Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Gabriel García Márquez / 'He made no claim for his divinity'

Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez: 'He made no claim for his divinity'

Novelist Mona Simpson reflects on a legacy that extends far beyond 'magical realism'

Mona Simpson
Sat 26 April 2014

n one of Gabriel García Márquez's early imperishable stories, a man whose baby has a fever goes out into a rainstorm to throw crabs from the house into the sea; he and his wife think their stench may be causing the baby's illness. On the way back, he discovers an old man in his courtyard. The old man has enormous wings, like a buzzard's, "dirty and half-plucked" and spattered with mud. He speaks a dialect the man and his wife don't understand – they assume he's a sailor from a shipwreck, until a neighbour tells them that he's an angel, who had come to take their baby but stumbled and fell in the mud. They don't kill him, as the neighbour recommends, but they lock him in the chicken coop.

García Márquez in 1983.
Photograph by Paco Junquera

When their baby wakes up one morning without a fever and hungry again, they decide to set him on a raft with provisions, out to sea. But when they go to release him they find he's become an attraction for neighbours, who toss scraps of food into his cage. The village priest comes to assess the angel's authenticity. He enters the cage and tries to speak to the winged old man in Latin. The old man doesn't understand and his smell is all too terrestrial. Parasites line his wings. He looks more like "a huge decrepit hen", the priest thinks, "nothing about him measured up to the proud dignity of angels." The priest suspects the angel is an imposter and warns the excited villagers that if the presence of wings could prove divinity, hawks and aeroplanes would also qualify. He promises to write to the Bishop, who in turn will write to his superior, and so on, until the Supreme Pontiff gives a verdict in the matter.
Then the story goes circus, and we see the influence of Kafka's "A Hunger Artist". Pilgrims from all over the earth come to see the angel, especially those with strange ailments, and the man and woman who found him begin to charge admission. Then comes this beautiful, prophetic line. "The angel was the only one who took no part in his own act."
The winged old man is besieged; admirers pluck his feathers to rub on their wounds. But the miracles attributed to him come out cross-circuited; a leper who had hoped to be cured sprouts sunflowers from his sores; a paralytic remains paralysed but almost wins the lottery. The town's attention drifts away when another travelling show arrives: a woman who once disobeyed her parents and was turned into a tarantula with a human head. By then, though, the couple have become rich. They build a mansion "with balconies and gardens and high netting so that crabs wouldn't get in during the winter, and with iron bars on the windows so that angels wouldn't get in". They barricade themselves against their bad luck returning. The wife buys satin shoes and silk dresses. The child who had once had a fever grows up playing with the angel as with a dog. "His only supernatural virtue seemed to be patience."

Both the boy and his pet contract chicken pox and when the doctor checks the angel, "there's so much whistling in his heart … that it seemed impossible for him to be alive. What surprised him most, however, was the logic of his wings. They seemed so natural on that completely human organism that he couldn't understand why other men didn't have them too." The doctor's musing could be quoted as his author's aesthetic philosophy.
Time passes. The boy goes to school and the chicken coop collapses (now they're rich the family presumably no longer keeps chickens) and the winged old man seems to be everywhere in the house. "The angel went dragging himself about here and there like a stray dying man. They would drive him out of the bedroom with a broom and a moment later find him in the kitchen … He could scarcely eat and his antiquarian eyes had also become so foggy that he went about bumping into posts. All he had left were the bare cannulae of his last feathers."

Reading "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" again, there's a purity to this 1955 story. In the eight pages (in my battered edition of the Collected Stories) there's only one tiny break in tone (the maiden-head on the tarantula) but I suspect that that's because the image has been appropriated by Pixar. We think we see the shape of the story: the very old man is, in fact, mortal after all, like Nabokov's Nina in "Spring in Fialta". We expect to see him die. But no. After a terrible winter, new feathers begin to grow. The woman, in the kitchen cutting onions, watches the ancient angel clumsily try to teach himself to fly again. He succeeds, and as she watches him gain altitude and fly over the last of the rooftops and disappear into the sky, it feels to her like her victory and to us like all of ours.
Much has been said about García Márquez's magic, less has been claimed for his realism, even less of his Christianity. But his aesthetic partners in what came to be called, crudely, "magical realism", Julio Cortázar and Jorge Luis Borges, were profoundly urban and European (each of them grew up partly in northern Europe). García Márquez came to urban Continentalism late, with the exuberance of a boy from the provinces in the clean, stylish capital. He retained the wonderment of a provincial discovering the sophisticated world and the faith in the universe's connected intentionality. He had the gift and the privilege of being sincere.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
 García Márquez, May 1972. Photograph: Katherine Young/Getty Images

