Silvana Paternostro has subtitled her book Solitude & Company as “the life of Gabriel García Márquez, told with help from his friends, family, fans, arguers, fellow pranksters, drunks, and a few respectable souls”.
Her project began in 2000, when Tina Brown, who had founded the (now dead) monthly Talk the previous year, commissioned an essay based on conversations with people in Colombia who had known ‘Gabo’ in the years prior to his becoming arguably the 20th century’s most influential writer.
This capsule of oral history, which Paternostro titled Solitude & Company after the name of a film production company that Márquez had at one point considered setting up, never saw light of day, but in 2003 she published a different version with the same title in The Paris Review and a translation in the Mexican magazine Nexos.
In 2010, Paternostro listened to her tapes again, and after conducting a fresh set of interviews subsequently, published Solitude & Company in Spanish in 2014. The English translation was released last month.
Paternostro has divided her book into BC, i.e., Before Cien Años de Soledad, One Hundred Years of Solitude in Spanish, and AC, or After Cien Años de Soledad. In the first part, Gabo’s siblings and others who knew him before he became a global icon, speak; the celebrated writer Márquez appears in the second.
Oral history, the author says, “allows those who were very close to him… tell us how they welcomed him, helped him, and watched him create himself; it permits them to make us feel how much they love him or how much he annoyed them; just them, without other narrators or descriptions as intermediaries”.
In an interview to The New York Times, Paternostro said: “There are people that have spent most of their lives as Gabo experts. I don’t think I’m a Gabo expert. I had a curiosity in understanding the man before and the man he became later. But along the way, I became the repository of all these incredible stories, and I felt it was almost my obligation to share them.”
There is another reason for even people who aren’t Márquez fans to read the book. In the English translation, the author told The NYT, “I included things that would make readers understand Colombia. It turned into a book that explains our music, the violence, the idiosyncrasies of the region… Now that Colombia has become a travel destination, the book, while it’s not a travel guide, is a companion to travel to Colombia with.”