Living to Tell the Tale
In this lyrical autobiography describing the first part of Gabriel García Márquez's life, he pulls the reader in to join him as he experiences his memories. The story is not told chronologically, but flows forward and backward through the period of his birth in 1927 until the 1950s (where the author leaves us anxiously anticipating the next volume with a beautiful romantic ending).
In 1950, at the age of 22, García Márquez accompanied his mother on a trip to sell his childhood home in Aracataca, Columbia. The author had quit college, determined to become a writer, to his parents' chagrin. The trip home acts as a portal into the author's life, beginning with the Aracataca house. Indeed, we accompany the author beyond his life, to that of his grandparents. As memories are awakened, he shares them in the graceful, amazingly detailed manner of a natural storyteller.
His tales include a killing by his grandfather, which haunted the family and continues to disturb García Márquez today. The area of his childhood home suffered roof-removing hurricanes, droughts, floods that unearthed bodies in the cemetery, and "the most sinister of plagues" --- the takeover by the United Fruit Company, with its accompanying population growth. Social unrest pervaded the area, which the author symbolizes graphically by describing his childhood memory of a headless man riding by on a donkey. We also meet the quirky members of his family, one by one, who are shared so lovingly and thoroughly that the reader nearly feels she remembers the same relatives in her own life.
The author continues, revealing his life as a tapestry of interwoven tales. His close group of literary and artistic cronies when he was a young man included not only famous artists and writers, but also a professional thief who penned love letters. García Márquez notes that three points in his life were pivotal to his choice to be an author: the trip with his mother to sell the house, a conversation in which noted author Don Ramon Vinyes respected García Márquez as a fellow writer, and his connection with his fellow writers and artists. As a young man, he determined to earn money only with his writing for the rest of his life --- a promise he fulfilled, although he frequently lived in poverty. When his first short story was published, he didn't have the five centavos to buy a copy of the paper it appeared in. He raced from friend to friend trying to find a loan. Finally, he saw a stranger with the paper in his hand and begged him to give it to him. Thanks to that stranger's gift, García Márquez was able to read his first published story in print.
García Márquez displays an appealing self-effacement when he confides, several times, what a poor speller he is. After publishing seventeen novels, he still seems a bit insecure and apologetic over his inability to spell. However, no one will deny his talent in casting spells through the magic of storytelling. He invites the reader into his life, sharing every incident and character in such fascinating detail that this piece of nonfiction reads like the most riveting and gorgeously written novel.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon (email@example.com) on January 7, 2011