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on 22 February 2005
"Living to Tell the Tale," ("Vivir Para Contarla"), is the first book in a planned trilogy that will make up the memoirs of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the renown Colombian writer who initially won public acclaim in the mid-1960s for his novel "One Hundred Years of Solitude." At that time, Garcia Marquez, a journalist and writer, had never sold more than 700 copies of a book. While driving his family through Mexico, he had a veritable brainstorm. He remembered his grandmother's storytelling technique - to recall fantastic, improbable events as if they had actually happened - literally. That was the key to recounting the life of the imaginary village of Macondo and her inhabitants. He turned the car around and drove back home to begin "One Hundred Years of Solitude" anew. To my mind it is one of the 20th century's best works of fiction, and was highlighted in the citation awarding Garcia Marquez the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.
"Living to Tell The Tale" relates the early years of the author's life, although some of the book's most important incidents predate Garcia Marquez's birth. The impact of these experiences, the people and their stories, were to have a powerful effect on him, as a man and as a writer. This is the tale of his parents' courtship, marriage and the birth of their children, Garcia Marquez, (Gabito), the oldest, and his ten siblings. It tells of his early years which were spent in Aracataca, in the home of his maternal grandparents. His grandfather, Colonel Nicolás Ricardo Márquez Mejía, was a Liberal veteran of the War of a Thousand Days. The Colonel told his young grandson that there was no greater burden than to have killed a man. Later García Márquez would put these words into the mouths of his characters. His grandmother, Tranquilina Iguarán Cotes, had a major influence on Gabriel's life also. A great source of stories, her mind was filled with superstitions and folklore, and she gossiped away with her numerous sisters within hearing range of young "Gabito." No matter how fantastic her statements, she always delivered them as if they were the absolute, verifiable truth. This was the style which was to effect Garcia Marquez's fiction, sometimes called "magical realism."
Aracataca was a small village, a banana town on the Caribbean coast, where poverty was the norm and violence was an everyday occurrence. On December 6, 1928, in the Cienaga train station, near Aracataca, 3,000 striking banana workers were shot and killed by troops from Antioquia. Although still a baby, this event, recounted to him, was to have a profound effect on the author.
In 1940, when he was twelve, Gabo was awarded a scholarship to a secondary school for gifted students, run by Jesuits. It was during his school years, 1940s and 50s, that he was first drawn to poetry - a national obsession in Colombia. It was about this time that he decided to be a writer. The people who surrounded him in his childhood later became instrumental when developing the characters and the storylines for his novels. "Love In The Time of Cholera" was inspired by the romance between his mother and father. And his grandfather, who had twelve children, (some say 16), by two different women, became Colonel Aureliano Buendia in "One Hundred Years of Solitude."
One of the most powerful episodes of the book tells of the period called "La Violencia." In 1948 the Liberal presidential candidate, Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, was assassinated. The murder led to rioting, and left approximately 2500 dead on the streets of Bogota, during "el Bogotázo." Political violence and repression followed. One of the buildings that burned was the pension where Garcia Marquez lived, and his manuscripts were destroyed along with his living quarters. The National University was closed and he was forced to go to the university in Cartagena. Garcia Marquez began his career as a journalist, writing stories and commentary for a Liberal newspaper there.
His memoir begins, however, not with his real birth in 1928, but with his "birth as a writer," at age 22. He and his mother took a trip from Baranquilla, where he was working as a reporter, to his childhood home in Aracataca, now virtually a ghost town. They were going to sell the ancestral house. Vivid memories were stirred up here, memories which electrified his imagination. This trip was to change the course of his writing life. "With the first step I took onto the burning sands of the town, Aracataca instantly became Macondo, an earthly paradise of desolation and nostalgia." His one great subject became his family, "which was never the protagonist of anything, but only a witness to and victim of everything." As he says in the book's epigraph, "Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it."
Humor, dry wit, and a sense of the absurd are trademarks throughout the novels of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and this autobiography is full of his deadpan humor. The anecdotes of his many mistresses and cafe society are wonderful. "Living To Tell The Tale" is a magical combination of memoir and national history written in the author's remarkable voice. It is his personal mythology, from the repertoire which birthed Macondo. Garcia Marquez leaves us, at the end of this volume, with a glimpse of his future love, his wife, ""wearing a green dress with golden lace in that year's style, her hair cut like swallows' wings, and with the intense stillness of someone waiting for a person who will not arrive."
Edith Grossman has done a fine translation. Kudos to her. Bravo Gabriel Garcia Marquez!!
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on 23 March 2004
Having tried Marquez after hearing "Love in the Time of Cholera" on the superb channel 4 series "The Book Group", I soon saw why he won the Nobel Prize for literature.

