Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

CULTURE-COLOMBIA: Memoirs of a Now-Famous Telegrapher’s Son

María Isabel García

BOGOTA, Oct 8 2002 (IPS) - A fever has overtaken Colombian booksellers and literature-lovers with the publication of "Vivir para contarla" (Living to Tell It), the first volume of the memoirs of world famous Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, which hits the shelves in bookshops Wednesday in several Spanish-speaking countries.

”Vivir para contarla” begins in the author’s childhood and ends when, at age 28, he starts work as a reporter at the Bogotá newspaper El Espectador. It is still not known how many volumes there will be in García Márquez’s collection of memoirs or when the second in the series will be published.

He was born in 1928 in the town of Aracataca, in Magdalena department, where his father was a telegrapher. García Márquez spent his early years with his grandparents, and says he was influenced even then towards the writing profession.

Magic realism, a genre that melds the mundane with the fantastic, and which would later make him globally famous, was present in the environment in which he grew up, especially in the stories his grandmother told, says the author.

The 579-page book is printed in 12-point Bembo script on 70- gram bone-coloured, watermarked paper in order to prevent and detect book piracy, and begins with the short, simple sentence: ”My mother asked me to help her sell the house.”

”It is a great story in which ‘Gabo’ (García Márquez) is the star witness,” Mauricio Vargas, editor of Cambio magazine, told IPS. The novelist holds 49 percent of the shares of the Cambio (Change) company, and frequently exerts his influence over the publication’s editorial content.

Over the last two months, the magazine has been promoting subscriptions or renewals by offering an autographed copy of the memoirs by the Nobel laureate in Literature, García Márquez, complete with a deluxe case and a 32-page supplement with photos of the writer. All for approximately 64 dollars.

So far, García Márquez has signed 5,500 pages that have been inserted into the special edition. And he has many more to go.

According to Cambio editor Vargas, the book complies with ”all the rules for a report as defined by the Barranquilla Group,” the intellectual and literary circle originating in the Colombian city by that name on the Caribbean coast.

García Márquez acknowledges that the group played a decisive role in his development as a writer.

The new book is ”a lovely edition with attractive lettering,” says Hugo González, manager of Lerner bookshop, a long-standing Bogotá institution. The bookstore initially requested 200 copies of García Márquez’s memoirs, which González says ”will sell in a snap.”

Just prior to speaking with IPS, González had received the shipment from the Lerner warehouse. ”I scanned over the first five pages and I loved it. I was captivated,” he said.

The publisher’s goal is to sell 150,000 copies in Colombia, a country of 42 million people, before December. González thinks it will not be easy because, even with a ”reasonable” price of 18 dollars, the economic crisis hitting this South American nation is severe.

It is hoped another 150,000 copies will be sold during the next couple months in Argentina, another crisis-ridden country.

Moisés Melo, literature director for the Norma publishing house, told IPS that the 1.15 million copies of the first four Spanish editions of ”Vivir para contarla” would enter into circulation simultaneously on Wednesday.

Norma holds the publishing rights for García Márquez in Colombia and the other four countries of the Andean Community (Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela), and in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

The other three editions belong to publishers Mondadori (Spain), Sudamericana (Argentina) and Diana (Mexico). All editions entail the same typographical and printing specifications.

The book’s cover, based on a photograph from the writer’s family album, was designed by Spanish artist Luz de la Mora.

Melo said that the last correction of the text was made in Spain and includes ”at least three errata”. The mistakes ”also made it past the author, who placed a great deal of confidence in the proofreaders,” the publisher explained.

The attention to detail is an indicator of just how big an event the publication of a García Márquez work is in the world of literature.

One of the errors is ”San Juan del César”, name of a town on the Caribbean coast, to which the proofreader in Spain mistakenly added an accent mark, not realising that it referred to the Colombian department of Cesar.

The blunder was discovered by journalist Juan Gossaín, news director at Colombia’s RCN radio network, who had early access to the book.

Fellow Colombian Germán Santamaría read the 579 pages of ”Vivir para contarla” in three days and nights. ”In the end, at dawn, I was left with as much knowledge about whores as about classical music,” he wrote in Semana weekly, which dedicated its cover to the book’s debut.

In explaining the multiplicity of García Márquez’s memories, Santamaría said that the first volume ”covers not only the first 28 years of Gabriel García Márquez’s live, but also more than a hundred years of Colombian history.”

The poet William Ospina, to whom García Márquez presented the original text before sending it to the publisher, said readers would find in ”Vivir para contarla” the origins of some of the characters and places the author created throughout his career as a novelist, such as the famous fabled town of Macondo.

In the early chapters ”is all the splendour of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ (the author’s landmark work in magic realism), and then the rhythm of the story begins to shift towards a more adventurous tone,” until the fifth chapter, in which the author’s life ”is intertwined with the great Colombian tragedy,” said Ospina.

According to Roberto Pombo, of Cambio, the common thread throughout the narrative is García Márquez’s ”struggle to become a writer, against all the existing obstacles,” ranging from economic hardships to his own shyness.

But García Márquez overcame at least enough of the obstacles to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, in recognition of the mark he had already made on Latin American and international letters.

His most famous novels and collections of short stories include ”One Hundred Years of Solitude”, ”Chronicle of a Death Foretold”, ”Love in the Time of Cholera”, ”No One Writes to the Colonel”, ”The General in His Labyrinth”, among many others.

A sort of ”Gabo-mania” has taken over at least the cultural circles in Colombia with the publication of the Nobel laureate’s memoirs.

García Márquez is figure of great pride in Colombia, and these days it is not unusual to make a telephone call and hear an answering machine with the author’s voice intoning a choice text.

When phoning the offices of Cambio, the caller hears the recording (in Spanish): ”Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

These are the words that open ”One Hundred Years of Solitude”, the novel first published in 1967 that catapulted García Márquez to international fame.

 
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Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

CULTURE-COLOMBIA: Memoirs of a Now-Famous Telegrapher’s Son

María Isabel García

BOGOTA, Oct 8 2002 (IPS) - A fever has overtaken Colombian booksellers and literature-lovers with the publication of “Vivir para contarla” (Living to Tell It), the first volume of the memoirs of world famous Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, which hits the shelves in bookshops Wednesday in several Spanish-speaking countries.
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