Get to Know Gabo
He’s known throughout Latin America, with great fondness, as “Gabo.” The people of his native country of Colombia, South America and his adopted hometown of Mexico City, Mexico regard him with love and reverence. They all claim him as one of their own. He’s influenced writers and readers worldwide as a Nobel Prize winning author. He is a journalist, a mentor to journalists, a movie and television scriptwriter, a movie critic and a passionate advocate for his brand of politics. He speaks his mind and refuses to write or speak in anything but Spanish. Throughout the world, he is larger than life. He is Gabriel García Márquez.
Gabriel García Márquez was born on March 6, 1927, in Aracataca, a village in the Colombian Atlantic coast. He is the oldest of twelve children.
In the Beginning
Gabriel, nicknamed “Gabito” (“little Gabriel” after his father,) was born in March of 1927 in the tiny Colombian banana town of Aracataca. At the time of his birth, bananas were booming. The next year, the banana economy began to unravel and created a rift in the town that has never been repaired. Because his parents were struggling to make ends meet, he was taken in by his maternal grandparents and raised as a part of their family. They were colorful people; his grandfather was an old decorated Colonel and revered by the town and his grandmother, who sold candy animals to support the family, could deliver even the most outrageous, superstitious tale with conviction. They were both great storytellers and the house where they raised “Gabo” was haunted by ghosts. Such is the stuff of the life—and the art—of Gabriel García Márquez.
The Hungry Bohemian
At the age of 19, despite a passion to be a writer, García Márquez enrolled in the law program at the Universidad Nacional in Bogotá, respecting his parents’ desire for him to be “practical.” Hungry for something to keep him engaged, Gabriel began wandering around Bogotá reading poetry instead of preparing for his law classes. He found genius in the works of Franz Kafka, William Faulkner (the most widely translated American writer of his generation,) Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. He began writing. His first novella, Leaf Storm, was rejected for publication in 1952 but later found a publisher in a fly-by-night operation, the CEO of which disappeared shortly thereafter.
The Lover Before leaving his hometown for school at age eighteen, García Márquez met the 13-year-old Mercedes Barcha Pardo and pronounced her the most interesting woman he had ever met. He proposed to her in a fit of passion. At thirteen, she knew she wanted to finish school; she put off the engagement. Though they would not marry for another fourteen years, their love has lasted a lifetime and their marriage is a driving force for García Márquez. She is his muse, his champion. She was as sure of him as he was of her. While he traveled and found himself after dropping out of law school, she waited patiently for him in Colombia until he returned for her when she was 27-years-old.
Garcia Marquez and his wife Mercedes Boat in 1968
García Márquez transitioned to journalism after leaving school. He published a sensational but controversial piece about a shipwrecked sailor in Colombia. Worried he might be persecuted the government for his part in the scandalous piece, his editors sent him to Italy. In Europe, García Márquez’ friends and editors kept him “moving” to keep him out of political trouble. In the course of five years he covered stories in Rome, Geneva, Poland, Hungary, Paris, Venezuela, Havana and New York City.He continued to publish stories he believed in, but they made him an exile in his native Colombia and elsewhere. Because of the controversial nature of his political writings, he was not welcome in his own country in 1980. On a highly restricted visa, he was also denied entrance to the U.S.A. from 1962-1996—more than three decades. He was considered by many to be a renegade and a rebel—and he’s never apologized.
Smoking, Scribbling and Success
After a three-year writers’ block that lasted until the beginning of 1965, the personal novel he’d always hoped to write came pouring out of García Márquez. Within a week of the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude in 1967, all 8000 copies of the original printing had been sold.It was translated into three-dozen languages and won the Chianchiano Prize in Italy, the Best Foreign Book in France, the Rómulo Gallegos Prize and ultimately the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Throughout this success, Gabo kept writing and smoking. He consumed sometimes six packs of cigarettes a day during the furious period of writing One Hundred Years of Solitude. His novels since, both magical and legendary, have kept him at the forefront of literature since 1970: The Autumn of the Patriarch, Chronicle of a Death Foretold, Love in the Time of Cholera, The General in His Labyrinth and Of Love and Other Demons.He continues to write ferocious books with wide appeal. One thing we can promise about García Márquez’s books: you won’t be bored. He garnered vast praise since publishing his aptly named autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale, in 2003. Like his fiction, it has won the hearts of readers everywhere.García Márquez published his most recent work in 2005, a novel called Memories of My Melancholy Whores.
An Interview with Gabriel García Márquez By Gene H. Bell-Villada The following chat with García Márquez took place in his home on Calle Fuego, in the Pedregal section of Mexico City. It was June 1982. His wife, Mercedes—as beautiful and as warmly engaging as rumors say—had opened the front door for me, smiled, and then pointed me toward the inside driveway. “There he is,” she said. “There’s García Márquez.”Curly-haired and compact (about 5’6”), García Márquez emerged from [his] car wearing blue one-piece overalls with a front zipper—his morning writing gear, as it turns out. At this point their son Gonzalo, a very Mexican twenty-year-old, showed up with a shy, taciturn girlfriend. The in-family banter grew lively. In contrast to Gonzalo’s Mexican-inflected speech, the novelist’s soft voice and dropped s’s immediately recalled to me the Caribbean accent of the northern Colombian coast where he had been born and raised.García Márquez and Gonzalo soon led me across the backyard to the novelist’s office, a separate bungalow equipped with special acclimatization (the author still could not take the morning chill in Mexico City), thousands of stereo LPs, various encyclopedias and other reference books, paintings by Latin American artists, and, on the coffee table, a Rubik’s Cube. The remaining furnishings included a simple desk and chair and a matched sofa and armchair set, where our interview was held over beers.Global fame notwithstanding—García Márquez remains a gentle and unassuming, indeed an admirably balanced and normal sort of man. Throughout our conversation I found it easy to imagine him in the downtown café, sipping drinks with the TV repairman or trading stories with the taco makers. He loves to chat; were it not for the cautious screening process set up by his friends and family, he could easily spend his entire day talking instead of writing.
A conversation between novelist Gabriel García Márquez and scholar Gene Bell-Villada, June 1982 in the novelist’s writing bungalow.
Gabriel García Márquez: I wasn’t aware of that fact in particular, but I’ve had some interesting experiences along the way. On one occasion, a sociologist from Austin, Texas came to see me because he’d grown dissatisfied with his methods. So he asked me what my own method was. I told him I didn’t have a method. All I do is read a lot, think a lot, and rewrite constantly. It’s not a scientific thing.
GB-V: There’s a very famous strike scene in One Hundred Years of Solitude. Was it much trouble for you to get it right?
GGM: That sequence sticks closely to the facts of the United Fruit strike of 1928, which dates from my childhood; I was born that year. The only exaggeration is in the number of the dead, although it does fit the proportions of the novel. So, instead of hundreds of dead, I upped it to thousands. But it’s strange, a Colombian journalist the other day referred in passing to “the thousands who died in the 1928 strike.” As my Patriarch says, it doesn’t matter if it’s true, because with enough time it will be!
GB-V: Some critics take you to task for not furnishing a more positive vision of Latin America. How do you answer them?
GGM: Yes, that happened to me in Cuba a while ago, where some critics gave One Hundred Years of Solitude high praise and then found fault with it for not offering a solution. I told them it’s not the job of novels to furnish solutions.
GB-V: You’re a writer with a very intimate knowledge of street life and plebeian ways. What do you owe it to?
GGM: He reflects for a moment] It’s in my origins; it’s my vocation too. It’s the life I know best, and I’ve deliberately cultivated it.
GB-V: With fame, is it hard, keeping up with your popular roots?
GGM: It’s tough, but not as much as you’d think. I can go to a local café and at most one person will request an autograph. What’s nice is that they treat me like one of their own, especially in hotels up in the States, where they feel good just meeting a Latin American. I never lose sight of the fact that I owe those experiences to the many readers of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
GB-V: And which of your books is your favorite?
GGM: It’s always the latest, so right now it’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Of course, there are always differences with readers, and every book is a process. I’m particularly fond of No One Writes to the Colonel, but then that book led me to One Hundred Years of Solitude. Excerpted from Gene Bell-Villada’s, casebook on the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.
December 5, 1982 A TALK WITH GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ By MARLISE SIMONS
The playful, imperturbable Gabriel Garcia Marquez was troubled and tense. His brown eyes and the large wart over his mustache seemed to have shrunk. He had buried his hands deep in the pockets of his navy blue overalls and paced his hotel room in this small Central Mexican town, where he had come to escape a barrage of well-wishers and journalists.
”This is the time I’m supposed to be happier than ever,” he grumbled. ”I’ve just received the Nobel Prize. I’m going to Sweden. I’m famous. I don’t have to work. And look at the state I’m in.”
Garcia Marquez was fretting over the speech he must deliver at the Nobel Prize award ceremony in Sweden on Friday. He had already studied other Nobel speeches for length, tone and content. Researchers, whom he calls ”my ghostwriters,” were digging up facts and statistics on Latin America, not to be used as such but to give him ideas. ”It has to be a political speech presented as literature,” he sighed. ”I envy the chemists and the Peace Prize winners. They don’t have to say a word and everyone applauds anyway.” What’s worse, he muttered on, ”I’ve heard that the Swedish Academy is a solemn clan out to make me over. And I have to wear a tail coat, a colonial costume, an upper-class outfit from the 19th century. I will feel terrible.”
He was what a friend called ”being a Marquezian,” perpetually spinning tales around events, inflating the small and diminishing the sacred to make it less frightening, more manageable. Those who know him well say he lives, talks and writes this way, taking a minor event of the day, tossing, polishing, repeating and expanding it until at the end of the week it has become an epos with a life of its own.
But this 54-year-old man of literature, the storyteller and novelist of the Latin American wondrous, is also a compulsive politician. The politics of the left he practices are as unorthodox as his own freewheeling mind. They express themselves in reactions and sentiments rather than as a coherent doctrine. They surface when he eats, drinks and debates with heads of state, cabinet ministers and guerrilla comandantes with whom he schemes and mediates. The purpose is to promote change, preferably revolution, maybe in his native Colombia, possibly in all of Latin America. When someone recently pointed to the paradox of his friendship with and support for both France’s Francois Mitterrand and Cuba’s Fidel Castro, he said, ”It is logical. Progress in France lies with Mitterrand, in Latin America with Fidel Castro.” In October he acted as an intermediary between Mitterrand and Castro to obtain the release of the jailed Cuban poet Armando Valladares. Mitterrand had been under pressure from conservative French intellectuals for maintaining close relations with the Cuban Government which had jailed the paralyzed poet.
