Last year, at the age of seventy-five, Gabriel García Márquez published in Barcelona Vivir para contarla; now it is brought into English as Living to Tell the Tale, in a beautiful translation by Edith Grossman, the first of three projected volumes of memoir. It was thirty-five years earlier, in early June 1967, that Editorial Sudamericana launched a novel by the then unknown Colombian writer, called Cien Años de Soledad. They were sufficiently impressed by the novel to risk a first printing of eight thousand copies. A week or so later, they were reprinting, and I imagine they are still.
For García Márquez, who was then forty, life changed precipitously. Since the age of twenty-two, he had scratched out a threadbare living as a reporter for various Colombian newspapers, and had written four short works which, although much admired by his friends, neither rewarded nor satisfied him. He was then living in Mexico, writing film scripts, when, in an intense surge, he wrote the book that had been lying out of reach in his mind for years. The book spread, first as a rumor, then in its written form, throughout the countries of Latin America, the length and breadth of the Spanish language. Nor did readers in other languages have long to wait, for translations followed almost obligatorily, after the book was ubiquitously named Best Foreign Novel in the countries it arrived in, apparently unscathed. The huge success of the book freed García Márquez to give his whole time to writing, and he has not disappointed the enormous readership he won over with One Hundred Years of Solitude. Since then, he has published a book about every four years, a progress that was punctuated but not interrupted by the award of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982.
García Márquez’s fame had many reverberations, in Latin America in particular. Although the Latin American countries could each come up with native writers of distinction, few of them in the twentieth century, except for Pablo Neruda, came close to becoming a “Latin American” writer who reached across these unforgiving boundaries. With the beginning of the 1960s, however, a clutch of novels from Latin America began to attract attention well beyond their origins, beginning with Mario Vargas Llosa’s La Ciudad y los Perros (The Time of the Hero), which in 1962 came in for rapturous attention in Franco’s Spain. In its wake, the Cubans Alejo Carpentier and Guillermo Cabrera Infante, the Mexicans Carlos Fuentes and Juan Rulfo, the Argentine Julio Cortázar, and the Chilean José Donoso all published novels that showed remarkable literary sophistication and seemed bent on exploring and unveiling a vast Latin American reality that had not so far seen the light.
In 1961, after Jorge Luis Borges, with Beckett, won the International Editor’s Prize, which provided that his work appear all at once in half a dozen languages, his influence spread like a virus. So when One Hundred Years of Solitude appeared in 1967, it was read …