The story of García Márquez's life and career is as beautifully shaped and fabular as one of his own stories. Born in 1927 in the small town of Aracataca, Colombia, he was raised there by his grandparents for eight years. Aracataca was a "Wild West boom town" and his grandparents' house was full of people – "his grandparents, aunts, transient guests, servants, Indians". García Márquez based his fictional homeland on Aracataca and named it Macondo – after a dusty sign he once passed on a train in rural Colombia. The sign heralded no visible town.
His grandfather was a colonel and a liberal veteran of the thousand days war, who refused to remain silent about the banana massacres that took place the year García Márquez was born. As in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the colonel taught the young García Márquez lessons from the dictionary, took him to the circus every year and introduced him to the miracle of ice, which he first witnessed at the American Fruit Company. The fact that the US was – for García Márquez and his grandfather – the enemy added to the experience. His ideology was shaped by his grandfather, who told him, "You can't imagine how much a dead man weighs", a line that worked its way into the fiction. "Instead of telling me fairytales," García Márquez said, "he would regale me with horrifying accounts of the last civil war that free-thinkers and anti-clerics waged against the conservative government". If García Márquez (known affectionately as "Gabo" in Latin America) gleaned his politics through his grandfather, his grandmother bequeathed him his aesthetic stance. She "treated the extraordinary as something perfectly natural". The household was full of ghost stories, premonitions, omens, portents, superstitions, and magic (all of which could function as a working description of Catholicism). His grandfather ignored his wife's supernatural views, and she relayed them in a deadpan style.
His grandfather died when he was eight and García Márquez rejoined his parents and younger siblings. His father was a struggling pharmacist (a "quack doctor," according to some) and the family moved frequently. Gabo was an excellent student but an insecure child. A friend recalled him as a skinny boy, "circumspect, almost a bit sad, and in any case lonely and unknown".
He moved to Bogotá to study law but quit to become a journalist in Barranquilla, where he read William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf. He was a film critic for a newspaper for a year, then, at 30, he took a position at a newspaper in Caracas and helped in the 1958 Venezuelan coup d'etat, leading to the exile of president Marcos Pérez Jiménez. That same year, he married Mercedes, to whom he remained married until his death last week. His first published book was a journalistic account of a shipwrecked sailor from a Colombian naval vessel carrying contraband goods. The controversy following an expose of official accounts landed him a post as a foreign correspondent and finally got him to Europe. In 1961, the García Márquez family travelled by Greyhound bus throughout the southern US; García Márquez had always wanted to see the south to pay homage to Faulkner's country.
Gabo's aesthetic development was gradual, and then sudden. The story goes that he was driving his family on holiday when the first line of One Hundred Years of Solitude came to him ("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.") He turned the car around, returned home and wrote feverishly every day for 18 months, as if taking dictation. During that time, Mercedes pawned her jewellery (which the discriminating pawnbroker pronounced to be coloured glass) sold the car and, according to some accounts, the toaster. They owed money to the butcher, the baker and a kind landlord. But still Gabo and Mercedes didn't have enough postage to send the entire manuscript to the publishers, so they sent only the first half. Fortunately, the book's appeal was undeniable, leading the novelist William Kennedy to deem it "the first piece of literature since the book of Genesis that should be required reading for all of humanity".
Certainly, it's a beautiful novel that many writers of my generation remember the experience of reading the way they remember other cultural events of their lifetimes; the assassination of John F Kennedy or Martin Luther King. I remember where I was the year I lived in its trance. It was 1980 – the book had been out in English a decade before I discovered it. Under the spell of its plausible flying carpets and avalanches of butterflies, I spent the summer in a sublet cottage in the Berkeley Flats, where a serial rapist continued his attacks, unapprehended. I was writing a novel set on a coastal cliff in the northwest, where armless thalidomide children wore small tuxedos, serving adults in the restaurant. There was also a road scene through miles of cornfields, where living children worked as scarecrows.
There are few modern works of genius that feel as unlaboured as One Hundred Years of Solitude. And yet, in his Paris Review interview, Gabo says, "Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry. Both are very hard work. Writing something is almost as hard as making a table. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood. Both are full of tricks and techniques. Basically very little magic and a lot of hard work are involved."
The interview was conducted in 1982. No doubt, after the gift and cataclysm of One Hundred Years of Solitude, which vaulted Gabo and Mercedes, like the couple in the angel story, from intellectual poverty to riches, international literary respect and household fame, the dictation became fainter and harder to hear. Or perhaps that kind of gift only happens once. He was apparently so overwhelmed by attention that at one party he put up a sign saying "Forbidden to speak of One Hundred Years of Solitude."
No worries. García Márquez worked on. If none of the other books have the magic "dictated" quality of One Hundred Years, they're great, deep books, in their own way. Love in the Time of Cholera, which chronicles García Márquez's parents' romance, was a huge bestseller. When he died, Gabo left us seven novels, 10 non-fiction works, and, as significant as the epic narratives, a thick collection of novellas and (not yet aggregated in English) stories. A beautiful shelf of books. Carlos Fuentes called him "the most popular and perhaps the best writer in Spanish since Cervantes".