For an author who has long used his literary fame as a vehicle for his political sentiments, there may be few better political platforms than a Nobel award ceremony. Which is why he worried for much of the month of November. ”I have this great opportunity,” he said. ”I must try and break through the cliches about Latin America. Superpowers and other outsiders have fought over us for centuries in ways that have nothing to do with our problems. In reality we are all alone.” Inevitably, perhaps, the author whose recurrent imagery in his writings is that of solitude, was developing the theme of ”the solitude of Latin America.”
Why does Latin America’s most famous author think he was given the coveted Nobel prize? ”For my books,” he quickly replied, brushing aside suggestions that it may be related to politics or geography. ”But I knew I had a strong godfather there, the poet Artur Lundkvist. He is the only member of the Swedish Academy who intensely cares about Latin American literature. For us Latin writers, he was always a fearful, remote deity who determined the fate of our letters. When I met him, he proved to be a very humorous old man with a young heart. He once told me, ‘I refuse to die until they give that prize to you.’ ”
We left the hotel and our car headed through the desert to Zacatecas where the director Ruy Guerra, a friend of Garcia Marquez, was filming his story ”Innocent Erendira.” From the outset the author, who has no pretense of erudition, had said, ”I am a bad theoretician and a bad critic. I prefer to tell anecdotes.”
He tells stories instinctively, with that same flow of the unexpected that runs through his written narrative. Looking at the unlikely sight of a shepherd appearing with his flock among the desert cactus, he said, ”Being a shepherd is always an art. But in Spain they say a shepherd is only good for one thing, for plane accidents. If a plane crashes somewhere, there is always a shepherd who can tell you, ‘It’s over there, I saw it fall with my own eyes.’ ”
Fame – in Latin America he gets a treatment halfway between a movie star’s and a charismatic leader’s – to him is an unrelenting invasion of his privacy and an onerous pressure on his work. ”It has become more difficult to write. You cannot forget that everything you put down goes to an ever larger number of people. Fame is very agreeable, but the bad thing is that it goes on 24 hours a day. It reminds me of Graham Greene, who said the terrible thing about bombings is that you get wounded – but the bombing goes on.”
Yet fame, and the perennial interviews brought on by it, also permits him to talk about the past he has poured into his novels and short stories. He never seems to tire of evoking or exploring it with nostalgia.
Aracataca appears in his mind, his small, hot and dusty hometown in Colombia that became the Macondo of ”One Hundred Years of Solitude.” So does the rambling house where he grew up as the only child among grandparents and aunts, all of whom became characters in the novel’s complex family chronicle. When Gabriel was an infant, his parents, who had 16 children, moved to another town where his father worked as a telegrapher, and Gabriel was left in the care of his grandparents. His grandfather, Garcia Marquez said, was ”a former colonel who told endless stories of the civil war of his youth, took me to the circus and the cinema and was my umbilical cord with history and reality.” Grandmother was ”always telling fables, family legends and organizing our life according to the messages she received in her dreams.” She was ”the source of the magical, superstitious and supernatural view of reality.”
Almost as important perhaps were his days as a journalist in the coastal town of Barranquilla where he began his literary apprenticeship. He was 20 then and wrote, read and debated every day with three other young reporters with literary aspirations. The inseparable quartet met each evening in a bookshop and went on to cafes, drinking beer and rum till deep in the night. ”We would argue at the top of our voices over literature,” recalled one of the four, German Vargas, to whom Garcia Marquez dedicated ”Leaf Storm,” his first book. Along with their own work, the four read and dissected Defoe, Dos Passos, Camus, Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner, the American who has perhaps most influenced Latin American contemporary fiction. All four appear as friends – German, Alvaro, Alfonso and Gabriel – in ”One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
”The whole notion that I am an intuitive is a myth I have created myself,” said Garcia Marquez. ”I worked my way through literature, reading, writing, reading and writing -it’s the only way.” He read the Russians and the great English and American authors. ”I learned a lot from James Joyce and Erskine Caldwell and of course from Hemingway.” But the ”tricks you need to transform something which appears fantastic, unbelievable into something plausible, credible, those I learned from journalism,” he said. ”The key is to tell it straight. It is done by reporters and by country folk.”
His stories, he recalled, often started from one initial visual image. ” ‘Leaf Storm,’ for example, began from a flash of myself as a little boy, sitting on a chair in the living room,” he said. The initial image for ”No One Writes to the Colonel,” he went on, came ”when I saw an old man looking at fish in the market of Barranquilla.” But ”One Hundred Years of Solitude,” his most monumental work, ”traveled in bits and pieces through my head for 17 years. In the end I was able to talk the book. I walked around with its fragments until they burst. Then I sat down and it took me 18 months to write.”
For ”The Autumn of the Patriarch,” ”my only book which I have not lived myself, I read everything I could about Latin American and especially Caribbean dictators over a period of 10 years. On top of that I talked with whomever I could who had a related experience. Then I traed to forget everything and forced myself to work purely from my imagination so that no event could be linked to a real one. But the dictator became the most autobiographical character of all. Excluding the aspect of power, which I have not known, of course, many of my personal feelings, obsessions, ideas, nostalgias, superstitions, are attributed to the patriarch. No doubt there are affinities between power and fame. I think the loneliness of power and the loneliness of fame are much alike.”
Everything in his books and stories has an origin he can identify; he knows what he associated with each image and how he put them together. Many incidents are little games he plays with his family or friends. He once recounted the origins of General Lorenzo Gavilan, a character in ”One Hundred Years of Solitude” who began as a character in ”The Death of Artemio Cruz,” the novel by his close friend, the Mexican author Carlos Fuentes. ”A conscientious reader had written to Fuentes that the fate of Lorenzo Gavilan, one of his characters, had been left unresolved. Fuentes checked and realized it was true. I told Fuentes it could be fixed. So that is why Lorenzo Gavilan, with the belt buckle from Morelia, dies in the Macondo banana workers’ strike.”
The years from age 20 to 30 for Garcia Marquez were a time of hawking manuscripts, of getting good reviews and poor sales. He spent almost three of these years in Europe, a short time in Rome, a longer period in Paris, writing and being dead poor. ”The most important thing Paris gave me was a perspective on Latin America. It taught me the differences between Latin America and Europe and among the Latin American countries themselves through the Latins I met there.” He is still writing stories about the Latin Americans he knew in that period. It has left him with a love-hate relationship with the French, yet he still visits Paris every year.
Nothing exciting, he feels, is happening in West European fiction. The exceptions, he says, ”are Germany’s Heinrich Boll and Gunter Grass. The French are writing the same sort of books every year for the same Goncourt Prizes.” Garcia Marquez, the anti-intellectual, barely disguises his distrust of France’s intellectuals and their ”schematic mental games and abstractions.” Like so many Latin Americans he looks on theory as an enemy, a box that closes off perception and inhibits the mind. While he has a similar distrust for Communist apparatchiks, whom he calls ”communistoids,” he voices this view only privately so as ”not to play into the hands of the Right.”
Latin American literature, he believes, is ”very much alive.” He calls the late Pablo Neruda of Chile ”one of this continent’s greatest poets.” He admires the Mexican novelists Juan Rulfo and his friend Carlos Fuentes. But there are more than 30 young writers in Latin America, he says, who are doing interesting work and he has tried to use his influence to get their work published. Of Argentina’s Jorge Luis Borges he once said that he ”deserves the highest merit because he has done more than anyone for the Spanish language since Cervantes.”
For the past 20 years the author has lived in Mexico City. He went there ”because there was work for him,” recalled the poet Alvaro Mutis, his friend of 32 years. Here in the 60’s Garcia Marquez wrote film scripts and magazine pieces for a living and fiction in his spare time.
But he feels most at ease, he never ceases to say, in the Latin Caribbean, in coastal Colombia rather than in the country’s highlands. When he left the coastal town of Aracataca to go to school in a Colombian mountain town, Zipaquira, and later went to Bogota, the capital, he said, ”I became a foreigner.” Those highlands were part of a Spanish colonial culture – ”solemn, gray and very cold” – and felt like another country to him. They were opposite realms, the highlands, where people are introverted and silent, and the Caribbean, a domain of sensory profusion, of light, heat and quick repartee, a region where facts and reasons embody none of the virtues ascribed to them in the colonial world. In this realm, truth is regarded as one more illusion, just one more version of many possible vantage points and people change their reality by changing their perception of it.
It is from and about this Caribbean condition of mind that he writes. ”People here sense the presence of phenomena or other beings, even if they are not there,” he said. ”These must be influences of ancient religions, of Indians and blacks. This world’s full of spirits you find all over, in Puerto Rico, in Cuba, in Brazil. In Santo Domingo and in Vera Cruz.”
Given his attachment to the Latin Caribbean, it is not easy to explain why Garcia Marquez feels so irresistibly attracted to its apparent antithesis, the United States. This fascination began more than 30 years ago when the Barranquilla foursome not only studied American literature but also avidly examined the styles of American journalism. ”In Colombia, journalism was very heavy then, academic, classic, very Spanish. North American journalism, especially after its experiences in the Second World War, was new and different.”
American open-mindedness and pragmatism appeal to him. He also unabashedly declares that North America’s authors are ”the literary giants of the 20th century” and ”New York is the greatest phenomenon of our time.” In the same breath he defends Fidel Castro’s foreign policy and scorns Washington’s.
His admiration for the United States makes it all the more painful for him that he has had great difficulties obtaining a visa to enter the country since 1960, due to his political views. He has sent his elder son Rodrigo to study history at Harvard. ”There is no way one can relate to contemporary cultural life without going to the United States,” he said. Ironically that is the place ”with the most serious students and the best analyses of my work. Yet the State Department plays this game with me in which I may or may not be able to go there.”
Why does this man of literature invest so much energy in the political activism that has caused the controversies? ”If I were not a Latin American, maybe I wouldn’t,” he said. ”But underdevelopment is total, integral, it affects every part of our lives. The problems of our societies are mainly political. And the commitment of a writer is with the reality of all of society, not just with a small part of it. If not, he is as bad as the politicians who disregard a large part of our reality. That is why authors, painters, writers in Latin America get politically involved. I am surprised by the little resonance authors have in the United States and in Europe. Politics is made there only by the politicians. The era of Sartre and Camus has definitely passed.”
