcia Marquez's greatest gifts is to use both metaphor and the experience of all five senses to describe a scene.
'Leaf Storm' is the opening novella, and the writers first work describing the fictional town of Macondo, to which he would return again and again. This is the story of a man, a doctor, hated by the denizens of Macondo for refusing to treat wounded soldiers after a civil uprising, an action which is never really explained but seems to be connected to the scorn with which they treated him before their neglect of his practice forced him to close it down. This doctor has now hanged himself but the citizens of the town wish him to rot within the house he hadn't left in many years, rather than to be buried in their town. The story of his life in Macondo is told by 3 first person narrators; an old friend, the Colonel, who has promised to, in the words of the doctor "...throw a little earth on me when morning finds me stiff." The story of their relationship is the centerpiece of the novella; the Colonel's daughter, who is concerned primarily about the town's reaction to the thwarting of their plans to leave the doctor to rot in situ, although she contributes her own recollections of the doctor, as well as memories of her own short lived marriage; and the Colonel's grandson, face to face with death for the first time and trying to stave off horror and boredom with daydreams of more pleasant activities.
This was a very interesting novella, with information parceled out in a very suspense building way. Much of what we first hear of the doctor turns out to be either untrue or half true, although there is much left unsaid. This is a character driven piece with intriguing and interesting characters, and probably my favorite of the three.
"Nobody writes to the Colonel" is about an old Colonel (different Colonel,(but same town), than Leaf Storm; seems you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a Colonel in Macondo????) waiting for a pension to arrive, and persevering in the face of despair. His son has apparently died and he has inherited a fighting rooster which the Colonel believes will be worth a large amount of money when it wins a cockfighting tournament.
There is humor here, and compassion, and fine writing. But nothing much ever happens, which is actually the point of the story. And nothing is resolved. It was the shortest, but also least compelling, of the three novellas.
'Chronicle of a Death Foretold' is a minor masterpiece of circular storytelling. Each arc starts from the murder then heads out into astute characterization and cultural exploration, the culture itself being the primary perpetrator of the crime, then looping back to the the murder itself. It borders on post modernist in its inclusion of multiple viewpoints captured by the narrator in his quest for the meaning of this death foretold by not only the murderers, but by all and sundry in town. The mystery which is plumbed here is not the who, what, where, or why of conventional murder fiction. All these are made clear in the first pages. What the chronicler attempts to ascertain is how such a thing could have happened when it was extensively foretold, and whether the victim was even guilty of the actions which led to his murder. Fascinating little gem of structure and ambiguity.
All in all this collection of novellas was a really good read, but I preferred "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "Love in the Time of Cholera". These earlier works show the storytelling structures and themes he would put to such great use in those later works. And even here the prose was wonderful and highly original. 4 solid stars
An elderly scholar, famous for his promiscuity with hundreds of prostitutes and for never settling down, decides to indulge in a sexual fantasy on the eve of his ninetieth birthday. What follows forces him, at his very late stage in life, to reexamine his view of life and love.
This is a very enjoyable read. It's my first experience with Gabriel García Márquez, and I am impressed. I don't often read short stories or novellas, but this one has such a smooth and comfortable manner, and the writing brings the reader into the protagonist's world, both because of the intimate portrayal and the atmosphere. García Márquez not only touches on love, but also the aging process and the changes one goes through, as well as some general observations on the world of publishing and news reporting. It's short, sweet, enjoyable, poignant, and will leave the reader satisfied for having read it.
Unfortunately, I read this novella in little segments over the course of a month or so while I was reading other things. It probably wasn't the best method, but I'm glad I gave it a try. I'm going to try Chronicle of a Death Foretold as my next García Márquez story.
An investigation, more than twenty years after the fact, into the murder of Santiago Nasar, who dishonored a girl before her wedding to a wealthy, yet mysterious, man.
At it's heart, this isn't really a murder mystery, because we know who was killed, by whom, and why right from the opening of the story (probably even the blurb on the back cover). What this is is a look at the events surrounding the murder, and an examination of fate vs. coincidence, apathy (both in general and as a result of a belief in fate), honor killings (capital punishment???), and a little bit of love.
