Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Living to Tell the Tale

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The early life of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Should you read this amazing book before you read his novels? That wasn’t an issue for me because I have been reading Marquez for decades so to me, this book is a wonderful way about learning more. More, not just about the author’s life but how his books and stories are crafted.

I knew that basic facts of his life – born in the nineteen twenties in Colobia, a journalist in addition to an author, a Nobel Prize winner – and also that his stories are often based on tales he heard from his grandparents or were facets of his early life and family history. Living to Tell the Tale does more than explain more of these, it’s a glimpse right into the author’s mind.

And it tends to read like a novel – politics, mysteries, brothels, literary cafés, murders – and the most fascinating characters you are ever likely to meet. That is, of course, unless you are familiar with his fiction as you will soon see that you have already met so many……

Read carefully and slowly

I’m a pretty quick reader (or so I’m told) but with Living to Tell the Tale it’s important to read slowly and take in every word because, just as we know from his novels, the use of words to evoke immediate effects are classic Marquez.

I can pick up any of his books and pick any page at random. And I am certain that on that page I’m going to find a word usage that says much more. For example I just did exactly that and found the phrase, when speaking about an incident concerning his father, Marquez writes ‘he collided with the truth’.

Now I’m pretty sure that I would have written ‘he discovered’ or ‘he found out’ but to use the word ‘collided’ gives the phrase so much more meaning. You immediately know that the discovery of the truth was a shock, just as a collision would be.  ‘Collided’ implies surprise, force, a blow, an accident …

There was no further need for Marquez to relate his father’s reaction to the truth, the word ‘collide’, just that one word, says everything we need to know.

A masterclass with Marquez

This is an excellent book for everyone but for writers, it is like attending a masterclass with Marquez gently teaching us the power of words.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

This is I’m sure the most popular book Marquez wrote. (I have no idea how many times I have read it – cover to cover – over the years) Readers of Solitude will recognise so many elements in Living to Tell the Tale that are shadowed, enhanced or adapted in the book.

The little girl who eats earth, the man who asks his doctor to show him the exact location of his heart by drawing a circle in iodine on his chest, the sack of rattling bones and of course, the colonel…..

You’ll find fragments of other books in these memoirs. For example Chronicle of a Death Foretold – the real story of an occurrence in the author’s early life. And in the autobiography there is a telling phrase used by Marquez’s own mother who wouldn’t read the book ‘Something that turned out so awful in life can’t turn out well in a book’.

Love in the Time of Cholera was based on the real romance between the author’s own parents. Later in his parents’ lives another perfect phrase describes their attitude when his younger sisters (unlike the older ones) were allowed to marry the men of their choice without argument because his parents had ‘grown tired of doing battle with real life’.

But there are so many accounts in the memoirs that I have not read in Marquez novels (or forgotten them) such as the shipwrecked circus and it’s only survivor, the lion tamer. (Did Yann Martel read this prior to writing The Life of Pi?)

I could write much more about Living to Tell the Tale but as my skill with words is like that of a child when compared to Marquez I can only urge you to read it for yourself. I will finish with a quotation from early in the book when the author is discovering his own reading preferences. It describes his own novels perfectly.

“I learned and will never forgot that we should read only those books that force us to reread them.”


Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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