Next month, after the Nobel Prize dust has settled, Garcia Marquez hopes to go back to writing his new novel. Like his last two books it is already taking shape as a rumor, slowly creating a vanguard of its own. ”One Hundred Years of Solitude” was preceded by the publication of small, provocative fragments and became a myth before it came out. ”The Chronicle of a Death,” which is scheduled for publication in the United States next April, was heralded by a publicity extravaganza worthy of a show business scandal. Garcia Marquez has said that he showed the manuscript to Fidel Castro before submitting it to his publisher; ”Castro,” he said, ”is a very cultured, well-read man, with a keen eye for spotting contradictions in a crime story like this.”
Critics of the author ascribe the brouhaha around his publications to his mastery of the calculated special effect. His friends say it is created by the hordes of reporters who are forever seeking him out. But even his friends concede that the author’s claim, widely reported in the mid-70’s, that he would refuse to publish until Chile’s dictator Augusto Pinochet fell, fits into the category of ”calculated effects.” Of his work in progress he is willing to give only a hint. It is ”a happy love story,” he suggests, which may begin with two octogenarians in bed one morning talking and making love.
Next year the author also plans to fulfill a dream when he launches his own newspaper in Colombia. The project clearly appeals to his old yearning for the world of newspapers and to his newer appetite for power through political influence. His own explanation is that he wants to set new standards and train young people for his paper. ”I have always been pulled by the world of journalism. And I am still fascinated by the relationship between journalism and literature.”
Marlise Simons reports for The Times from Mexico and Central America.
Published: April 10, 1988
THE BEST YEARS OF HIS LIFE: AN INTERVIEW WITH GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ
By Marlise Simons;
Marlise Simons reports from Latin America for The New York Times and is the author of ”The Smoking Mirror: Life in Latin America.”
FOR Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the pleasure and turmoil of writing change from novel to novel. In the case of ”One Hundred Years of Solitude,” he thought so long and hard about the story that when he finally sat down to commit it to paper, it came in a great burst. But he had difficulty writing ”The Autumn of the Patriarch,” a novel he published seven years before he won the Nobel Prize in 1982. With that book, he recently recalled, ”I was doing well when I could finish four lines a day”; the whole project occupied him, off and on, for seven years.
By contrast, the years when he worked on ”Love in the Time of Cholera” were among the happiest of his life. Nostalgically, he wrote about the courtship of his parents and his own journeys by riverboat, both of which were important sources for the book. In Mexico City, his longtime home base, we talked about what writing the novel had been like:
This book was a pleasure. It could have been much longer, but I had to control it. There is so much to say about the life of two people who love each other. It’s infinite.
Also, I had the advantage of knowing the end beforehand. Because in this book, the end was a problem. It would have been in poor taste if one or even both of the characters died. The most wonderful thing would be if they could go on loving forever. So the reader is given the consolation that the boat with the lovers will keep on with its journey, coming and going. Not only for the rest of their lives, but forever.
The Visual Arts, the Poetization of Space and Writing: An Interview with Gabriel Garcia Marquez
This interview is the result of two conversations with Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez at his home in Mexico City in 1987. The first meeting, which took place in May was an informal chat, during which Garcia Marquez showed me several nineteenth-century drawings of Colombia by Charles Saffray and Edouard Andre that he had used in writing some of his fiction. (I later found a new edition of the same drawings in Colombia: Fabulous Colombia’s Geography, comp. and dir. Eduardo Acevedo Latorre, Bogot: Litografia Arco 1984.) Encouraged to pursue the dialogue, I returned to Mexico City in October with my copy of Fabulous Colombia’s Geography and a tape recode in hand.Raymond Leslie Williams University Of Colorado Boulder
WILLIAMS: The last time we talked, you showed me the drawings you’ve used in some of your writing. I was impressed with the enormous importance the visual arts apparently have had in your work. As I suppose you know critics have tended to emphasize the literary texts or written documents in your fiction, particularly since the term intertextuality has come into vogue. Do you think we’re missing something with our emphasis on textuality?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: I don’t use written documents. I typically drive myself crazy searching for a document and then end up throwing it mp Then I find it again and it doesn’t interest me anymore I need to have everything idealized. Florentino Ariza’s very concept of love is idealized in Love in the time of Cholera. I have the impression that Florentino has a concept of love that is totally ideal and that doesn’t correspond to reality.
WILLIAMS: Would you say it is a concept of love taken from the literature he has read?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: From reading the bad poets. It is a literary concept from the bad poets. I think I’ve said somewhere that bad poetry is very important because you can only get to good poetry by means of bad poetry What I mean is that if you show some Valery or Rimbaud or some Whitman to a young small-town boy who likes poetry, it doesn’t say anything to him. So to get to these poets, first you have to get through all the bad poetry of the popular romantics, the ones Florentino has read, like Julio Florez [a Colombian poet well known in his homeland (l867-l925)], the Spanish romantics, and so on. I deliberately tried not to cite lot of them because they’re not universally known. Imagine the Japanese reading these books and me talking about Julio Florez. Now I always think of my translators when I write
WILLIAMS: Since One Hundred Year of Solitude?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: NO, since The Autumn of the Patriarch. Since then I’ve received lists of questions from the translators, and what’s strange is that in most of the books they’re the same questions.
WILLIAMS: Let’s return to the visual arts and the fabrication of the nineteenth century in Love in the Time of Cholera.
GARCIA MARQUEZ: I was aided considerably by portraits, photographs, family albums, those kinds of things.
WILLIAMS: Would you say that you have a visual memory? Do you remember things based on what you see?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: I’m not sure if it’s exactly a visual memory. At times it seems like I’m always a little distracted, that I’m a bit off in the clouds. At least that’s what my friends, Mercedes [his wife], and my children say. I give that impression, but then I discover a detail that reveals an entire world to me. The detail could be something I see in a painting. Perhaps the fighting cock in this drawing [fig. 1] could give me the solution for an entire novel. It’s just something that happens to me. I’m totally pas-sive and it’s like a flash.
WILLIAMS: Does this detail tend to be something that you see?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: It is always something that I see. It is always, always an image, with no excep-tions. A politician came and talked to me over a 1ong weekend once in Cuernavaca. We spent the days talking and having a good time. But when he left on Wednesday, I gave him a sixteen-page syn-thesis of our conversation, and not one important matter was missing. It’s not an extraordinary thing but rather an idea 1’ve had for a long time. That’s why I never take notes. I don’t forget things I’m in-terested in, and I forget things right away that don’t interest me. So I have a se1ective memory, which is quite a comfortable thing. Now when I’m correct-ing a book I make notes in the margins for correct-ing later on the computer. The computer has been such an important thing for me. It’s been one of the world’s great discoveries. If they had given me a computer twenty years ago, l would have written twice as many books as l have. For example, I’m writing a piece of theater right no’ and every af ternoon I pull my work out of the printer. I take the pages to bed, I read them, and I make corrections and notes in the margin. Now I have the privilege of making changes in the final page proofs. Before the writer did a last reading on the typewriter and the reader did the first reading on the printed page. There was a big distance between the two. Now I make the last correction on the printed page, as if it were the book.
WILLIAMS: How has this “something that you see” surfaced in your novels?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: When I was writing The Au-tumn of the Patriarch there was a point at which I was struggling a lot. I had a certain idea about the palace, which eventually would appear at the begin- ning, but I just couldn’t get it right. Then I came across this picture in a book, and the photo solved my writing of the novel. It was the image that I needed.
WILLIAMS: It’s the decaying palace and cows described, in the opening pages of the novel.
GARCIA MARQUEZ: And at the beginning of every chapter.
WILLIAMS: Did you use drawings from nineteenth-century travel books in The Autumn of the Patriarch and Love in the Time of Cholera?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: More for The Autumn of the Patriarch than for the other books. I found the idea for some strange images from those drawings; For example images of dead cocks hanging from times, strung up after being killed.
WILLIAMS: Could you explain more about what you did with drawings in The Autumn of the Patriarch?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: I had the idea of creating a to-tal world in The Autumn of the Patriarch. It was a world that hadn’t been very well documented. One would need to read a lot to find out something about the life about daily life Then, by chance, I came across these drawings when I was already writing the book. So it was similar to a Lottery, yet something like that always happens to me. I don’t know why but the truth is, once I begin to Work on a subject, things related to it begin to fall into my hands. Maybe these things were always there and l never noticed them before.
WILLIAMS: Did the drawings serve to describe everyday life better? Better than texts could?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: Better than texts. Texts have a lot of paper. The drawings are like notes for creat-ing the scenes.
WILLIAMS: Setting aside the visual arts for a while, let’s talk about visual images from your own life experiences. What about all those images of the Mag-dalena River in Love in the Time Of Cholera? Were those images from drawings?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: No, not all of them. I had im-portant experiences on that river in different periods of my life, and each experience projected different images that I remembered later’ I traveled on the Magdalena River for the first time when I was eight or nine years old. I left Aracataca for the first time when my grandfather died and I went to the town of Magangue. I made the boat trip to Magangue with my father because he was born in. Since, a town in the department of Bolivar, and we went to visit his mother. I believe it was in l936. When I made the trip that time the boat only went between Barranquilla and Magangue, in over twenty-four hours.
WILLIAMS: It went quickly then.
GARCIA MARQUEZ: No, not really It was a long trip. The boat was wood-fueled, as in the novel. They had to carry the wood aboard. That was when they began cutting all the trees down. Unlike today in those days you could still see alligators in the river, and that was the big entertainment, seeing the a1ligators at the edge of the river with their mouths open to catch butterflies, or whatever. And there were manatees everywhere too. What really impressed me was the way the manatees nursed their young. Those manatees are in The Autumn Of the Patriarch and Love in the Time of Cholera.
WILLIAMS: Do you recall any other particularly memorable images from this trip?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: What impressed me the most were the alligators, the manatees, and the animals strung up, hanging, as in these drawings.
WILLIAMS: Do you remember much from the other river trips?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: I took at least five or six trips down the river from Bogota to the Caribbean coast while I was in high school in Zipaquira. when I went again, in l943, the river had changed. The boats no longer ran on wood, they ran on oil. The river itself wasn’t the same as I had seen it before.
WILLIAMS: The novel with the river, of course, is Love in the Time Of Cholera. What did you do with the river there?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: In Love in the Time Of Cholera I created two trips on the river. The first trip is when Florentino Ariza leaves Villa de Leyva as a te-legrapher. I invented this trip for a technical reason, to avoid describing the river during the second trip, because that would have been too weighty and would have distracted a lot. Consequently, I decided to show the river first through the character him-self, the idea being that the second time around the river would already be described. I didn’t have to distract the reader with too many descriptions of the river.
