From Sucre to Aracataca, I’ve been to Colombia (solely via reading Living to Tell the Tale). The temperatures were almost always high above measure and occasionally the insomniac rain, if not storm, hit hard just to boast of immensity. But even then, men and women in long rain coats and fancy hats walked down the streets, protected by divine intervention, even more than their perfectly round-shaped umbrellas.
More than anything, this book brings out the ingenious grit and wit with which Colombians treasure Spanish, great writers and utmost—the power of literature. “The greatest invention of all must surely be writing. Despite its complicated early systems, anyone learnt it. The reason revealed in the ancient Egyptian scribal-training texts which emphasize the superiority of being a scribe over all other career choices. The earliest scribes understood that literacy was power—a power that now extends to most humanity, and has done more for human progress than any other invention,” writes Tom Standage for Intelligent Life, in the debate—what’s the greatest invention of all time?
The magic in this book, Gabriel being the unparalleled fiction writer and literature’s father of magical realism, lies in the tales of his real life, that shaped the creative writer and journalist he became. A powerful lesson is that, we can spend years, and time traveling in search of ourselves while what we were searching for all along was right home inside of us only needing to be triggered. Gabriel unexpectedly, finally finds the inspiration he’d been searching for, to write and be his own man, in his childhood memories (which he recounts candidly, from breaking his virginity to a whore to being prescribed ‘less reading’ as medicine when his life-long suffering from insomnia began at the age of twelve) when the then budding journalist, in his twenties, accompanies his mother on a journey back to their native. “My mother asked me to go with her to sell the house,” the first sentence in the first chapter.
If you are familiar with Gabriel’s works, this book’s utter beauty is in the encounters that inspired and shaped his thought process while writing his books, some of which top among the world’s best books of all time including One Hundred Years of Solitude—which he makes a shocking revelation about here. Gabriel writes about his brother, “Yiyo in the most difficult years of poverty became a writer and journalist by sheer hard work. He died at the age of fifty-four, almost not enough time to publish a book of more than 600 pages of masterful research into the secret life of One Hundred Years of Solitude, which he had worked on for years without my knowing about it and even making a direct inquiry of me.” My copy of Gabriel’s One Hundred Years of Solitude has 422 pages. Did he get some excerpts from his brother’s? It’s not mentioned, so we’ll probably never know. But did his brother inspire him? I believe so.
Some mind-blowing discoveries include the revelation of the origin of Gabriel’s imaginations, so real, like Macondo (a famous fictional magical town often existing in his novels). Also as interesting is the fact that Gabriel’s parents’ previously forbidden love inspired the premise of his book Love in the Time of Cholera— the unconventional love story of an old couple Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza, who were able to still fall in love in their olden days after their cat and mouse cataclysm that lasted half a century. When [his] grandparents finally permitted [his] parents to get married, Gabriel says [their] story was no longer captivating so to prolong and remodel his book’s characters he got inspired by the story of an old couple murdered on a deck (a case he encountered during his journalism days). To him, fascinating was the fact that the victims were at the time of death both married to different partners. FYI, Love in the Time of Cholera’s last scene is on a deck where Florentina and Fermina, old, are finally together, free from their former partners and falling in love. Anew.
It’s alleged that Gabriel locked himself in for over two years recalling and researching on [his] life whilst writing Living to Tell the Tale (his latest publication first out in 2002) in fear of looming death, right after his battle with lymphatic cancer. He writes, “While talking to papa about the difficulty many writers had in writing their memoirs when they could no longer remember anything, Cuqui, just six years old, drew the conclusion with masterful simplicity: he said, ‘The first thing a writer ought to write is his memoirs, when he can still remember everything’.”
At the point at which this memoir ends, Gabriel has risen from grass to grace and is now able to support his family. The bachelor sets on a trip to France for an international conference. The trip which was meant to take a few weeks eventually saw him stay there for a few years. At [it’s] onset he jokingly writes a letter to Mercedes, the woman he had been exchanging letters and pleasantries with, “This was not meant to be more than five lines to give her official notice of my trip. I signed it: ‘If I do not receive an answer to this letter within a month, I’ll stay and live in Europe forever.’ It was Friday. On Thursday of the following week, when I walked into the hotel in Geneva at the end of another useless day of international disagreements, I found her letter of reply.” That’s the last sentence in Living to Tell the Tale.
Mercedes waited years for Gabriel, who later married her. They have two sons.
By the time the book ends, none of Gabriel’s acclaimed books have been published, only his first novel ‘Leaf Storm’ which Gabriel (who BTW studied law under his father’s duress) highly recounts as his best expression and most honest to date. I have to find that book. Explains why Living to Tell the Tale was meant to be the first of a trilogy of Gabriel’s self-authored biographies but could sadly turn out to have been the last of his new works as Gabriel now suffers from dementia caused by the intensive cancer treatment. His brother J’aime whom in this book, he shared an affectionate relationship with says (via the Guardian UK), “Gabriel has problems with his memory. Sometimes I cry because I feel like I am losing him.”
At the finale, the man, who would years later, win the prestigious Nobel Peace prize of literature, has just discovered his calling for writing but still, is in search of himself. On the way to the airport now a well-respected writer in his country, Gabriel bumps into one of the porters from his former office who then asks, “What I don’t understand Gabriel is why you never told me who you are.” He answers, “I couldn’t tell because even I don’t know who I am yet.”
In essence, this book is about the struggle to find oneself, one’s art and path in a world filled with responsibilities and expectations.I pray that Gabriel writes again. If he doesn’t, I’ll still be happy he lived to tell tales and part of [his] tale. All that inspired me a whole load. The book is really deep and humanizes the legendary Gabriel Garcia Marquez making him that light-hearted vagabond and carousing yet insightful soul we all need to befriend. So much, sometimes I shed a few tears while reading it (Shhh … don’t tell anyone) that took me about five months—during which, my own life transformed a lot in many ways. It’s almost as if I was reading on his journey while I was on one myself. Heck, aren’t we all on one anyway?
BONUS: Living to Tell the Tale’s prologue, “Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.”