His lyrical style has developed during his career and Living to Tell The Tale is as well written as anything he has done before. He makes everything in his life seem beautiful, and the life itself is certainly an interesting one.

Always honest, Marquez manages to convey his passions for writing, politics and women in a way you can't help loving.
In short, if you like Marquez- or even if you've never heard of him and simply appreciate a master wordsmith- buy this book
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on 18 January 2005
Gabriel García Marquez says that "Life is not what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it in order to recount it." And that is, in few words, "Living to tell the tale": the author's version of his own life, as he remembers it now. This book is merely the first volume in the author's three-part autobiography, but it is an essential way to start if we want to know more about him, as a writer but also as a person. "Living to tell the tale" might seem at first sight rather long (544 pages), but that first impression changes quite quickly once you start to read it, because you realize that such a simple looking book contains the events and people that shaped the boy, teenager and young adult that would grow to become one of the best writers of our times.
As we read this book, we become enchanted by the author's eccentric extended family (he is the oldest of 15, between brothers and sisters, in and out of wedlock), and by all the events that would give him inspiration for future books. One of those events is his trip to his native town of Aratacata, in order to help his mother to sell her parents' house in that town. It is in that trip that he decides "I'm going to be a writer...Nothing but a writer". Those already familiar with the author's books will jump happily from their seats from time to time, when they discover exactly who (or what) played an essential role in the birth of books such as "One hundred years of solitude", "Love in the time of cholera" or "The story of the shipwrecked sailor". The less fortunate readers who still haven't had the pleasure of having read the author's books will run to buy at least some of them, out of curiosity if nothing else :)
Of course, this isn't a traditional biography, but that is something the reader is likely to know in advance, if he takes into account that the author of "Living to tell the tale" is García Marquez. You can expect a wonderful prose, interesting and somewhat strange metaphors, and the kind of description that due to an unexplainable magic manages to capture a moment in such a way that the reader feels that he was there too. That happened to me many times while I was reading this book, for instance when he describes his visit to Aratacata ("The first thing that struck me was the silence. A material silence I could have identified blindfolded among all the other silences in the world. The reverberation of the heat was so intense that you seemed to be looking at everything through undulating glass. As far as the eye could see there was no recollection of human life, nothing that was not covered by a faint sprinkling of burning dust"), or when he tells us about the great riot that took place in Bogotá in April 1948, after the murder of Jorge E. Gaitán, a popular Colombian politician.
What is more, García Marquez shares details of his school years, his multitude of friends, and the innumerable nights all of them passed discussing many things, but mainly literature, and Colombia. The aspiring writer, or the curious reader, will know more about his favourite books, ideas, and reasons for writing ("Each thing, just by looking at it, aroused in me an irresistible longing to write so I would not die"). García Marquez jokes about "a reputation as a communist that I had not won for my ideology but rather for my manner of dress", and gives us some small details that make him more real, for example that he always has had lots of problems with orthography :)
Notwithstanding that, I suppose that a warning is in order: if you cannot stand a book that isn't linear, you aren't likely to like this book. Yes, "Living to tell the tale" is beautifully written, and gives us an enormous amount of information about García Marquez's life, opinions and influences from his birth in 1927 to 1955, when he was already a more or less well-known writer in Colombia... However, the author jumps between years and events quite frequently, something that some people might dislike. I wasn't bothered by that, mainly because I think that is merely a resource he used in order to link events that weren't near in time to each other, but that were linked from his point of view.
Also, I would like to point out that even though this translation to English is quite good, it isn't the same than reading "Vivir para contarla" (= "Living to tell the tale") in the original Spanish edition. There are some things that cannot be translated, particularly in literature, without losing at least some nuances of meaning. If that is the case, you might ask yourself why do I give the English edition of this book 5 stars out of five. The answer is simple: I loved this book so much that I even liked the translation. All the same, the only true solution to appreciate just how good it is would be to read it in Spanish, so if you don't speak it yet, learn it. You won't find a better reason to do so :)
On the whole, I highly recommend this book. Reading it is remembering that the power of words is so great that it can make us visit places we haven't gone to, and live lives different to our own...
Belen Alcat
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In this candid autobiography G. G. Marquez gives us a rare glimpse in the making of a Nobel Prize winning author by commenting on those people and events which influenced profoundly his life, opinions and writings.