WILLIAMS: Ail in all, what do you think about the relation of the real river you saw to the one from the Nineteenth-century drawings, as far as your fiction is concerned?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: I was well acquainted with the river back in those days. On the other hand, the drawings helped me realize how for better or for worse, artists idealized everything in the nineteenth century In the drawings you find some fantastic birds that don’t exist, for example Or these women, who are idealized [fig. 5]. You see some beautiful women in these drawings, which is the way the Eu-ropeans of the period imagined them. Indeed, they are magnificent drawings.
WILLIAMS: Many items from the daily life of the period appear in Love in the Time of Cholera, besides the idealizations found in the drawings. These items seem to ref1ect a thorough understanding of what was in fashion at the time.
GARCIA MARQUEZ: I did study those things of daily life in the nineteenth century a 1ot. But you have to be careful not to fall into my trap, because I am also quite disrespectful of rea1 time and space.
WILLIAMS: Are you referring to the anachro-nisms?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: Yes, because I don’t write with historical rigor. Someone could figure out, for examp1e, that Victor Hugo and Oscar Wilde couldn’t have been in Paris at the same time. It’5 not that these are anachronisms or accidents but that I had no desire to change a detail I liked just to make the chronology function properly This novel isn’t a historical reconstruction. Rather, it contains historical elements used poetically All writers do this.
WILLIAMS: The physical space in Love In the Time Of Cholera seems to correspond largely to Cartagena, Colombia, but suddenly the Cafe de la Par- roquia of Veracruz, Mexico, appears. I guess we need to talk about a poetization of space too.
GARCIA MARQUEZ: Right. The Cafe de la Parroquia could be in Cartagena perfectly well. The fact that it isn’t is purely incidental, because al1 the con- ditions exist in Cartagena for it to be there. As a matter of fact, the very same Cafe de la Parroquia of Veracruz would be in Cartagena if the Spaniard who built it had immigrated to Cartagena instead of to Veracruz. It’s just a matter of chance, the way it is was for my wife’s grandfather, who was an Egyptian who left for New York and ended up in Magangue. Well, that was quite a case of the poetization of space–a bit of an exaggerated one. Car- tagena still needs a cafe 1ike the Cafe de la Parroquia in Veracruz, so I took the one from Veracruz, which I needed in Cartagena for my novel. When I’m in Cartagena I sometimes suddenly feel the desire to go to a place like the Cafe de la Parroquia in Veracruz. I have to go to the bars in hotels and places like that, and I feel something is missing. How marvelous to have the freedom to be a writer who says, “Well, I’m going to put the Cafe de la Parroquia where I want it to be” Every day I’m writing I say to myself how marvelous it is to invent life, which is what you do, although within the bounds of some very strict laws because characters don’t die when you want them to, nor are they born when you want. One of the most emotional ex- periences I have had as a writer relates to all this. It happened in Love in the Time Of Cholera, with the family of Fermina Daza, when she is a child. I was creating all her life inside the house where she lives with her father and her spinster aunt, and the house is a copy of the one that is now the Oveja Negra bookstore in the Plaza Fernandez Madrid in Cartagena. I was working on the first draft. I had the girl, her father, her aunt, and her mother, but the mother alwnys seemed extra. I just didn’t know what to do with the mother. When they were at the dinner table, I could see the father’s face perfectly, and I could see the faces of the girl and the aunt perfectly, but the mother’s face was always blurred. I imagined her one way and then another way I made her like, so-and-so, I but she remained a constant problem and I didn’t know what to do. She was ruining my novel. The aunt took the girl to school. The father wasn’t ever home. The maid took care of the house. But what was the mother supposed to do? She didn’t have anything to do. And then sud- denly one day thinking that I was stuck on a deadend road, I realized that what had happened was that the mother had died when the girl was born. And this was the reason the aunt was there because the father had brought her to the household to raise the child when the mother died. And this was the reason too that the maid took care of absolutely everything in the house. And also why the mother had nothing to do in the house. It was a precious ex perience for me, and it explains how the character of the mother began to live the very moment I discovered that she had died. So she is always a pres- ence in the house and the characters speak of her as someone who has died, who has left her mark on her daughter. This a1so explains why the father is so lone1y and has the type of personality he has. I solved everything once I said, “I’m mistaken. I’m trying to resuscitate a dead person. This woman ‘died.” That kind of thing happens in all my books. In some situations you don’t have ally more resources than your own interior world.
WILLIAMS: How would you characterize your relationship with the exterior world, with the city of Cartagena when you were writing Love in the Time of Cholera in l984?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: It was a very amusing relationship. TO begin with, that period in Cartagena was the best year of my life, the most mature.
WILLIAMS: Mature in what sense?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: In the sense of feeling an absolute emotional stability For many years I had only had a vague idea of how l liked to live, but that year I Learned how to live, how I wanted to live and how I have liked to live. When I was living in Cartagena during that time I wrote in the morning, and in the afternoon I would go out conscientiously looking for places because I had two cities: the one of reality and the other one of the novel. The latter can’t possibly be like reality because a novelist can’t Literally copy a city Have you ever noticed what Flaubert did with the distances between places in Paris? You find that the French writers have their characters take walks that are impossible. It’s a poetization of space. Of course, one can sometimes eliminate a totally useless trip, and I did the same thing with Cartagena. Not only that, but when I needed something from another city, I took it to Cartagena.
WILLIAMS: And you took things from several Caribbean cities, right?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: Yes, I took a lot from the Caribbean. There are details from Santo Domingo and Havana, among other cities. That was easy be- cause the cities of the Caribbean have so much in common. AS for Veracruz, Love in the Time of Cholera could take place there perfectly. The only significant difference is that Cartagena has an aristocracy that Veracruz hasn’t had since the Mexican Revolution. Never before had I had what I was writing at hand and been able to go out as if with a sack and put in that sack whatever I waned.
WILLIAMS: And then you could come back to the apartment refreshed.
GARCIA MARQUEZ: NO, weighted down like a sack. And at the same time it was very comfortable because I was living in a calm city set apart from the Caribbean, but with the entire world at an arm’s reach. Almost two or three times a week we had friends visiting from all over the world. And ally time I felt like it I could go to the airport and take off to Europe or New York or wherever. It’s a very comfortable city for that. If I was waiting for some- one arriving on the four o’clock plane, I would go out on the terrace to read, and when I saw the four o’clock plane arriving, I would run to the car and arrive at the airport just as my visitor was coming out of it. Fantastic right? After traveling around the world one realizes how easy it is to live there. And then later the situation in the country changes and one is screwed. It seems to me a great in justice.
WILLAMS: Sometimes when I look at Cartagena from above from the fortress of San Felipe, it seems like a little fiction.
GARCIA MARQUEZ: Well, it’s not possible to define Cartagena. And the historians have invented another Cartagena, which has nothing to do with the real one.
WILLIAMS: And what the historians have to say wasn’t of ally importance to you in this book?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: No. In a nutshell, that was my Cartagena experience. In addition, my geographic and emotional referents in The Autumn of the Patriarch were Cartagena too.
WILLIAMS: Really? I hadn’t ever thought of Cartagena.
GARCIA MARQUEZ: What happened was that I took away the wails because with them the identity of the city would hot been too definite.
WILLIAMS: Cartagena and Veracruz were cities not only surrounded by walls but built by the same Spaniards during the colonial period.
GARCIA MARQUEZ: Yes, but in Love in the Time of Cholera I used a trick when they go up in a balloon and pass over the ruins of Cartagena. Do you remember that? They see the old city of Cartagena abandoned. As an almost poetic image, it’s beautiful, and the use of this image gives an idea of how things can be handled in literature
WILLIAMS: Once again, the poetization of space.
GARCIA MARQUEZ: Exactly, and just when I have them convinced that this is Cartagena, then I take them through an abandoned Cartagena. It’s a dou- bling of the city Let’s say it’s the same city in two distinct periods, two different temporal spaces.
WILLIAMS: We’ve spent most of our time talking about visual arts, your poetisation of space and the like Before leaving behind Love in the Time of Cholera, one last question. Why a nineteenth-century love story?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: In reality, it’s my parents’ love story I heard my father and my mother both talk about these love stories. That’s why the story is set during the period of their youth, although I put much of the story back even further in time My father was a telegrapher who also placed the violin and wrote love poems. In Love in the Time of Cholera I was concerned with the period when the novel ended. Consequently, I made an effort to go far enough back in time that the couple would be eighty y6ars old when the novel ends. If I put them at the end of the nineteenth century, it wasn’t be- cause I wanted to but rather so that they could finish with the trip on the Magdalena River. It had to be a period in which the airplane couldn’t be a solution.
WILLIAMS: Setting aside the novels momentarily, I have a more general question. I remember read-ing about a GARCIA MARQUEZ who always seemed very doubtful about literary critics and academic scholars. Has your age or have other factors changed your attitude at all? Are you more in- terested in what the critics have to say?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: There’s an important change, and that’s that I don’t read them at all now
WILLIAMS: Not at all?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: No. I don’t read them, because I find them very distant. There’s no doubt that the author’s vision of his or her books is very different from the vision of the critic or of the reader. Besides, critics cause a lot of doubts. On the other hand, I’ve had the good luck of having readers who give me great security. For example, books as different as Chronicle of a Death fortold and Love in the Time of Cholera have given me security. Readers don’t tell you why they liked the books, nor do they know why but you feel that they really like them. Of course there are also people who say they don’t like the books, but in general my readers seem to be swept away And my books are sold in enormous quantities, which interests me because that means that they are ed by a broad public They are read by elevator operators, nurses, doctors, presidents. This gives me a tremendous security, while the critics always leave writers with a spark of insecurity. Even the most serious and ptalsefu1 critics can go off on a track you hadn’t suspected, leaving you wondering if perhaps you made a mistake. Besides, I understand the critics very little I’m not exactly sure what they are saying or what they think. The truth is that what really interests me is telling a story Everything comes from inside or is in my subconscious or is the natural result of an ideolog- ical position or comes from raw experience that I haven’t analyzed, which I try to use in all innocence I think I’m quite innocent in writing. If someone studied my books seriously from a political point of view, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if it were discovered that they are completely different from what I say about politics.