Colombia's Nobel literature prize laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez at his house in Mexico City.
 García Márquez at his house in Mexico City, November 2010. Photograph: Miguel Tovar/AP

One reason we all want to claim García Márquez's created world is that he made so few claims of ownership on his books himself. He famously said that Gregory Rabassa's translation into English of One Hundred Years of Solitude improved on the original. Like his "very old man with enormous wings" García Márquez seemed, to his readers, miraculously modest, and made no claims for his divinity. He seemed to do everything possible to deflect elevation. He stressed the naturalistic nature of his realism. His Nobel address begins with a couple of paragraphs of Latin American events that sound as if he'd made them up:
Antonio Pigafetta, a Florentine navigator who went with Magellan on the first voyage around the world, wrote, upon his passage through our southern lands of America, a strictly accurate account that nonetheless resembles a venture into fantasy. In it he recorded that he had seen hogs with navels on their haunches, clawless birds whose hens laid eggs on the backs of their mates, and others still, resembling tongueless pelicans, with beaks like spoons. He wrote of having seen a misbegotten creature with the head and ears of a mule, a camel's body, the legs of a deer and the whinny of a horse. He described how the first native encountered in Patagonia was confronted with a mirror, whereupon that impassioned giant lost his senses to the terror of his own image.
This short and fascinating book, which even then contained the seeds of our present-day novels [How many writers would have kept this source to themselves, exaggerating their own powers of invention!] is by no means the most staggering account of our reality in that age.
To make sure everyone got the point, he said it outright:
I dare to think that it is this outsized reality, and not just its literary expression, that has deserved the attention of the Swedish Academy of Letters. A reality not of paper, but one that lives within us and determines each instant of our countless daily deaths, and that nourishes a source of insatiable creativity, full of sorrow and beauty, of which this roving and nostalgic Colombian is but one cipher more, singled out by fortune. Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination, for our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.
García Márquez said, again and again, that his triumph is ours no less than his. And amidst the carnage, the savagery, the corruption and the solitude of his century in Latin America, his work claims again and again, "There is always something left to love."

García Márquez / Inspiration and Intuition

Gabriel García Márquez

Inspiration and Intuition
by Gabriel García Márquez

Inspiration is when you find the right theme, one that you really like, that makes the work easier. Intuition, which is also fundamental to writing fiction, is a special quality that helps you to decipher what is real without needing scientific knowledge or any other special kind of learning. The laws of gravity can be figured out much more easily with intuition than anything else. It’s a way of having experience without having to struggle through it. For a novelist, intuition is essential. Basically, it’s contrary to intellectualism, which is probably the thing I detest most in the world.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Gabriel García Márquez / 'I felt close to him immediately'

Gabriel García Márquez in 1975.
 Photograph by Colita

Gabriel García Márquez: 'I felt close to him immediately'

