Monday, September 21, 2009

Living to Tell the Tale

Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel García Márquez jumped out at me on the shelf at the library (behind it was Dalek I Loved You, which I had to return before I could actually read it). I’ve had sort of a love/hate relationship with Márquez because I really didn’t get One Hundred Years of Solitude and much preferred Love in the Time of Cholera. I’ve since adapted to his style a bit, but I have to say the memoir was a tour-de-force. Oh, I suppose it petered out a bit toward the end, and I was somewhat disappointed Márquez’s later life was either ignored altogether or glossed over. However, the first few chapters are amazing. Márquez is at his best weaving rambling and mysterious (he’s the godfather of Magical Realism, after all) stories of his childhood all over Colombia.

I found it very interesting indeed that Márquez found so much inspiration for his works from his life, past, family history, etc. In fact the central story from Love in the Time of Cholera is his parents’: “when I was past fifty [I] decided at last to use their story in Love in the Time of Cholera,” including his father’s telegraph office hammock, next to it a “bachelor’s cot with well-oiled springs.” I don’t know why, but this makes me hopeful, somehow, as a writer: ie, while I may not at present possess the finesse to incorporate my life into memoir like this, that will immediately get picked up by creative nonfiction journals, at least I can save it up and use it in fiction. Which is exactly what I did with The Gathering Dust, which is the play about my grandparents. But we’ll come back to that.

Okay, I’ll admit that Colombia has taken quite the center stage in my life at the moment, due to my boyfriend and various projects, etc. I hope he’ll take it as a compliment that at points I found Márquez’s style and subject matter so similar that I got confused to whose account I was reading: Gabriel García Márquez, 82-year-old Nobel Prize winner, or Jamie George Beckwith, Cockney Colombian diarist. Of course, as always when I read a work in translation, I wonder what it would be like to read the original—though I think I have read all Edith Grossman translations of Márquez. The beginning of the book, as it rambles around Márquez’s youth, superstition and family history, lore and legend, opens in a manner that grabs you in immediately. Márquez’s voice is a familiar one, but quietly omniscient.

I was also fascinated by the portrait of Márquez’s schoolboy days and amazed to find many of Florentino’s romps in LitToC to be based on real experience! “The reality is that I did not understand why I had to sacrifice my talents and time on courses that did not move me and therefore would be of no use to me in a life that was not mine”—his youthful arrogance and the things he got away with because of his natural talent made me tsk tsk! However, this is all turned on its head when, in order to save his numerous family from destitution, he has to get a job in order to send money home. This is when, you feel, that he’s finally grown up. And for me, that’s actually the end of the book. The rest is disappointingly sparse if you are looking into insights as to how a famous writer writes, or what he made of his fame, though the stints on various newspapers were entertaining and interesting.

Probably the funniest part is that after I read this book I had a dream I met Márquez and he wanted me to be his mistress!

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