cover image Vivir para contarla

Vivir para contarla

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, . . Knopf, $25 (573pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-4106-0

Since last October's long-awaited release of this first volume in a trilogy of García Márquez's memoirs, readers in Spain and Latin America have been wondering whether the book is fiction or nonfiction. Can one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century, winner of the 1982 Nobel for literature, write about his life without confusing reality and fictional adventures? Well, yes and no. At first glance, García Márquez's vivid and detailed portrait of his early life (just released in Spanish in the U.S.) appears to be testament to a photographic memory. Yet as he explains in the epigraph, "Life isn't what one lived, but what one remembers and how one remembers it to tell it." He warns readers that memories are not just fact or fiction, but maybe a mix of both, depending on how one recalls past events.

The book begins as García Márquez returns to his hometown of Aracataca with his mother to sell the family's house. The narrative becomes a journey through Colombian history, starting with the writer's childhood in Aracataca and ending in 1957 at age 29, when he traveled abroad for the first time. Snapshot passages about his life as a student and a traveler on Colombia's most important river, the Magdalena, as well as the beginnings of his journalism career, are vividly narrated. Colombia's violent history is always in the background, as García Márquez recalls such historical episodes as the Bananeras massacre, a banana labor strike in 1928 that escalated into the massive slaughter of United Fruit Company workers, and the Bogotazo, a 1948 uprising by the Liberal party that resulted in massive destruction and looting in the country's capital.

This first volume reflects García Márquez's experience as both a novelist and a journalist. While his prose is literary, in his imaginative signature style, the historical content is as rigorously researched as journalistic works like his most recent News of a Kidnapping. Readers will also find references to characters and places from the author's classics, including Love in the Time of Cholera, One Hundred Years of Solitude and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. Some may be tempted to use the trilogy as a manual for interpreting the author's oeuvre. But avid readers will find that García Márquez's fictions are instead guides to understanding the first 592 pages of his life; anyone familiar with Macondo, the fantastic town in One Hundred Years of Solitude, will readily appreciate the writer's descriptions of Aracataca, for instance. This memoir is one of the greatest literary adventures to date from this Nobelist. 50,000 first printing. (Dec.)

FYI:Knopf will publish the book in an English translation by Edith Grossman in late fall 2003 under the title Living to Tell the Tale.