On a note of remembrance, many years ago, when I lived in Paris, my friend volunteered at the English Language Library for the Blind there. She told me they valued American accents in the readings there and asked if I would read a book for them. I agreed and decided on Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who died yesterday. The librarian suggested starting with a shorter book, but I loved the book so much I couldn’t pick another. This was about 1990. I had read the book a year or two before, my father’s hardback copy.
Only after starting it did I realize how much longer it takes to read a book out loud than silently and how much time I had volunteered for them. Still, I finished the reading. I still wonder if it’s still there. I recorded it onto cassette tapes.
I’ve been collecting great opening lines to books — https://joshuaspodek.com/great-opening-lines-to-books. The opening to One Hundred Years of Solitude has topped the list, not that I ranked them, but I put it first.
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant day when his father took him to discover ice.
It was inevitable. The scent of bitter almonds always reminded Dr. Juvenal Urbino of the fate of unrequited love.
from Love in the Time of Cholera.
From what I hear, the Spanish is better yet—almost reason enough to learn the language.
In his words
I’m reading a 1981 interview he did with the Paris Review, which I recommend. I like understanding and drawing on others’ successful creative processes and so liked this passage connecting his childhood and family to writing one of history’s greatest novels.
How would you describe the search for a style that you went through after Leaf Storm and before you were able to write One Hundred Years of Solitude?
After having written Leaf Storm, I decided that writing about the village and my childhood was really an escape from having to face and write about the political reality of the country. I had the false impression that I was hiding myself behind this kind of nostalgia instead of confronting the political things that were going on. This was the time when the relationship between literature and politics was very much discussed. I kept trying to close the gap between the two. My influence had been Faulkner; now it was Hemingway. I wrote No One Writes to the Colonel, In Evil Hour, and Big Mama’s Funeral, which were all written at more or less the same time and have many things in common. These stories take place in a different village from the one in which Leaf Storm and One Hundred Years of Solitude occur. It is a village in which there is no magic. It is a journalistic literature. But when I finished In Evil Hour, I saw that all my views were wrong again. I came to see that in fact my writings about my childhood were more political and had more to do with the reality of my country than I had thought. After The Evil Hour I did not write anything for five years. I had an idea of what I always wanted to do, but there was something missing and I was not sure what it was until one day I discovered the right tone—the tone that I eventually used in One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was based on the way my grandmother used to tell her stories. She told things that sounded supernatural and fantastic, but she told them with complete naturalness. When I finally discovered the tone I had to use, I sat down for eighteen months and worked every day.
How did she express the “fantastic” so naturally?
What was most important was the expression she had on her face. She did not change her expression at all when telling her stories, and everyone was surprised. In previous attempts to write One Hundred Years of Solitude, I tried to tell the story without believing in it. I discovered that what I had to do was believe in them myself and write them with the same expression with which my grandmother told them: with a brick face.
There also seems to be a journalistic quality to that technique or tone. You describe seemingly fantastic events in such minute detail that it gives them their own reality. Is this something you have picked up from journalism?
That’s a journalistic trick which you can also apply to literature. For example, if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you. One Hundred Years of Solitude is full of that sort of thing. That’s exactly the technique my grandmother used. I remember particularly the story about the character who is surrounded by yellow butterflies. When I was very small there was an electrician who came to the house. I became very curious because he carried a belt with which he used to suspend himself from the electrical posts. My grandmother used to say that every time this man came around, he would leave the house full of butterflies. But when I was writing this, I discovered that if I didn’t say the butterflies were yellow, people would not believe it. When I was writing the episode of Remedios the Beauty going to heaven, it took me a long time to make it credible. One day I went out to the garden and saw a woman who used to come to the house to do the wash and she was putting out the sheets to dry and there was a lot of wind. She was arguing with the wind not to blow the sheets away. I discovered that if I used the sheets for Remedios the Beauty, she would ascend. That’s how I did it, to make it credible. The problem for every writer is credibility. Anybody can write anything so long as it’s believed.
The interview later continues
That used to happen to me in the beginning. In the first stories I wrote I had a general idea of the mood, but I would let myself be taken by chance. The best advice I was given early on was that it was all right to work that way when I was young because I had a torrent of inspiration. But I was told that if I didn’t learn technique, I would be in trouble later on when the inspiration had gone and the technique was needed to compensate. If I hadn’t learned that in time, I would not now be able to outline a structure in advance. Structure is a purely technical problem and if you don’t learn it early on you’ll never learn it.
Discipline then is quite important to you?
I don’t think you can write a book that’s worth anything without extraordinary discipline.
Reminds me of SIDCHAs!
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