Mar. 6, 2010

Happy the Man

by Horace

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
   He who can call today his own:
   He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.

"Happy the Man" by Horace, from Odes, Book III, xxix. Translation by John Dryden. Public domain. (buy now)

It's the 83rd birthday of one of the most famous living novelists on earth, Gabriel García Márquez. (books by this author) He was born on this day in 1927 in Aracataca, Colombia, the model for the fictional Macondo in which his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) is set.

He spent most of his 20s and 30s working as a journalist, writing some fiction on the side. An Argentine journalist decided that there should be a news service from a Latin American perspective, specifically a leftist voice, and that this organization should have bureaus across the world. The Argentine journalist ended up joining with Castro's government itself to form Prensa Latina. Gabriel García Márquez was offered a job as journalist and editor in the New York City bureau, where he lived for a while.

New York fascinated him; but his five months there turned out to be among the most stressful times of his life. For one thing, it was a difficult time to be a leftist Castro supporter living in the U.S., and he and his wife Mercedes were constantly receiving violent threats by anonymous telephone callers, many who appeared to be Cuban refugees, supporters of the old regime. Everywhere they went, they brought with them makeshift weapons for self-defense.

Pretty soon it was unbearable, and he and his wife decided to move to Mexico, where he got work writing screenplays. He was good at it, and it paid well. He and his young family were suddenly affluent. But he felt unfulfilled, since what he wanted to do was write novels and didn't have much time to do this. He remarked that he was "the victim of a good situation."

The story about García Márquez's sudden inspiration for his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude is widely circulated in the world of Latin American literature — almost an urban legend at this point, with a number of variations spun by García Márquez himself: He was driving down a windy road to Acapulco in his white car, headed off on a vacation with his family, when "from nowhere," the first sentence of the novel came to him. That sentence (in English) is, "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."

Biographer Gerald Martin describes Gabriel García Márquez's epiphany like this: "He had realized, in a lightning flash of inspiration, that instead of a book about his childhood he should write a book about his memories of his childhood. Instead of a book about reality, it should be a book about the representation of reality." In other words, he should ditch realism and employ magical realism.

He quit his paid employment and adjusted his entire daily schedule. He used to write in the evenings, after a long day's work, but now he got up early, dropped his sons off at school, and wrote until they came home in the mid-afternoon. They used up all their savings and the debt began to rack up. At one point, they owed the landlord nine months' worth of rent. His wife explained the situation, promised to pay when they could, and the landlord let them stay. They sold their car, pawned their TV, refrigerator, radio, and jewelry.

He finished the book in the summer of 1966. He and Mercedes, went down to the post office to mail the manuscript off to the publisher in Buenos Aires. The clerk weighed the package and told them it would be 82 pesos to send off the 490-page manuscript. But they only had 50 pesos left. And then they went home, and Mercedes gathered the space heater, blender, and her hair dryer, took them to the pawn shop, and they went back to the post office to send off the rest of the book. They were so deep in debt that after he mailed off One Hundred Years of Solitude to the publisher, he went right back to writing film scripts to earn some money.

He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1982. He's claimed that everything he writes is autobiographical and has said, "Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry."

In 2008, Gerald Martin's biography Gabriel García Márquez: A Life was published. It came out in the U.S. just last year, 2009. García Márquez's novels include No One Writes to the Colonel (1961), The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), Love in the Time of Cholera (1988), The General in His Labyrinth (1989), and Of Love and Other Demons (1994), and Memories of My Melancholy Whores (2005).

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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