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By: Sonya Surabhi Gupta
The journey of Gabo’s epic novel is a story in itself.
Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it,” Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote in his memoirs. The writing of Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) is as fascinating a tale as the novel itself, in which Gabo created the eternal and marvellous Macondo that, in the imagination of millions of his readers, became synonymous with Latin America. The recent publication of Gabo’s correspondence, and a rare interview with his wife, Mercedes Barcha, have provided interesting insights into the making of this epic 1967 novel.
In a letter written on July 22, 1967, to his close friend Plinio Mendoza, in the midst of the maelstrom of the publication of One Hundred Years, Gabo recounted the long trajectory that the novel had covered in his life: “in reality, it was the first novel that I tried to write, at 17 years of age, and with the title The House, but I abandoned it soon after because it was too big for me. From then on, I never stopped thinking of it, of visualising it mentally, of finding the most efficient manner of delivering it, and I can tell you that the first paragraph does not have a comma less or a comma more than the first paragraph I had written 20 years back.”
The opening lines of One Hundred Years — “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice” — are perhaps the most quoted and remembered lines from Gregory Rabassa’s translation, and they were written by Gabo when he was just 17 years old. He says in the letter: “I think therefore that my first successful attempt was The Leafstorm but my first novel is One Hundred Years of Solitude.”
Eligio García Márquez, Gabo’s brother, recounts how the most famous novel of Latin America in the 20th century was conceived: “One day in January 1965, while he was driving his Opel down the highway from Mexico City to Acapulco, the novel that he had been imagining patiently since his adolescence emerged in its entirety. In a suicidal moment, he left the economy of the house in the hands of Mercedes, his wife, and shut himself up to write.”
Mercedes Barcha, in an interview published in 2012, recounts how, during the one and a half years that Gabo took to write the novel, they lived in poverty in Mexico: “As we were young we did not realise it. I have never been dramatic, and after all, we were continued…