This is the second post for the ftbc discussion of Living to Tell the Tale by Gabriel García Márquez. Many thanks to Toni for taking the time to write it! And kudos to her for adding the accents to Gabo’s name. Sometimes I’m too lazy to do that. If you have a post you’d like to contribute, please email me at theorist at fadetheory dot com.
When talking about why particular books influenced him, Trappist monk Thomas Merton once said, “They have helped me to discover the real meaning of my life.” I read this in a book a few days ago while on a seven-day retreat at a Trappist monastery in Conyers, Georgia. My room was on the second floor of the guesthouse, with a single window overlooking the monks’ six-row by eight-grave cemetery, only recently increased to a seventh row by one grave. A library on the same floor well stocked with Merton books served to draw me from my room and rather situational preoccupation with mortality and ultimate silence. It was there in a wide-seated, cabernet-colored leather armchair under dim lamplight that I happened upon Merton’s insight on reading and meaning. I thought of his own books, those of other writers with timeless stories, including the creative work of Gabriel (“Gabo”) García Márquez, whose autobiography I read last month, seeing yet another thread as essential to unlocking meaning: The act of writing itself.
It is by writing our stories, whether real or imagined, that we begin a process of listening. We become spelunkers of the nooks and crannies of our mind, exploring its keepings and discovering kernels of meaning useful to making sense of where we have been and where we might be going. This is what Gabo had to do to give us Living to Tell the Tale. By sharing episodes from his personal history, Gabo lets us in on where he has been. We may already know his destination, but it sure is satisfying to learn of it again in a richer way thanks to a nonfiction style of writing that reads like fiction.
Yes, Gabo writes the stuff we like to read, the stuff we like to listen to and discover meaning significant to us in some way. But how does he do it? There is no doubt that every doer of good writing has a faithful tutelary demon or two. For Gabo, two such demons were Southern writer William Faulkner and Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. Both writers nourished the seedbed of his vocation and assisted, by way of technical inspiration, the exorcism of persistent visions through stories. The fantastic storytellings Gabo heard as a child left their footprint in images, and it was through the act of writing that they were given freedom to speak their universal truths. When we listen to them, our own life’s true meaning might surprise us.