WILLIAMS: Let’s finish with a political question of interest to many readers of PMLA. I know that at different times the Modern Language Association and other professional organizations in the United States have questioned the State Department’s handling of your status as a foreign visitor In addition, many US academics would like to see you at conferences and symposia. The details of your status are not clear for many of us. What exactly has been your position concerning our State Department?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: That’s an interesting question because the problem with my entrances and exits and the problem of my illegitimacy in the US are more the US government’s problems than they are mine. I’ll explain why. The reason I’m not totally legal in the United States is because of the McCarran- Walter Act, which prohibits or limits entrance into the United States for some individuals because of their ideas. That’s the serious part. The law is in total contradiction to the Constitution and supposed political philosophy of the United States. Of course, I’m not a terrorist. I’m not even a political activist. I do have political ideas, which I express, although much less than some claim.
WILLIAMS: Well, you and I usually talk about literature.
GARCIA MARQUEZ: I’m very consistent about what I do. Except for having political ideas, I can’t be accused of an act that violates the McCarran- Walter Act. The State Department knows that perfectly well and always has. Consequently, I really can enter and leave the US whenever I want, and I’ve been there from time to time. I was a US resident when I was a correspondent with Prensa Latina in the early l960s. I returned to Mexico when a group of militant Communists who took over the agency decided I wasn’t trustworthy Just look at all the contradictions in this. Then thcy cal1ed me to the US embassy here in Mexico one day and told me to turn in my card and that they would return it to me when I wanted it. Innocently, I turned it in. It would have been far more difficult for them to have taken it from me. They probably could only have done so with a legal battle Then a year or two later I went to a US consulate to get travel papers, and they told me I didn’t qualify. I didn’t try again until l97l, when they gave me an honorary doctorate at Columbia University I discovered I could gain entrance into the US anytime I wanted, but always as an exception, which made me realize that I was solving their prob1em. That is, I was solving the problem of the McCarran- Walter Act for them. As an exception, I always had a litt1e code at the bot- tom of my visa. Besides that, I’m in a “black book,” which must now be a “black computer” Since there are so many people who would 1ike to go to the US and can’t because of this law it isn’t appropriate that I accept the exception they make for me each time. So I don’t accept this visa.
WILLIAMS: And you don’t go to any conferences or symposia in the US?
GARCIA MARQUEZ: Well, I don’t go to any symposia, because I don’t like those meetings and I attempt to avoid all of them. Besides, in the US, I maintain this position on the unacceptable visa. I could have gone to any of the conferences that I’ve chosen not to attend’ They would have given me the visa, but always with the little code on the bottom. It takes a month for me to get the visa, but they always give it to me. There is another matter that is absurdly contradictory. In what other country are my books studied more seriously? I’ve always said that if they’re going to prohibit my entrance they ought to prohibit my books, too. My books are everywhere. I’m totally inoffensive. What’s offensive are my books, since they have my ideas and they are everywhere That’s the reason I say the problem is more the State Department’s than mine.
l: The dates of the meetings were l2 May l987 and 2l October l987. These two conversations were the fifth and sixth private talks I have had with GARCIA MARQUEZ since meeting him in Bogota in l975; the October conversation reproduced here represents my first published interview with him. The publication dates of the Spanish originals of the novels we discussed are as fOl1ows: One Hundred year of Solitude, 1967; The Autumn of the Patriarch, I975; and Love in the Time of Cholera, l98l. I would like to express my gratitude to John Kronik for his en- couragemcnt and editorial suggestions and to German Vargas of Barranquilla. Colombia, for his helpful efforts on the years to bring me together with his friend in GARCIA MARQUEZ.
2: The Period GARCIA MARQUEZ spent in Cartagena writing for in the Time of Cholera was in the spring and summer of l984. Since then Political and drug-related violence has escalated enormously. GARCIA MARQUEZ currently live in Mexico City and he mentioned to me in one of the l987 interviews that he had not recently returned to Colombia, because no one not, even President Virgllio Barco could give him assurances of his per- sonal safety. The most immediate danger for him would prob- ably be one of the numerous right-wing death squads that have been increasingly active since l986. He returned to Colombia af ter receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in l982 and regularly during the presidency of Belisario Betancur (l982-86).
3: The severity of the McCarran-Walter Act has been modified since this conversation. In December l987 Congress set tem- porary limits on the government’s right to deny visas for reasons Of national security. A State Department authorization bill provided that no alien could be denied a visa “because of any past, current or expected beliefs which, if engaged in by a United States citizen, would be protected under the Constitution of the United States” (Washington Post 11 May l988). This part of the interview has been included, nevertheless, in order to clarify GARCIA MARQUEZ’s position on the State Department and the US in recent years.
The solitude of Gabriel García Marquez
By Gabriel Escobar / Editorial Writer
July 10, 2012
In the epic masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, residents in the village of Macondo at one point forget everything. The practical solution, in a magical place defined by memory, is to put labels on all things:
book cover of One hundred years of solitude
“This is the cow. She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk.”
How poignant (or tragic?) was it to learn this week that the author of these words, Gabriel García Marquez, is now suffering from senile dementia. Confirmation came from his brother, who said the cancer treatment the 85-year-old author received a few years ago quickened his decline.
“In the family we all suffer from senile dementia, and for him it accelerated with the cancer,” Jaime García Marquez said this week in an interview with the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo. “Chemotherapy saved his life, but it also finished off many neurons, many defenses and cells, and the process was accelerated.”
Senile dementia — Alzheimer’s is one of the common forms — is profoundly cruel when it strikes. We have all been touched by it in some way. The silence imposed by the disease on Ronald Reagan meant that he was gone long before he was taken. I suspect that my paternal grandfather, a medical doctor, had a version of it, though the ravages were not as widely discussed then. I was a teenager when I saw him the last time, during a visit to Colombia. He spent his hours in an aimless wander, robbed of the dispassionate intellect that had marked his life.
Is it the same for García Marquez? We don’t know. Because he is an artist, the loss seems somehow more profound. The tragedy for his countless fans is that Gabo, as he is known, is no longer writing. A man who lived for the written word, first as a newspaperman and then as a novelist, is now and forever disarmed of his art. He had been working on the second volume of his autobiography, but the loss of memory — and perhaps the very words needed to ensnare it — have apparently made that task impossible.
I went back and reread an interview he did years ago with the Paris Review, before he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. If you want a sense of how words defined a life, read these:
“When I worked for newspapers, I wasn’t very conscious of every word I wrote, whereas now I am. When I was working for El Espectador in Bogotá, I used to do at least three stories a week, two or three editorial notes every day, and I did movie reviews. Then at night, after everyone had gone home, I would stay behind writing my novels. I liked the noise of the Linotype machines, which sounded like rain. If they stopped, and I was left in silence, I wouldn’t be able to work. Now, the output is comparatively small. On a good working day, working from nine o’clock in the morning to two or three in the afternoon, the most I can write is a short paragraph of four or five lines, which I usually tear up the next day.”
García Marquez has received worldwide acclaim. But that recognition pales in comparison to the veneration he receives in his native Colombia, where he has attained mythic status. Although he is no longer writing, he’s still around, and that matters a great deal. “When we speak with him, we worry a lot about his health,” said Jaime García Marquez. “But we end up profoundly happy because we have him alive.”
Toward the end of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the main character experiences a “flash of lucidity.” In his case, given his long and eventful life, the vivid recollections prove too terrifying. “He was unable to bear in his soul the crushing weight of so much past,” the author writes.
Perhaps García Marquez, a man who believes so much in memory and in magic, will experience a similarly lucid moment. If it happens, he will see his own legacy as vividly as his famous protagonist saw his own life. At that moment he will remember what is universally acknowledged: His words are for the ages.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Art of Fiction No. 69 Interviewed
by Peter H. Stone
Gabriel García Márquez was interviewed in his studio/office located just behind his house in San Angel Inn, an old and lovely section, full of the spectacularly colorful flowers of Mexico City. The studio is a short walk from the main house. A low elongated building, it appears to have been originally designed as a guest house. Within, at one end, are a couch, two easy chairs, and a makeshift bar—a small white refrigerator with a supply of acqua minerale on top.
The most striking feature of the room is a large blown-up photograph above the sofa of García Márquez alone, wearing a stylish cape and standing on some windswept vista looking somewhat like Anthony Quinn. García Márquez was sitting at his desk at the far end of the studio. He came to greet me, walking briskly with a light step. He is a solidly built man, only about five feet eight or nine in height, who looks like a good middleweight fighter—broad-chested, but perhaps a bit thin in the legs. He was dressed casually in corduroy slacks with a light turtleneck sweater and black leather boots. His hair is dark and curly brown and he wears a full mustache. The interview took place over the course of three late-afternoon meetings of roughly two hours each. Although his English is quite good, García Márquez spoke mostly in Spanish and his two sons shared the translating. When García Márquez speaks, his body often rocks back and forth. His hands too are often in motion making small but decisive gestures to emphasize a point, or to indicate a shift of direction in his thinking. He alternates between leaning forward towards his listener, and sitting far back with his legs crossed when speaking reflectively.
INTERVIEWER How do you feel about using the tape recorder?
GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ The problem is that the moment you know the interview is being taped, your attitude changes. In my case I immediately take a defensive attitude. As a journalist, I feel that we still haven’t learned how to use a tape recorder to do an interview. The best way, I feel, is to have a long conversation without the journalist taking any notes. Then afterward he should reminisce about the conversation and write it down as an impression of what he felt, not necessarily using the exact words expressed. Another useful method is to take notes and then interpret them with a certain loyalty to the person interviewed. What ticks you off about the tape recording everything is that it is not loyal to the person who is being interviewed, because it even records and remembers when you make an ass of yourself. That’s why when there is a tape recorder, I am conscious that I’m being interviewed; when there isn’t a tape recorder, I talk in an unconscious and completely natural way.
INTERVIEWER Well, you make me feel a little guilty using it, but I think for this kind of an interview we probably need it.
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Anyway, the whole purpose of what I just said was to put you on the defensive.
INTERVIEWER So you have never used a tape recorder yourself for an interview?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ As a journalist, I never use it. I have a very good tape recorder, but I just use it to listen to music. But then as a journalist I’ve never done an interview. I’ve done reports, but never an interview with questions and answers.
INTERVIEWER I heard about one famous interview with a sailor who had been shipwrecked.
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ It wasn’t questions and answers. The sailor would just tell me his adventures and I would rewrite them trying to use his own words and in the first person, as if he were the one who was writing. When the work was published as a serial in a newspaper, one part each day for two weeks, it was signed by the sailor, not by me. It wasn’t until twenty years later that it was re-published and people found out I had written it. No editor realized that it was good until after I had written One Hundred Years of Solitude.