Translator Edith Grossman believes Love in the Time of Cholera is one of the great novels of the 20th century
1 When did you first read Gabriel García Márquez and what were your impressions?
I first read García Márquez in graduate school. The novel was Cien años de soledad[One Hundred Years of Solitude], and I was overwhelmed. There hasn't been a novel, before or since, quite like that one.
2 García Márquez famously liked his novels in English, but what are those of us who have never read the Spanish originals missing?
My sincere hope is that those of you who don't read Spanish aren't missing too much.
3 Which of his books do you like most, and why?
I can't answer that question. I love everything of his that I've read, though Love in the Time of Cholera occupies a special place for me since it was the first of his books that I translated. I believe it's one of the great novels of the 20th century, in any language.
4 Do you have some favourite sentences or passages from your translations and can you explain how you arrived at your choice of words?
I don't think I can answer this one either, though I'm very fond of the last words of Cholera. When the riverboat captain asks how long they intend to travel up and down the river, the reply is "Forever."
5 Were there any books or sections of his books you struggled with?
Translating is always a struggle, regardless of the author you're translating. You have to hear the original voice in a profound way, and then find the voice in English that best reflects that original. It's always difficult, challenging and immensely enjoyable.
6 Do you know Gregory Rabassa and did you ever compare notes?
Yes, I've known Gregory Rabassa for some years, but we've never compared notes in terms of translating García Márquez, other than to agree that we both dislike the term "magical realism".
7 You must be more familiar with García Márquez's prose than almost anyone. How do you think it changed over the two decades you translated him?
I think his writing may have become more intense and more concise as he aged. He always went straight to the heart of the matter, but his later writing may have been sparer, perhaps more direct.
8 How well did you know him personally and what was your relationship like?
I saw him a few times in New York. I believe the first time was at a lunch with our editor at Knopf, and the last time was for late-afternoon coffee. He was charming and intelligent and had a sly sense of humour. I felt close to him immediately.
9 How would you sum up his literary achievements?
He was a great writer, one of the most important of the 20th century, and he had a huge influence on writers all over the world. I can't, for example, imagine Toni Morrison or Salman Rushdie without García Márquez.
10 What are your top 10 novels in Spanish and who are the writers you would recommend to García Márquez fans who haven't kept up with more recent Latin American fiction?
I can't name the top 10 writers in any language, but I'd suggest going back to Cervantes, who is the godfather of every writer in Spanish since the 17th century. A younger writer I like very much is Santiago Roncagliolo, a Peruvian who currently lives in Barcelona. I translated his Red April, which won the Independent foreign fiction prize a couple of years ago.

Christopher Tayler / The gift of Gabo

Gabriel García Márquez

The gift of Gabo

Christopher Tayler enjoys the adventures of Latin America's most popular and colourful novelist

Saturday 22 November 2008

his fairly long book - a scaled-down version of an even longer one, Gerald Martin reveals - begins with an appropriately large claim about its subject. Martin thinks that Gabriel García Márquez might be the only novelist from the second half of the last century who's as respected all over the world as the giants of the first half. This initially seems like routine biographer's hype. By the time Martin has finished detailing the awe-inspiring extent of García Márquez's renown, it seems more like English understatement.

In 1996, for example, a group calling itself the Movement for the Dignity of Colombia kidnapped a senior politician's brother, demanding that García Márquez take over the country's presidency. (Their victim was eventually released unharmed.) When the novelist's memoir of his early life was published in 2001, Hugo Chávez produced a copy during his weekly television broadcast, urging all Venezuelans to read it. Chávez, unlike Bill Clinton, François Mitterrand, Felipe González, Fidel Castro and most Latin American presidents since the 1970s, wasn't even a personal friend: Vicente Fox of Mexico, by contrast, had got his copy from the author's hands. Clinton showed up at what was effectively García Márquez's 80th birthday party, as did five Colombian presidents and the king of Spain. Castro marked his comrade's winning of the Nobel prize in 1982 by buying him a supply of caviar in Moscow on the way back from Brezhnev's funeral.

Gabo, as he's universally known in the many countries where he's a household name, also has a broad fan base among the less temporally powerful. Even his fiercest critics generally agree that One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) is the central Latin American novel of the 20th century. "Magical realism" - which Martin defines as writing "through the worldview of the characters themselves without any indication from the author that this worldview is quaint, folkloric or superstitious" - has become a standard part of the repertoire for writers struggling to fit experience of the developing world into the inherited forms of the European novel. And García Márquez is a genuinely popular novelist, with a large non-intellectual following and, in Latin America, the added status of a local hero. In 1982, a Colombian journalist asked a street prostitute if she'd heard about Gabo's Nobel. Yes, she replied, a client had just told her about it in bed.