Strong women, brutal men
For the author, `the essence of my nature and way of thinking I owe to the women who ministered my childhood. They had strong characters and tender hearts, and they treated me with the naturalness of the Earthly Paradise.'
Also, `My intimacy with the maids has allowed me to feel more comfortable with women than with men. It may also be the source of my conviction that they are the ones who maintain the world which we men throw it into disarray with our historic brutality.'

Family, education, early life
He was brought up in a family of fifteen people comprising children fathered out of wedlock.
He defends the Montessorian method of education because it makes children sensitive to the beauties of the world and awakens their curiosity regarding the secrets of life.
As a young journalist he lived in utmost poverty. `If you're going to be a writer you have to be one of the great ones ... After all, there are better ways to starve to death.'
Not until his forties could he live decently from the royalties of his works.
As a journalist he was all the time confronted with censorship.

Writing and literature
In school he was a very bad pupil in grammar and he continues to write spelling atrocities.
He was a voracious reader and some works influenced him profoundly, as W. Faulkner (Intruder in the Dust), F. Kafka (The Metamorphosis), J. Joyce (Ulysses), N. Hawthorne (The House of the Seven Gables) and A. Carpentier (The Kingdom of the World).
He still considers that the short story reigns supreme over the novel.
And, 'a brothel is the best residence for a writer, because the mornings are quiet, there is a party every night, and you are on good terms with the police.'

As Lenin said, `If you do not become involved in politics, politics will eventually become involved in you.'
In Colombia, G.G. Marquez lived in an environment of continuous political violence with as nadir the murder of the socialist leader Jorge Gaitàn and the subsequent slaughtering of the opposition by the Conservatives: `every dream of fundamental change vanished. The dead amounted to more than a million.' (The TV-chain Deutsche Welle showed last year a remarkable analysis of this political murder).
Another of his youth friends was the revolutionary priest, Camillo Torres.

This book written by a formidable storyteller is a must read for all lovers of world literature.
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on 20 January 2012
I found this to be the most interesting of the many books by Garcia Marquez. If you like his well known novels then you love this. I wished that I had read it before the novels, because here I realised that his novels originate in his life. I was gripped from the opening lines!

I don't know why I like GM's work so much - I am not very deeply into literature of any sort except the technical and Wikipedia.

Anyway, I strongly recommend this to anybody who has enjoyed any of his novels.

