Gabriel García Márquez was born on this day in 1928. Márquez’s Living to Tell the Tale (2003), a memoir of his first twenty-seven years, is prefaced by his comment, “Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it.” Chapter 1 then recounts a journey Márquez took at the age of twenty-two with his mother, a two-day trip by boat and train to Aractaca, where he had lived for his first eight years with his grandparents, their house now to be put up for sale.
At the time, Márquez was living in impoverished, bohemian glory — a dropout from the law school upon which his father had pinned such high hopes, and so removed from his mother that, when she tracked him down in his favorite literary café, she had to identify herself. But saying no to Mother was not an option: the universe was “a planetary system that she controlled from her kitchen with a subdued voice and almost without blinking, while the pot of beans was simmering.”
The first hours on the boat were predictable — sea squalls, mosquito clouds, a steady parade of customers to the prostitutes’ cabins, Márquez clinging to his copy of Faulkner’s Light in August as tightly as Mother clung to her rosary. Gradually, on the train, the familiar places and old times took over. Villages full of one-armed fishermen who had held on to the dynamite too long, of kids chasing soccer balls made of rags. Here, said Mother, is “the land they sold my father with the story there was gold on it.” There is the spot where, in 1928, “the world ended” when the army gunned down mythic numbers of striking banana workers on behalf of the United Fruit Company. When the gringos left, writes Márquez, “they took everything with them: money, December breezes, the bread knife, thunder at three in the afternoon, the scent of jasmines, love.” The houses left behind were as collapsed as the local economy (and beyond, it turned out, any chance of selling).
But in the old house and village, said Márquez, “There was not a single door, a crack in a wall, a human trace that did not find a supernatural resonance in me.” The trip “would be so decisive that the longest and most diligent of lives would not be enough for me to finish recounting it.”
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.