I thought this novella had all the potential of a great story, except character. I didn't feel anything for anybody in the story, and we don't really get to know any of them in such a short work as this. I view it was a serious oversight on the part of García Márquez as it keeps the reader at too much of a distance. It's a case where I would have liked to have seen an extra hundred pages or so just to make it more presentable.
It's an okay story, but not worth the hefty cover price for only 120 pages.
Originally published as a serial in a Colombian newspaper back in 1955, The Story Of A Shipwrecked Sailor, to my surprise given other Márquez titles, is a piece of non-fiction. It was only attributed to Gabriel García Márquez in 1970 and tells the story of Colombian sailor, Luis Alejandro Velasco, as told to Márquez. While the full title pretty much covers the bulk of the story (The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor Who Drifted on a Liferaft for Ten Days Without Food or Water, Was Proclaimed a National Hero, Kissed by Beauty Queens, Made Rich Through Publicity, and Then Spurned by the Government and Forgotten for All Time) there's a great deal of action here despite being pretty much restricted to a raft.
Leaving Alabama after eight months of repair work, the Colombian destroyer, Caldas, is heading home. Only a couple of hours from ending their journey a number of sailors are knocked overboard, their ship sailing on innocent of their loss. In the subsequent scramble the narrator Velasco recalls seeing his friends in the water with him as he fought his way to a raft. And then, one by one, they disappeared until he was alone at sea.
The next ten days are Velasco's account of his time as his hopes of rescue abandon him, as starvation, thirst, and the sun take their toll on his mind and body, leading him to hallucinations. And that's not all - he hunts for fish and gulls, fights against the sharks that punctually arrive each day, and saves himself when the raft overturns. Twice! It's amazing how much action you can fit into ten days in such a confined space. But eventually, as the lengthy title states, it all comes to an end when he ends up ashore in the place he least expects: his own Colombia.
As Márquez's first real work, there's little of the style that he would become famous for - and, indeed, take the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature - and his journalistic tendencies see him reporting the account from Velasco's perspective, adding colour where necessary, and bringing life to the page. And, despite it's basis in fact, there's something of the myth to it, given perhaps the solitary nature of one man's fight for survival amidst the unforgiving sea.
The Story Of A Shipwrecked Sailor is a relatively quick read covering the stubborn will to live of one man with a positive outcome. Sprinkled amongst its pages there's some interesting tidbits of survival and enough action to maintain such a narrative account. There's also an emotional connection as we wonder what it's like to be feared dead, what our families and friends must think. And given the current climate of people becoming celebrities for absolutely anything, this book shows that, no matter where these people are in the world, it's not such a recent phenomenon after all.
(There are some slight spoilers in this for Romeo and Juliet, not Love in the Time of Cholera)
What is the greatest love story ever written? Of course it's Romeo and Juliet one mechanically replies. Why? Because someone said so. But, Why? you may ask again. And that is the question: What makes Romeo and Juliet--a story of infatuation, adolescent rebellion, miscommunication, misunderstanding, and suicide--the greatest love story ever?
Until recently, I would have stayed out of such a discussion, mainly because I don't read anything of a romantic nature. But then I picked up Love in the Time of Cholera. The story, spanning over fifty years, is about a young man and girl who fall in love, much to the disapproval of her father. After some time, the girl decides to marry a young doctor. The rest is the story of the lives of all three of them. In this very compelling tale, love is described from all aspects: infatuation, rejection, marriage, endurance, security, waiting, infidelity, old age, adultery, licentiousness, second chances.
García Márquez's narrative style is rich and lush, often populated with colorful anecdotes and digressions, but always on topic. He knows how to describe a house, the household, the routines, the problems, the characteristics, then expand that out to include the neighborhood, the city, and the country. Everything on the page easily flows into the reader's mind, and we are immersed and left under his spell. We have experienced another culture in another time, visited another country, and lived others' lives, all in the time it takes to flip the pages.
It is a beautiful and gentle book, very broad in its subject matter, yet poignant in accomplishing its purpose. Love is wonderfully and fully discussed for what it really is; Romeo and Juliet, that tale of infatuation that has dominated the literary landscape for centuries, can't even begin to scratch the surface of a work like this. I highly recommend it.