INTERVIEWER Since we’ve started talking about journalism, how does it feel being a journalist again, after having written novels for so long? Do you do it with a different feel or a different eye?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I’ve always been convinced that my true profession is that of a journalist. What I didn’t like about journalism before were the working conditions. Besides, I had to condition my thoughts and ideas to the interests of the newspaper. Now, after having worked as a novelist, and having achieved financial independence as a novelist, I can really choose the themes that interest me and correspond to my ideas. In any case, I always very much enjoy the chance of doing a great piece of journalism.
INTERVIEWER What is a great piece of journalism for you?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Hiroshima by John Hersey was an exceptional piece.
INTERVIEWER Is there a story today that you would especially like to do?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ There are many, and several I have in fact written. I have written about Portugal, Cuba, Angola, and Vietnam. I would very much like to write on Poland. I think if I could describe exactly what is now going on, it would be a very important story. But it’s too cold now in Poland; I’m a journalist who likes his comforts.
INTERVIEWER Do you think the novel can do certain things that journalism can’t?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Nothing. I don’t think there is any difference. The sources are the same, the material is the same, the resources and the language are the same. The Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe is a great novel and Hiroshima is a great work of journalism.
INTERVIEWER Do the journalist and the novelist have different responsibilities in balancing truth versus the imagination?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That’s the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it.
INTERVIEWER In interviews a few years ago, you seemed to look back on being a journalist with awe at how much faster you were then.
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I do find it harder to write now than before, both novels and journalism. When I worked for newspapers, I wasn’t very conscious of every word I wrote, whereas now I am. When I was working for El Espectador in Bogotá, I used to do at least three stories a week, two or three editorial notes every day, and I did movie reviews. Then at night, after everyone had gone home, I would stay behind writing my novels. I liked the noise of the Linotype machines, which sounded like rain. If they stopped, and I was left in silence, I wouldn’t be able to work. Now, the output is comparatively small. On a good working day, working from nine o’clock in the morning to two or three in the afternoon, the most I can write is a short paragraph of four or five lines, which I usually tear up the next day.
INTERVIEWER Does this change come from your works being so highly praised or from some kind of political commitment?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ It’s from both. I think that the idea that I’m writing for many more people than I ever imagined has created a certain general responsibility that is literary and political. There’s even pride involved, in not wanting to fall short of what I did before.
INTERVIEWER How did you start writing?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ By drawing. By drawing cartoons. Before I could read or write I used to draw comics at school and at home. The funny thing is that I now realize that when I was in high school I had the reputation of being a writer, though I never in fact wrote anything. If there was a pamphlet to be written or a letter of petition, I was the one to do it because I was supposedly the writer. When I entered college I happened to have a very good literary background in general, considerably above the average of my friends. At the university in Bogotá, I started making new friends and acquaintances, who introduced me to contemporary writers. One night a friend lent me a book of short stories by Franz Kafka. I went back to the pension where I was staying and began to read The Metamorphosis. The first line almost knocked me off the bed. I was so surprised. The first line reads, “As Gregor Samsa awoke that morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. . . .” When I read the line I thought to myself that I didn’t know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago. So I immediately started writing short stories. They are totally intellectual short stories because I was writing them on the basis of my literary experience and had not yet found the link between literature and life. The stories were published in the literary supplement of the newspaper El Espectador in Bogotá and they did have a certain success at the time—probably because nobody in Colombia was writing intellectual short stories. What was being written then was mostly about life in the countryside and social life. When I wrote my first short stories I was told they had Joycean influences.
INTERVIEWER Had you read Joyce at that time?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I had never read Joyce, so I started reading Ulysses. I read it in the only Spanish edition available. Since then, after having read Ulysses in English as well as a very good French translation, I can see that the original Spanish translation was very bad. But I did learn something that was to be very useful to me in my future writing—the technique of the interior monologue. I later found this in Virginia Woolf, and I like the way she uses it better than Joyce. Although I later realized that the person who invented this interior monologue was the anonymous writer of the Lazarillo de Tormes.
INTERVIEWER Can you name some of your early influences?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ The people who really helped me to get rid of my intellectual attitude towards the short story were the writers of the American Lost Generation. I realized that their literature had a relationship with life that my short stories didn’t. And then an event took place which was very important with respect to this attitude. It was the Bogotazo, on the ninth of April, 1948, when a political leader, Gaitan, was shot and the people of Bogotá went raving mad in the streets. I was in my pension ready to have lunch when I heard the news. I ran towards the place, but Gaitan had just been put into a taxi and was being taken to a hospital. On my way back to the pension, the people had already taken to the streets and they were demonstrating, looting stores and burning buildings. I joined them. That afternoon and evening, I became aware of the kind of country I was living in, and how little my short stories had to do with any of that. When I was later forced to go back to Barranquilla on the Caribbean, where I had spent my childhood, I realized that that was the type of life I had lived, knew, and wanted to write about. Around 1950 or ’51 another event happened that influenced my literary tendencies. My mother asked me to accompany her to Aracataca, where I was born, and to sell the house where I spent my first years. When I got there it was at first quite shocking because I was now twenty-two and hadn’t been there since the age of eight. Nothing had really changed, but I felt that I wasn’t really looking at the village, but I was experiencing it as if I were reading it. It was as if everything I saw had already been written, and all I had to do was to sit down and copy what was already there and what I was just reading. For all practical purposes everything had evolved into literature: the houses, the people, and the memories. I’m not sure whether I had already read Faulkner or not, but I know now that only a technique like Faulkner’s could have enabled me to write down what I was seeing. The atmosphere, the decadence, the heat in the village were roughly the same as what I had felt in Faulkner. It was a banana-plantation region inhabited by a lot of Americans from the fruit companies which gave it the same sort of atmosphere I had found in the writers of the Deep South. Critics have spoken of the literary influence of Faulkner, but I see it as a coincidence: I had simply found material that had to be dealt with in the same way that Faulkner had treated similar material. From that trip to the village I came back to write Leaf Storm, my first novel. What really happened to me in that trip to Aracataca was that I realized that everything that had occurred in my childhood had a literary value that I was only now appreciating. From the moment I wrote Leaf Storm I realized I wanted to be a writer and that nobody could stop me and that the only thing left for me to do was to try to be the best writer in the world. That was in 1953, but it wasn’t until 1967 that I got my first royalties after having written five of my eight books.
INTERVIEWER Do you think that it’s common for young writers to deny the worth of their own childhoods and experiences and to intellectualize as you did initially?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ No, the process usually takes place the other way around, but if I had to give a young writer some advice I would say to write about something that has happened to him; it’s always easy to tell whether a writer is writing about something that has happened to him or something he has read or been told. Pablo Neruda has a line in a poem that says “God help me from inventing when I sing.” It always amuses me that the biggest praise for my work comes for the imagination, while the truth is that there’s not a single line in all my work that does not have a basis in reality. The problem is that Caribbean reality resembles the wildest imagination.
INTERVIEWER Whom were you writing for at this point? Who was your audience?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Leaf Storm was written for my friends who were helping me and lending me their books and were very enthusiastic about my work. In general I think you usually do write for someone. When I’m writing I’m always aware that this friend is going to like this, or that another friend is going to like that paragraph or chapter, always thinking of specific people. In the end all books are written for your friends. The problem after writing One Hundred Years of Solitude was that now I no longer know whom of the millions of readers I am writing for; this upsets and inhibits me. It’s like a million eyes are looking at you and you don’t really know what they think.
INTERVIEWER What about the influence of journalism on your fiction?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I think the influence is reciprocal. Fiction has helped my journalism because it has given it literary value. Journalism has helped my fiction because it has kept me in a close relationship with reality.
INTERVIEWER How would you describe the search for a style that you went through after Leaf Stormand before you were able to write One Hundred Years of Solitude?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ After having written Leaf Storm, I decided that writing about the village and my childhood was really an escape from having to face and write about the political reality of the country. I had the false impression that I was hiding myself behind this kind of nostalgia instead of confronting the political things that were going on. This was the time when the relationship between literature and politics was very much discussed. I kept trying to close the gap between the two. My influence had been Faulkner; now it was Hemingway. I wrote No One Writes to the Colonel, In Evil Hour, and Big Mama’s Funeral, which were all written at more or less the same time and have many things in common. These stories take place in a different village from the one in which Leaf Storm and One Hundred Years of Solitude occur. It is a village in which there is no magic. It is a journalistic literature. But when I finished In Evil Hour, I saw that all my views were wrong again. I came to see that in fact my writings about my childhood were more political and had more to do with the reality of my country than I had thought. After The Evil Hour I did not write anything for five years. I had an idea of what I always wanted to do, but there was something missing and I was not sure what it was until one day I discovered the right tone—the tone that I eventually used in One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was based on the way my grandmother used to tell her stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness. When I finally discovered the tone I had to use, I sat down for eighteen months and worked every day.
INTERVIEWER How did she express the “fantastic” so naturally?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ What was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories, and everyone was surprised. In previous attempts to write One Hundred Years of Solitude, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face.
INTERVIEWER There also seems to be a journalistic quality to that technique or tone. You describe seemingly fantastic events in such minute detail that it gives them their own reality. Is this something you have picked up from journalism?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ That’s a journalistic trick which you can also apply to literature. For example, if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you. One Hundred Years of Solitude is full of that sort of thing. That’s exactly the technique my grandmother used. I remember particularly the story about the character who is surrounded by yellow butterflies. When I was very small there was an electrician who came to the house. I became very curious because he carried a belt with which he used to suspend himself from the electrical posts. My grandmother used to say that every time this man came around, he would leave the house full of butterflies. But when I was writing this, I discovered that if I didn’t say the butterflies were yellow, people would not believe it. When I was writing the episode of Remedios the Beauty going to heaven, it took me a long time to make it credible. One day I went out to the garden and saw a woman who used to come to the house to do the wash and she was putting out the sheets to dry and there was a lot of wind. She was arguing with the wind not to blow the sheets away. I discovered that if I used the sheets for Remedios the Beauty, she would ascend. That’s how I did it, to make it credible. The problem for every writer is credibility. Anybody can write anything so long as it’s believed.