García Márquez was 40 when celebrity on this unrepeatable scale descended on him soon after the publication of his best-known novel. Before One Hundred Years of Solitude came out, he was a relatively minor player in the 60s boom of Latin American fiction. Alejo Carpentier, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vargas Llosa were the names to watch, and although his four previous books had been admired by the handful of people who'd read them, García Márquez was having a hard time with his writing. He was working part-time at an advertising agency in Mexico City when, in 1965, on a drive to the coast, the opening lines of his masterpiece floated into his brain. The following year was spent sequestered in his study in a haze of cigarette smoke, and when he emerged with the completed manuscript, he had a pretty good idea of where his career was headed.
As García Márquez has always made clear, and as Martin shows in exhaustive detail, his earlier struggles at his desk weren't caused by a lack of material. His principal breakthrough in Mexico City lay in finding a way to address the stories he'd been carrying around for all of his working life. Born in 1927 to an army veteran's daughter and a handsome yet feckless telegraphist, the future writer spent the first eight years of his life being brought up by his grandparents in Aracataca, a small town near Colombia's Caribbean coast. His grandfather, Colonel Nicolás Márquez, was filled with stories of his service in the civil conflict known as the War of a Thousand Days; he had also killed a man in dubiously romantic circumstances. The colonel's wife, Tranquilina, saw ghosts and portents everywhere. "Shit," Gabito thought when he read Kafka's "Metamorphosis" a few years later, "that's just the way my grandmother talked."
Colombia's blood-soaked politics was on vivid display from early on. Aracataca had enjoyed a wild west-style boom when an American banana company came to the region, but the town went into decline after 1928, when troops massacred striking plantation workers. Outrage over these events led to a brief spell of power for a less reactionary government, which founded a model school in Zipaquirá to which García Márquez eventually won a scholarship. From there he moved into journalism and short-story writing under the cover of legal studies, soaking up the work of William Faulkner and Virginia Woolf under the guidance of a literary circle in Barranquilla. Meanwhile, "La Violencia" - a low-level civil war played out in rural areas - tightened its grip. Disheartened by the censorship regime, and perhaps fearing that the lives of leftwing journalists weren't worth all that much to the Bogotá elite, García Márquez left for Europe in 1955.

Martin tracks his adventures on both sides of the iron curtain, his hand-to-mouth existence in Paris, his stint working for the Cuban cause in New York and his years in Mexico with heroic determination. The same quality is much in evidence in Martin's efforts to untangle his family history and the intricate ongoing narrative of Colombian politics. There's a strong emphasis on García Márquez's identity as a man of the coast rather than the Andean uplands inhabited by Colombia's dominant classes. From early on, he took his cultural bearings from the Caribbean and Faulkner's North America; his wider Latin American consciousness was nurtured by the cultural ferment he found in Mexico, where he belatedly discovered the work of such older contemporaries as Juan Rulfo, whose novel Pedro Páramo (1955) he claimed to have learned by heart in the years leading up to One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Post-fame, the writer's life inevitably becomes more opaque. Martin has no definitive explanation of why Vargas Llosa, a former friend, punched García Márquez in the face in 1976. He also admits defeat when it comes to fathoming his subject's marriage to Mercedes Barcha, his wife since 1958, commenting ruefully that they are "very ironic and very private people". García Márquez's high-profile activism since the 70s means that politics increasingly dominates the story, and Martin can't help sounding a bit dismayed by some of it. The novelist is clearly drawn to men of power, but there's little evidence that he ever exercised much influence over them, and while his closeness to Castro has made him a hate figure for much of the Latin American right, he seems to have made his peace with the region's elites. The people of Venezuela, for instance, weren't impressed when he defended a disgraced outgoing president by praising his "magnificent sense of friendship".
Most of the time, though, Martin's tone is unfailingly, almost comically admiring - an impressive testimony to Gabo's charm given that the biographer has spent 17 years researching this book. He seems to have interviewed the entire extended family as well as García Márquez, Mercedes, Castro and every politician in Colombia. In the process he has been mythologised himself. "I have found it quite impossible," he writes, "to kill off the myth which García Márquez himself has disseminated, to the effect that I . . . once spent a rain-drenched night on a bench in the square at Aracataca in order to 'soak up the atmosphere' of the town." His asides on his subject's love of "ghastly multicoloured shirts" only add to the book's eccentric appeal, as do his translations of remembered dialogue, in which everyone sounds like a 1930s mobster. ("If after that the other guy turns out to be a louse," Castro growls at one point, "that's another problem.")
Martin is also extremely knowledgeable about Latin American literature in general, providing context and enthusiastic critical analysis of the kind that usually gets lost in a scoop of this size. "Don't worry," García Márquez told him while refusing to discuss a former girlfriend, "I will be whatever you say I am." In this respect, the novelist chose his life-writer wisely. "Oh well," he apparently said when Martin's name came up, "I suppose every self-respecting writer should have an English biographer."

