One afternoon, Gabriel García Márquez is sought
out by his mother in the cafés of Baranquilla. She has two
requests: to help sell their house in Aracataca, Colombia, and to
return to law school instead of wasting his life as a journalist.
In all practical terms, her journey is a failure. The house is too
decrepit to sell and her son is too stubborn to return to school.
Against all expectations, however, the epoch becomes “the
most important of all the decisions I had to make in my career as a
writer. That is to say: in my entire life.”

Mira Levitan

García Márquez is so inspired by the ghosts of his
past that he spends the rest of his life trying to relate them. So
begins “Living to Tell the Tale,” translated from
Spanish by Edith Grossman, the first in a trilogy of memoirs that
recount the life story of one of the most respected writers of our

In long paragraphs and winding sentences, García
Márquez confidentially tells the reader the most intimate
details of the first 27 years of his life. He begins with the
pivotal trip to sell the house, jumps back to his earliest memories
of following his grandfather around the streets of Aracataca and
then meanders through his youth in Colombia. He covers everything
from family legend and his schoolboy years to the beginnings of his
journalistic career and daily life in his favorite brothels. He
also tracks the course of Colombian politics, reacting to the
assassination of liberal leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán
— which sparked the country’s current civil war —
with mild surprise before returning to lunch with his brothers. At
times, it seems as if García Márquez has become lost
in his almost stream-of-consciousness writing style, but in the end
he always finds his way back to the point.

Along the way, the reader can easily recognize many people and
events forming the basis for García Márquez’s
greatest works of fiction. The story of his parents’
forbidden love affair is told in “Love in the Time of
Cholera” while the name on the gate of a deserted banana
company, Macondo, inspires the town’s name in his Nobel prize
winning “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

The most striking aspect of the memoir is García
Márquez’s vision of everyday life in Colombia. With
rich details and unexpected touches of brilliance, García
Márquez reveals a world where young intellectuals argue
about literature and politics for days on end in cafés
around Baranquilla. Brothels are the writer’s paradise due to
their wild nights and quiet mornings and his mother, with 11
children of her own, takes in her husband’s illegitimate sons
and daughters because they share some of the same blood as her

Throughout most of his youth, García Márquez is
sickly, shy and so poor that he cannot afford more than two changes
of clothing. Around him, blood is continuously spilt in an endless
civil war that tears his country apart. But he lives to tell the
tale, keeping his sense of humor and love of life throughout it
all. García Márquez’s first memoir is a strong,
rich story of human life and perseverance.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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