Magical memory tour

Described as “a poet’s novelist” or a “magical realist,” Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez is one of the most celebrated writers in the world. This first installment of a planned three-part autobiography provides readers with a glimpse into the making of a novelist as well as the surprising news that his “magical realism” is, for lack of a better term, “real.”

García Márquez bends time into a series of eddies, beginning with a trip to the village of Aracataca in 1950, when he accompanied his mother to sell his grandparents’ house. Like Marcel Proust’s madeleine, García Márquez’s first meal in that place arouses something more than mere nostalgia: “From the moment I tasted the soup,” he writes, “I had the sensation that an entire sleeping world was waking in my memory.”

That sleeping world became the mythical village of Macondo, which García Márquez named for a nearby banana plantation and populated with fictional versions of the people who surrounded the boy they called “Gabito.”

The first third of the memoir, concerned with his childhood in Aracataca, includes the visit of several illegitimate sons of his grandfather, a colonel from Colombia’s War of a Thousand Days. Though not so numerous as the 33 sons of Col. Aureliano Buendía in One Hundred Years of Solitude, they appear “dressed alike in gaiters and spurs, and all of them with a cross of ash drawn on their foreheads” to celebrate their father’s birthday. Both García Márquez’s mother and grandmother willingly accepted their husbands’ children from extramarital relationships, making for an incredibly complex and extended family. His childhood included various cousins with special gifts, an aunt who sewed her own shroud because she knew the day of her death, a parrot that could predict the future, and a case of revenge murder that became the basis for Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

The central part of the memoir, in which García Márquez describes his youth and the events that led him to write fiction, revolves around the April 1948 assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, a progressive liberal presidential candidate, in Bogotá. The violence following the assassination had a profound and traumatic impact on the 21-year-old García Márquez, who came upon the scene as a mob was incited to murder the suspected assassin, and he barely escaped the rioting city with his younger brother. As an aspiring journalist, he covered the subsequent political upheaval and found in news writing a literary genre, a discovery that led him to believe that “the novel and journalism are children of the same mother.”

He recounts the forbidden romance of his parents, which became the novel Love in the Time of Cholera, and his interview with a seaman who survived being washed overboard into a Caribbean storm, which became The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor. But readers who are not familiar with his entire body of work will find his recounting of these tales fascinating because he explains what attracted him to the stories emotionally and why he made the decisions he did about how to write them. And his language, as always, is rich and poetic—it’s so easy to get lost in the worlds he describes.

In many ways, this is as much a literary how-to book as it is a memoir. García Márquez includes descriptions of the writers, poets and books that were most influential to his development and tells in detail how his first novel, Leaf Storm, was written. The new memoir ends with the young journalist in Geneva, awaiting a reply to his marriage proposal, but fortunately, we know there’s more to come.