(And, finally, I thought that the translation was fine.)
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on 7 January 2016
Of all his books this is my favourite. The tragedy is that this is the first of what was to be an autobiographical trilogy and as far as I can see he never got to write volumes 2 and 3. If you are a fan read it and if you are not read it anyway.
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on 14 August 2014
wonderful book, beautifully written as is everything by this writer, and perfect to read after One Hundred Years of Solitude (which is my favourite ever book if I am ever asked to be on Desert Island Discs!)
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on 9 July 2004
This superbly written portrait of an artist unlocks many mysteries. First and foremost it modestly explains the incredible genius of Gabriel Garcia Marquez the writer. Moreover, it also provides a probing insight to the bloody political violence inside the Republic of Colombia. "Living to Tell the Tale," is a great read for lovers of literature but also objectively gives students of Colombian political history an eye-witness account of a government that was savage with its people.
In the words of Gabito..."I was brought up in the lawless space of the Caribbean,"...the Nobel laureate explains with pride the difference between "Costenos" (Colombians raised on the coast) and "Cachacos" (Colombians raised in Bogota). In some ways...it is comparable to the difference between very laid-back, open minded Californians and super-serious, ambitious New Yorkers. However, the essential point the author makes is the cultural mind-set he was raised with. A mind-set filled with surreal coastal dreams and the reality of the 1928 banana workers massacre in Cienaga which his loving Mother explained to him, "that's where the world ended."
Gabito was born on March 6, 1927. He was heavily influenced by the sensitivities of his Mother and grandfather, Colonel Nicolas Ricardo Marques Mejia (called Papalelo by his grandchildren). The Colonel was a veteran of the Liberal/Conservative War of One Thousand Days (1899-1903). Consequently, the author learned from an early age that Colombia was a nation of many civil wars and that political differences inside the borders of his nation often ended in violence.
Papaledo taught his devoted grandson that General Simon Bolivar (the George Washington of South America) "was the greatest man born in the history of the world." But Gabito is quick to inform the reader that he grew up with a formal education at the splendid Liceo Nacional de Zipaquira and grew up "bloodthirsty for Faulkner." He adds that he started smoking heavily at 15 (he eventually quits) and strongly appreciated the genius of "Ulysses" by James Joyce and "Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka. Interestingly enough the author credits journalism for his sharp "reporter's eye" and states, "the novel and journalism are children of the same mother."
Still and all, the author is responsible and does not ignore the widespread "scorched earth policy of the government." In one of the most fascinating segments of this book he provides an eye-witness account of the April 9, 1948 murder of the beloved Colombian populist Jorge Eliecer Gaitan and vividly decribes the subsequent "Bogotazo" the greatest riot in the history of the Western Hemisphere. He also offers his own credible conspiracy theory that there was a well dressed man who incited the crowd after the murder of Gaitan and "the man managed to have a false assassin killed in order to protect the identity of the real one." Gabito also goes to extremes to document the heavy handed government censorship of the press afterwards.
Ultimately, the author tells us, "life itself taught me that one of the most useful secrets for writing is to learn to read the hieroglyphs of reality without knocking or asking anything." This is a true masterpiece and deserves to be read by all lovers of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and of the Republic of Colombia. Highly, highly recommended.
Bert Ruiz
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on 21 March 2013
Garcia Marquez's autobiography introduces you to the world in which he grew up, a world of strange characters and other-worldly happenings, of dreams and days of endless rain, which resonates with the themes and motifs of much of his writing. The book, told largely but not wholly as a chronological account of his life, takes you through his pre-school years and schooling in the Caribbean part of Colombia that he was born in and from which his parents and grandparents came (the lives of both these generations are also portrayed in some detail), and then moves on to his college and university years in the Andean part of the country. Finally, it tells of his years as a journalist, working in several Colombian cities and on numerous newspapers, ending with his departure on his first trip to Europe in 1955, shortly after the publication of his first novella, Leaf Storm, and the series of newspaper articles that were later published as The Story of the Shipwrecked Sailor.

For any serious fan of Garcia Marquez, the book is highly rewarding. Several of the events that were to inspire his stories and novels are touched on, as are the literary influences that shaped him as a young man as he struggled to find a voice and focus for his writing. The result is a vividly painted portrait of an artist as a young man; but it is more than that, and paints a fully rounded picture of the familial, cultural and political world he inhabited, from the food, pensions and brothels of Colombia's Caribbean coastline to the political fallout of the assassination of the leftist-populist leader Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in Bogota in 1948.

A review on my copy proclaims this the best book Garcia Marquez has written, which seems rather far fetched to me. Possibly it is his best since the late 1980s, but better than One Hundred years of Solitude or Love in the Time of Cholera - I think not. The delight of it for me, however, in addition to the picture of his life that it provides, has been that is has sent me back to the earlier works, which I first read some thirty odd years ago. Those are truly the best books Garcia Marquez has written.
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on 19 April 2015
very enjoyable read.
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