INTERVIEWER What was the origin of the insomnia plague in One Hundred Years of Solitude?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Beginning with Oedipus, I’ve always been interested in plagues. I have studied a lot about medieval plagues. One of my favorite books is The Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe, among other reasons because Defoe is a journalist who sounds like what he is saying is pure fantasy. For many years I thought Defoe had written about the London plague as he observed it. But then I discovered it was a novel, because Defoe was less than seven years old when the plague occurred in London. Plagues have always been one of my recurrent themes—and in different forms. In The Evil Hour, the pamphlets are plagues. For many years I thought that the political violence in Colombia had the same metaphysics as the plague. Before One Hundred Years of Solitude, I had used a plague to kill all the birds in a story called “One Day After Saturday”. In One Hundred Years of Solitude I used the insomnia plague as something of a literary trick, since it’s the opposite of the sleeping plague. Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry.
INTERVIEWER Can you explain that analogy a little more?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ 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. And as Proust, I think, said, it takes ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration. I never have done any carpentry but it’s the job I admire most, especially because you can never find anyone to do it for you.
INTERVIEWER What about the banana fever in One Hundred Years of Solitude? How much of that is based on what the United Fruit Company did?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ The banana fever is modeled closely on reality. Of course, I’ve used literary tricks on things which have not been proved historically. For example, the massacre in the square is completely true, but while I wrote it on the basis of testimony and documents, it was never known exactly how many people were killed. I used the figure three thousand, which is obviously an exaggeration. But one of my childhood memories was watching a very, very long train leave the plantation supposedly full of bananas. There could have been three thousand dead on it, eventually to be dumped in the sea. What’s really surprising is that now they speak very naturally in the Congress and the newspapers about the “three thousand dead.” I suspect that half of all our history is made in this fashion. In The Autumn of the Patriarch, the dictator says it doesn’t matter if it’s not true now, because sometime in the future it will be true. Sooner or later people believe writers rather than the government.
INTERVIEWER That makes the writer pretty powerful, doesn’t it?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Yes, and I can feel it too. It gives me a great sense of responsibility. What I would really like to do is a piece of journalism which is completely true and real, but which sounds as fantastic as One Hundred Years of Solitude. The more I live and remember things from the past, the more I think that literature and journalism are closely related.
INTERVIEWER What about a country giving up its sea for its foreign debt, as in The Autumn of the Patriarch?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Yes, but that actually happened. It’s happened and will happen many times more. The Autumn of the Patriarch is a completely historical book. To find probabilities out of real facts is the work of the journalist and the novelist, and it is also the work of the prophet. The trouble is that many people believe that I’m a writer of fantastic fiction, when actually I’m a very realistic person and write what I believe is the true socialist realism.
INTERVIEWER Is it utopian?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I’m not sure if the word utopian means the real or the ideal. But I think it’s the real.
INTERVIEWER Are the characters in The Autumn of the Patriarch, the dictators, for example, modeled after real people? There seem to be similarities with Franco, Perón, and Trujillo.
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ In every novel, the character is a collage: a collage of different characters that you’ve known, or heard about or read about. I read everything that I could find about Latin American dictators of the last century, and the beginning of this one. I also talked to a lot of people who had lived under dictatorships. I did that for at least ten years. And when I had a clear idea of what the character was going to be like, I made an effort to forget everything I had read and heard, so that I could invent, without using any situation that had occurred in real life. I realized at one point that I myself had not lived for any period of time under a dictatorship, so I thought if I wrote the book in Spain, I could see what the atmosphere was like living in an established dictatorship. But I found that the atmosphere was very different in Spain under Franco from that of a Caribbean dictatorship. So the book was kind of blocked for about a year. There was something missing and I wasn’t sure what it was. Then overnight, I decided that the best thing was that we come back to the Caribbean. So we all moved back to Barranquilla in Colombia. I made a statement to the journalists which they thought was a joke. I said that I was coming back because I had forgotten what a guava smelled like. In truth, it was what I really needed to finish my book. I took a trip through the Caribbean. As I went from island to island, I found the elements which were the ones that had been lacking from my novel.
INTERVIEWER You often use the theme of the solitude of power.
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ The more power you have, the harder it is to know who is lying to you and who is not. When you reach absolute power, there is no contact with reality, and that’s the worst kind of solitude there can be. A very powerful person, a dictator, is surrounded by interests and people whose final aim is to isolate him from reality; everything is in concert to isolate him.
INTERVIEWER What about the solitude of the writer? Is this different?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ It has a lot to do with the solitude of power. The writer’s very attempt to portray reality often leads him to a distorted view of it. In trying to transpose reality he can end up losing contact with it, in an ivory tower, as they say. Journalism is a very good guard against that. That’s why I have always tried to keep on doing journalism, because it keeps me in contact with the real world, particularly political journalism and politics. The solitude that threatened me after One Hundred Years of Solitude wasn’t the solitude of the writer; it was the solitude of fame, which resembles the solitude of power much more. My friends defended me from that one, my friends who are always there.
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Because I have managed to keep the same friends all my life. I mean I don’t break or cut myself off from my old friends, and they’re the ones who bring me back to earth; they always keep their feet on the ground and they’re not famous.
INTERVIEWER How do things start? One of the recurring images in The Autumn of the Patriarch is the cows in the palace. Was this one of the original images?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I’ve got a photography book that I’m going to show you. I’ve said on various occasions that in the genesis of all my books there’s always an image. The first image I had of The Autumn of the Patriarch was a very old man in a very luxurious palace into which cows come and eat the curtains. But that image didn’t concretize until I saw the photograph. In Rome I went into a bookshop where I started looking at photography books, which I like to collect. I saw this photograph, and it was just perfect. I just saw that was how it was going to be. Since I’m not a big intellectual, I can find my antecedents in everyday things, in life, and not in the great masterpieces.
INTERVIEWER Do your novels ever take unexpected twists?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ That used to happen to me in the beginning. In the first stories I wrote I had a general idea of the mood, but I would let myself be taken by chance. The best advice I was given early on was that it was all right to work that way when I was young because I had a torrent of inspiration. But I was told that if I didn’t learn technique, I would be in trouble later on when the inspiration had gone and the technique was needed to compensate. If I hadn’t learned that in time, I would not now be able to outline a structure in advance. Structure is a purely technical problem and if you don’t learn it early on you’ll never learn it.
INTERVIEWER Discipline then is quite important to you?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I don’t think you can write a book that’s worth anything without extraordinary discipline.
INTERVIEWER What about artificial stimulants?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ One thing that Hemingway wrote that greatly impressed me was that writing for him was like boxing. He took care of his health and his well-being. Faulkner had a reputation of being a drunkard, but in every interview that he gave he said that it was impossible to write one line when drunk. Hemingway said this too. Bad readers have asked me if I was drugged when I wrote some of my works. But that illustrates that they don’t know anything about literature or drugs. To be a good writer you have to be absolutely lucid at every moment of writing, and in good health. I’m very much against the romantic concept of writing which maintains that the act of writing is a sacrifice, and that the worse the economic conditions or the emotional state, the better the writing. I think you have to be in a very good emotional and physical state. Literary creation for me requires good health, and the Lost Generation understood this. They were people who loved life.
INTERVIEWER Blaise Cendrars said that writing is a privilege compared to most work, and that writers exaggerate their suffering. What do you think?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I think that writing is very difficult, but so is any job carefully executed. What is a privilege, however, is to do a job to your own satisfaction. I think that I’m excessively demanding of myself and others because I cannot tolerate errors; I think that it is a privilege to do anything to a perfect degree. It is true though that writers are often megalomaniacs and they consider themselves to be the center of the universe and society’s conscience. But what I most admire is something well done. I’m always very happy when I’m traveling to know that the pilots are better pilots than I am a writer.
INTERVIEWER When do you work best now? Do you have a work schedule?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ When I became a professional writer the biggest problem I had was my schedule. Being a journalist meant working at night. When I started writing full-time I was forty years old, my schedule was basically from nine o’clock in the morning until two in the afternoon when my sons came back from school. Since I was so used to hard work, I felt guilty that I was only working in the morning; so I tried to work in the afternoons, but I discovered that what I did in the afternoon had to be done over again the next morning. So I decided that I would just work from nine until two-thirty and not do anything else. In the afternoons I have appointments and interviews and anything else that might come up. I have another problem in that I can only work in surroundings that are familiar and have already been warmed up with my work. I cannot write in hotels or borrowed rooms or on borrowed typewriters. This creates problems because when I travel I can’t work. Of course, you’re always trying to find a pretext to work less. That’s why the conditions you impose on yourself are more difficult all the time. You hope for inspiration whatever the circumstances. That’s a word the romantics exploited a lot. My Marxist comrades have a lot of difficulty accepting the word, but whatever you call it, I’m convinced that there is a special state of mind in which you can write with great ease and things just flow. All the pretexts—such as the one where you can only write at home—disappear. That moment and that state of mind seem to come when you have found the right theme and the right ways of treating it. And it has to be something you really like, too, because there is no worse job than doing something you don’t like. One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily. In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone. At least in my case, the first paragraph is a kind of sample of what the rest of the book is going to be. That’s why writing a book of short stories is much more difficult than writing a novel. Every time you write a short story, you have to begin all over again.
INTERVIEWER Are dreams ever important as a source of inspiration?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ In the very beginning I paid a good deal of attention to them. But then I realized that life itself is the greatest source of inspiration and that dreams are only a very small part of that torrent that is life. What is very true about my writing is that I’m quite interested in different concepts of dreams and interpretations of them. I see dreams as part of life in general, but reality is much richer. But maybe I just have very poor dreams.
INTERVIEWER Can you distinguish between inspiration and intuition?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Inspiration is when you find the right theme, one which you really like; that makes the work much easier. Intuition, which is also fundamental to writing fiction, is a special quality which 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 that I detest most in the world—in the sense that the real world is turned into a kind of immovable theory. Intuition has the advantage that either it is, or it isn’t. You don’t struggle to try to put a round peg into a square hole.
INTERVIEWER Is it the theorists that you dislike?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Exactly. Chiefly because I cannot really understand them. That’s mainly why I have to explain most things through anecdotes, because I don’t have any capacity for abstractions. That’s why many critics say that I’m not a cultured person. I don’t quote enough.
INTERVIEWER Do you think that critics type you or categorize you too neatly?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Critics for me are the biggest example of what intellectualism is. First of all, they have a theory of what a writer should be. They try to get the writer to fit their model, and if he doesn’t fit, they still try to get him in by force. I’m only answering this because you’ve asked. I really have no interest in what critics think of me; nor have I read critics in many years. They have claimed for themselves the task of being intermediaries between the author and the reader. I’ve always tried to be a very clear and precise writer, trying to reach the reader directly without having to go through the critic.