Fidel Castro worked on Gabriel García Márquez's manuscripts

Fidel Castro talking to Gabriel García Márquez in Havana in 2007.

Fidel Castro worked on Gabriel García Márquez's manuscripts

The Nobel laureate sent the Cuban dictator all of his books and received his factual and grammatical notes before submitting them to his publisher
Danuta Kean
Feted as a revolutionary hero and demonised as an enemy of the free world, Fidel Castro also played an unexpected role in global literature. The Cuban president, who died on 25 November, acted as unofficial copy editor for the acclaimed novelist Gabriel García Márquez, providing line-by-line corrections for the writer after the two struck up a close friendship in the late 1970s.
Dr Stéphanie Panichelli-Batalla, lecturer in Latin American studies at Aston University, told the Guardian: “The president was an avid reader. When they met in 1977, they had several conversations about literature and eventually Fidel offered to read his manuscripts, because he had a good eye for detail.”
The Colombian Nobel laureate, who died in 2014, was a supporter of the Cuban revolution, support he never relinquished despite Castro’s record of human rights abuses. Panichelli-Batalla, who co-authored a book about their relationship titled Fidel & Gabo in 2009, said the writer would send completed manuscripts to Havana before submitting them to his publisher.

Fidel Castro
Castro’s corrections were factual and grammatical rather than ideological, she added. “After reading his book The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor, Fidel had told Gabo there was a mistake in the calculation of the speed of the boat. This led Gabo to ask him to read his manuscripts … Another example of a correction he made later on was in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, where Fidel pointed out an error in the specifications of a hunting rifle.” Elsewhere, Castro offered advice about the compatibility of bullets with guns used by García Márquez’s characters.

The two met in a Cuban hotel in 1977. Though the meeting has been described as coincidental, Panichelli-Batalla said Castro may have orchestrated it after he heard the Colombian writer was working on a nonfiction book about life in Cubaunder the US embargo, using testimonies from ordinary Cubans. The book never appeared.

Fidel Castro’s “La victoria estratégica: Por todos los caminos de la Sierra” (2010). Photos by Pete Smith. Courtesy Harry Ransom Center.
 García Márquez’s signed copy of Castro’s La victoria estratégica: Por todos los caminos de la Sierra, published in 2010. Photograph: Pete Smith/Harry Ransom Center

A sign of the closeness of the two men is revealed in a book among García Márquez’s personal library acquired by the Harry Ransom Centre at the University of Texas this week. A note to García Márquez written by Castro in the front of La Victoria Estratégica is addressed to Gabo, the affectionate nickname used by South Americans for the writer. Castro wrote the note in 2010, taking time out from work alleviating the devastation of the Haiti earthquake. “Your book Yo No Vengo a Decir un Discurso [I’m Not Here to Give a Speech] is disturbing,” he sold his friend. “Enslaved by other obligations, I abandoned my duty and started reading. I missed your stories.” The plague in Haiti, he added, “reminded me of Love in a Time of Cholera”.
García Márquez inspired more than one global leader, as shown by the range of books acquired by the Harry Ransom Centre. A Spanish copy of Bill Clinton’s memoir My Life is inscribed: “To my friend Gabriel García Márquez, with thanks for your life, your inspiration and your kindness.” The novelist is known to have discussed Cuba with the former US president and Dr Panichelli-Batalla said a number of dissidents were released as a result of his intervention.
Although García Márquez accepted editorial advice from Castro, it is not known whether he attempted a similar service in return. In an 1978 interview, he said that he would criticise the Cuban president to his face in private but never in public.
Anna Hervé, a publishing editorial manager, said the success of García Márquez and Castro’s collaboration was rare. “Most great artists define themselves in opposition to the elite in the modern era. And dictators have notoriously poor taste, as a rule.”