A SOUL OPEN TO BE FILLED WITH MESSAGES IN SPANISH
Cartagena de Indias, Colombia, March 26, 2007
Not even in my most delirious dreams in the days when I was writing One Hundred Years of Solitude
did I imagine I would see an edition of 1 million copies. To think that a million people could decide to read something written in the solitude of a room, with only the twenty-eight letters of the Spanish alphabet and two fingers as the entire arsenal, seemed madness from every point of view. Today, the Academies of the Language have published this edition as a gesture towards a novel that has passed before the eyes of fifty times a million readers, and towards an insomniac artisan like me, who cannot leave behind his surprise at everything that has happened.
But this is not and cannot be a matter of honouring a writer. This miracle is the irrefutable demonstration that there are an enormous number of people prepared to read stories in the Spanish language, and therefore a million copies of One Hundred Years of Solitude
are not a million tributes to the writer who blushes as he receives today the first book of this print run. It is proof that there are millions of readers of texts in the Spanish language waiting for this nourishment.
Nothing has changed since then in my writing routine. I have never seen anything other than my two index fingers striking one by one and at a brisk pace the twenty-eight letters of the unmodified alphabet that I’ve had before my eyes for more than seventy years. Today, it was incumbent upon me to lift my head and attend this tribute, for which I am grateful, and all I can do is stop and think about what it is that has happened. What I see is that the non-existent reader of my blank page is today an immense crowd hungry to read texts in Spanish.
The readers of One Hundred Years of Solitude
are a community who, if they lived on the same piece of ground, would be one of the twenty most populous countries in the world. This isn’t a boastful statement. Just the opposite. I simply want to show that there are a number of human beings who have demonstrated with their habit of reading that their souls are open to be filled with messages in Spanish. The challenge for all writers, all the poets, narrators, and educators in our language, is to quench that thirst and increase that crowd, the real raison d’etre
of our craft and, of course, ourselves.
When I was thirty-eight, having already published four books since my twenties, I sat down at the typewriter and wrote: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” I had no idea of the significance or the origin of that sentence, or of where it would lead me. What I know today is that for eighteen months I didn’t stop writing for a single day until I finished the book.
It may seem untrue, but one of my most pressing problems was typewriter paper. I was ignorant enough to think that mistakes in typing, language, or grammar were actually creative errors, and whenever I found them I tore up the page and tossed it in the wastepaper basket to start again. With the rhythm I had acquired in a year of practice, I calculated it would take me six months of daily mornings to finish the book.
Esperanza Araiza, the unforgettable Pera, the typist for poets and filmmakers, had typed fair copies of great works by Mexican writers. Among them, Carlos Fuentes’ Where the Air is Clear,
Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Paramo
, and several original scripts by Don Luis Bunuel. When I proposed that she type up the final version, the novel was a rough draft riddled with corrections, first in black ink and then in red to avoid confusion. But that was nothing for a woman accustomed to everything in a lion’s cage. Years later, Pera confessed that, as she was taking home the final version that I had corrected, she slipped as she got off the bus in torrential rain, and the pages were left floating in the quagmire of the street. She gathered them, soaking wet and almost illegible, with the help of other passengers, and dried them in her house, page by page, with an iron.
What could have been the inspiration for another, better book was how Mercedes and I survived with our two sons during that time when I didn’t earn a penny anywhere. I don’t even know how Mercedes managed to have food in the house every day during those months. We had resisted the temptation of loans with interest until we tied up our hearts and made our first incursions into the pawnshop.
After the short-lived relief afforded by certain small things, we had to turn to the jewelry that Mercedes had received from her family over the years. The expert examined them with the rigor of a surgeon, inspected and checked again with his magical eye the diamonds in the earrings, the emeralds in the necklace, the rubies in the rings, and finally returned them to us with the long veronica
of a bullfighter: “All of this is nothing but glass.”
In the moments of greatest difficulty, Mercedes made her astral calculations and told the patient landlord, without the slightest tremor in her voice: “We can pay you the full amount in six months.”
“Excuse me, senora,” the owner replied, “but do you realize that by then it will be an enormous amount?”
“I do realize that,” said an impassive Mercedes, “but by then we’ll have everything resolved. Don’t worry.”
And when she responded to the good lawyer who was a highly placed state official and one of the most elegant and patient men we had ever met, again her voice didn’t tremble.
“Very well, senora, your word is good enough for me,” and he made his fatal calculations. “I’ll expect you on September 7.”
At last, at the beginning of August 1966, Mercedes and I went to the post office in Mexico City to send to Buenos Aires the finished version of One Hundred Years of Solitude
, a package containing 590 pages typed doubled spaced on ordinary paper, and addressed to Francisco Porrua, literary director of Editorial Sudamericana.
The post-office clerk placed the package on the scale, made his mental calculations, and said: “That’ll be eighty-two pesos.”
Mercedes counted the notes and loose change remaining in her purse and confronted reality: “We have only fifty-three.”
We opened the package, divided it in half, and sent one to Buenos Aires without even asking ourselves how we would get the money to post the rest. Only afterwards did we realize we hadn’t sent the first half but the second. But before we got hold of the money to mail it, Paco Porrua, our man in Editorial Sudamericana, anxious to read the first half of the book, forwarded us the money so that we could send it to him.
That was how we were reborn into our new life of today.
Copyright © 2014 by Gabriel GarcÃa MÃ¡rquez. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.