INTERVIEWER How do you regard translators?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I have great admiration for translators except for the ones who use footnotes. They are always trying to explain to the reader something which the author probably did not mean; since it’s there, the reader has to put up with it. Translating is a very difficult job, not at all rewarding, and very badly paid. A good translation is always a re-creation in another language. That’s why I have such great admiration for Gregory Rabassa. My books have been translated into twenty-one languages and Rabassa is the only translator who has never asked for something to be clarified so he can put a footnote in. I think that my work has been completely re-created in English. There are parts of the book which are very difficult to follow literally. The impression one gets is that the translator read the book and then rewrote it from his recollections. That’s why I have such admiration for translators. They are intuitive rather than intellectual. Not only is what publishers pay them completely miserable, but they don’t see their work as literary creation. There are some books I would have liked to translate into Spanish, but they would have involved as much work as writing my own books and I wouldn’t have made enough money to eat.
INTERVIEWER What would you have liked to translate?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ All Malraux. I would have liked to translate Conrad, and Saint-Exupéry. When I’m reading I sometimes get the feeling that I would like to translate this book. Excluding the great masterpieces, I prefer reading a mediocre translation of a book than trying to get through it in the original language. I never feel comfortable reading in another language, because the only language I really feel inside is Spanish. However, I speak Italian and French, and I know English well enough to have poisoned myself with Time magazine every week for twenty years.
Gabriel García Márquez makes his first visit for 25 years to his home town Aracataca with his wife, Mercedes Barcha. Photograph: William Fernando Martinez/AP
INTERVIEWER Does Mexico seem like home to you now? Do you feel part of any larger community of writers?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ In general, I’m not a friend of writers or artists just because they are writers or artists. I have many friends of different professions, amongst them writers and artists. In general terms, I feel that I’m a native of any country in Latin America but not elsewhere. Latin Americans feel that Spain is the only country in which we are treated well, but I personally don’t feel as though I’m from there. In Latin America I don’t have a sense of frontiers or borders. I’m conscious of the differences that exist from one country to another, but in my mind and heart it is all the same. Where I really feel at home is the Caribbean, whether it is the French, Dutch, or English Caribbean. I was always impressed that when I got on a plane in Barranquilla, a black lady with a blue dress would stamp my passport, and when I got off the plane in Jamaica, a black lady with a blue dress would stamp my passport, but in English. I don’t believe that the language makes all that much difference. But anywhere else in the world, I feel like a foreigner, a feeling that robs me of a sense of security. It’s a personal feeling, but I always have it when I travel. I have a minority conscience.
INTERVIEWER Do you think that it’s an important thing for Latin American writers to live in Europe for a while?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Perhaps to have a real perspective from outside. The book of short stories I’m thinking of writing is about Latin Americans going to Europe. I’ve been thinking about it for twenty years. If you could draw a final conclusion out of these short stories, it would be that Latin Americans hardly ever get to Europe, especially Mexicans, and certainly not to stay. All the Mexicans I’ve ever met in Europe always leave the following Wednesday.
INTERVIEWER What effects do you think the Cuban Revolution has had on Latin American literature?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Up until now it has been negative. Many writers who think of themselves as being politically committed feel obligated to write stories not about what they want, but about what they think they should want. That makes for a certain type of calculated literature that doesn’t have anything to do with experience or intuition. The main reason for this is that the cultural influence of Cuba on Latin America has been very much fought against. In Cuba itself, the process hasn’t developed to the point where a new type of literature or art has been created. That is something that needs time. The great cultural importance of Cuba in Latin America has been to serve as a kind of bridge to transmit a type of literature which had existed in Latin America for many years. In a sense, the boom in Latin American literature in the United States has been caused by the Cuban Revolution. Every Latin American writer of that generation had been writing for twenty years, but the European and American publishers had very little interest in them. When the Cuban Revolution started there was suddenly a great interest about Cuba and Latin America. The revolution turned into an article of consumption. Latin America came into fashion. It was discovered that Latin American novels existed which were good enough to be translated and considered with all other world literature. What was really sad is that cultural colonialism is so bad in Latin America that it was impossible to convince the Latin Americans themselves that their own novels were good until people outside told them they were.
INTERVIEWER Are there some lesser-known Latin American writers you especially admire?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I doubt there are any now. One of the best side effects of the boom in Latin American writing is that publishers are always on the lookout to make sure that they’re not going to miss the new Cortázar. Unfortunately many young writers are more concerned with fame than with their own work. There’s a French professor at the University of Toulouse who writes about Latin American literature; many young authors wrote to him telling him not to write so much about me because I didn’t need it anymore and other people did. But what they forget is that when I was their age the critics weren’t writing about me, but rather about Miguel Angel Asturias. The point I’m trying to make is that these young writers are wasting their time writing to critics rather than working on their own writing. It’s much more important to write than to be written about. One thing that I think was very important about my literary career was that until I was forty years old, I never got one cent of author’s royalties, though I’d had five books published.
INTERVIEWER Do you think that fame or success coming too early in a writer’s career is bad?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ At any age it’s bad. I would have liked for my books to have been recognized posthumously, at least in capitalist countries, where you turn into a kind of merchandise.
INTERVIEWER Aside from your favorites, what do you read today?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I read the weirdest things. I was reading Muhammad Ali’s memoirs the other day. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a great book, and one I probably would not have read many years ago because I would have thought it was a waste of time. But I never really get involved with a book unless it’s recommended by somebody I trust. I don’t read any more fiction. I read many memoirs and documents, even if they are forged documents. And I reread my favorites. The advantage of rereading is that you can open at any page and read the part that you really like. I’ve lost this sacred notion of reading only “literature.” I will read anything. I try to keep up-to-date. I read almost all the really important magazines from all over the world every week. I’ve always been on the lookout for news since the habit of reading the Teletype machines. But after I’ve read all the serious and important newspapers from all over, my wife always comes around and tells me of news I hadn’t heard. When I ask her where she read it, she will say that she read it in a magazine at the beauty parlor. So I read fashion magazines and all kinds of magazines for women and gossip magazines. And I learn many things that I could only learn from reading them. That keeps me very busy.
INTERVIEWER Why do you think fame is so destructive for a writer?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Primarily because it invades your private life. It takes away from the time that you spend with friends, and the time that you can work. It tends to isolate you from the real world. A famous writer who wants to continue writing has to be constantly defending himself against fame. I don’t really like to say this because it never sounds sincere, but I would really have liked for my books to have been published after my death, so I wouldn’t have to go through all this business of fame and being a great writer. In my case, the only advantage in fame is that I have been able to give it a political use. Otherwise, it is quite uncomfortable. The problem is that you’re famous for twenty-four hours a day and you can’t say, “Okay, I won’t be famous until tomorrow,” or press a button and say, “I won’t be famous here or now.”
INTERVIEWER Did you anticipate the extraordinary success of One Hundred Years of Solitude?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I knew that it would be a book that would please my friends more than my others had. But when my Spanish publisher told me he was going to print eight thousand copies I was stunned, because my other books had never sold more than seven hundred. I asked him why not start slowly, but he said he was convinced that it was a good book and that all eight thousand copies would be sold between May and December. Actually they were all sold within one week in Buenos Aires.
INTERVIEWER Why do you think One Hundred Years of Solitude clicked so?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I don’t have the faintest idea, because I’m a very bad critic of my own works. One of the most frequent explanations that I’ve heard is that it is a book about the private lives of the people of Latin America, a book that was written from the inside. That explanation surprises me because in my first attempt to write it the title of the book was going to be The House. I wanted the whole development of the novel to take place inside the house, and anything external would be just in terms of its impact on the house. I later abandoned the title The House, but once the book goes into the town of Macondo it never goes any further. Another explanation I’ve heard is that every reader can make of the characters in the book what he wants and make them his own. I don’t want it to become a film, since the film viewer sees a face that he may not have imagined.
INTERVIEWER Was there any interest in making it into a film?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Yes, my agent put it up for one million dollars to discourage offers and as they approximated that offer she raised it to around three million. But I have no interest in a film, and as long as I can prevent it from happening, it won’t. I prefer that it remain a private relationship between the reader and the book.
INTERVIEWER Do you think any books can be translated into films successfully?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I can’t think of any one film that improved on a good novel, but I can think of many good films that came from very bad novels.
INTERVIEWER Have you ever thought of making films yourself?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ There was a time when I wanted to be a film director. I studied directing in Rome. I felt that cinema was a medium which had no limitations and in which everything was possible. I came to Mexico because I wanted to work in film, not as a director but as a screenplay writer. But there’s a big limitation in cinema in that it’s an industrial art, a whole industry. It’s very difficult to express in cinema what you really want to say. I still think of it, but it now seems like a luxury which I would like to do with friends but without any hope of really expressing myself. So I’ve moved farther and farther away from the cinema. My relation with it is like that of a couple who can’t live separated, but who can’t live together either. Between having a film company or a journal, though, I’d choose a journal.
INTERVIEWER How would you describe the book on Cuba that you’re working on now?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ Actually, the book is like a long newspaper article about what life in Cuban homes is like, how they have managed to survive the shortages. What has struck me during the many trips that I’ve made to Cuba in the last two years is that the blockade has created in Cuba a kind of “culture of necessity,” a social situation in which people have to get along without certain things. The aspect that really interests me is how the blockade has contributed to changing the mentality of the people. We have a clash between an anticonsumer society and the most consumption-oriented society in the world. The book is now at a stage where after thinking that it would be just an easy, fairly short piece of journalism, it is now turning into a very long and complicated book. But that doesn’t really matter, because all of my books have been like that. And besides, the book will prove with historical facts that the real world in the Caribbean is just as fantastic as in the stories of One Hundred Years of Solitude.
INTERVIEWER Do you have any long-range ambitions or regrets as a writer?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I think my answer is the same as the one I gave you about fame. I was asked the other day if I would be interested in the Nobel Prize, but I think that for me it would be an absolute catastrophe. I would certainly be interested in deserving it, but to receive it would be terrible. It would just complicate even more the problems of fame. The only thing I really regret in life is not having a daughter.
INTERVIEWER Are there any projects now underway you can discuss?
GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ I’m absolutely convinced that I’m going to write the greatest book of my life, but I don’t know which one it will be or when. When I feel something like this—which I have been feeling now for a while—I stay very quiet, so that if it passes by I can capture it.
Gabo and Mercedes.
Photo of Kim Manresa