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Gabriel García Márquez con José Salgar en Monterrey, 2003. Foto Archivo FNPI, Andrés Reyes
Gabriel García Márquez con José Salgar en Monterrey, 2003. Foto Archivo FNPI, Andrés Reyes

Humanizing genius: One writer’s search for the true stories of Gabo

Colombian-American journalist Silvana Paternostro’s new book on Gabriel García Márquez uses oral histories of friends, acquaintances, admirers, and colleagues…

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When an artist becomes a legend, what is there, really, to dismantle the myth?

For many readers, a favorite or revered writer becomes like a friend, or a role model - someone who has knowledge at once of what is beyond your own personal experience, as well as the the depths of your humanity. Their words are in your head, but between the printed lines that they have carved out of language, it is your own imagination which has ultimately brought worlds to life, filled them with color, and set them in motion.

That interplay of ideas and imaginings between the writer and the reader means that the writer, then, becomes more like God, or a god, for a true believer. The writer is known through their works, but still something apart from the flesh and blood beings that walk the earth.

But the reality is that for those who know the real person who crafted some famous literary work, the writer remains at times wonderfully, at times horribly, and always oh so inevitably fallible.

In the newly published “Solitude & Company,” Colombian journalist and writer Silvana Paternostro seeks to give the reader a window into the man behind some of the most beloved books of twentieth century literature. She takes on this monumental task of demystifying the legendary in her gathering of oral histories of those who knew the man, “Gabo,” before and after he became that singular titan of Latin American literature, the name engraved in gold in the literary canon: Gabriel García Márquez.

Born in Barranquilla, Colombia, where García Márquez resided for extended periods of his life, Paternostro has a deep understanding of the world that was the setting for “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” and put her own knowledge to use in uncovering some of the stories and threads of memories of those who worked with García Márquez, drank with him, and in some form or another crossed paths with him in the course of his 87 years of life, before his death in Mexico City in 2014.

The storytellers of Gabo’s history featured in the book are a motley crew, as the subtitle suggests, made up of the Nobel-Prize winning author’s “friends, family, fans, arguers, fellow pranksters, drunks, and a few respectable souls.”

In a recent interview with the New York Times, Paternostro said that the project was borne out of her “curiosity in understanding the man before and the man he became later.”

“But along the way, I became the repository of all these incredible stories, and I felt it was almost my obligation to share them,” she said.

Luckily for readers all over the world, thanks to Paternostro’s decision to follow through on that urge to share the stories of Gabo, they now have a chance to understand the man behind the novels and writings that made García Márquez a name known around the world.

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