Nor did he ever forget the reporter’s obligation to hook readers with the very first sentence. Some of García Márquez’s early newspaper leads read like fiction, and point directly to his later work. For example, he wrote a series for El Espectador about a swampy, disease-ridden area of Colombia near the coast, and opened with a lead guaranteed to intrigue any reader: “Several years ago a ghostly, glassy-looking man, with a big stomach as taut as a drum, came to a doctor’s office in the city. He said, ‘Doctor, I have come to have you remove a monkey that was put in my belly.’ ”
The reverse is true as well. In his novels and short stories, he often opens with indelible lines about death, many of which read like dramatic newspaper leads. Here he cuts to the chase and ensnares the reader with an elegant composure:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. (A Hundred Years of Solitude)
On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming on. (Chronicle of a Death Foretold)
Since it’s Sunday and it’s stopped raining, I think I’ll take a bouquet of roses to my grave. (Someone Has Been Disarranging These Roses)
When Jose Montiel died, everyone felt avenged except his widow; but it took several hours for everyone to believe that he had indeed died. (Montiel’s Widow)
Senator Onesimo Sanchez had six months and eleven days to go before his death when he found the woman of his life. (Death Constant Beyond Love)
Hemingway and García Márquez also differed on how lasting ones’ journalistic apprenticeship should be. The former admitted that journalism was good training for a young novelist, but contended that it was important to get out in time, because newspapers could ruin a writer. García Márquez felt otherwise. “That supposedly bad influence that journalism has on literature isn’t so certain,” he has said. “First of all, because I don’t think anything destroys the writer, not even hunger. Secondly, because journalism helps you stay in touch with reality, which is essential for working in literature.”
García Márquez put this belief into practice: even after he attained great success as a novelist, he never abandoned journalism. He used the money from his 1982 Nobel Prize to purchase Cambio, a failing weekly newsmagazine in Colombia. He established the Foundation for New Ibero-American Journalism, where veteran reporters give workshops for young Latin American journalists. And during the past few decades, while writing novels, he has kept reality at close quarters, publishing numerous essays, opinion pieces, articles, and a masterful book of reconstructive journalism, News of a Kidnapping. In the latter, he chronicled the abduction of ten prominent Colombians by Pablo Escobar, the head of the Medellin drug cartel, and his painstaking account of their eight-month ordeal might strike some readers as a protracted ensemble version of The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor.
In any case, his breakthrough series went on to be one of his most popular books, selling about 10 million copies, the majority of them in the original Spanish. To his readers, this apprentice work, with its early and exquisite balance of magic and realism, fit very comfortably into the author’s canon. The fact that it was told in the first person may have actually made it feel more literary rather than less—a feat of modernist ventriloquism.
As for García Márquez himself, he had mixed feelings about the transformation of his newspaper series into a bona fide work of art—or at least a hardcover book. And in a new introduction he wrote, he seemed to betray some nostalgia for the days when he was simply a semi-anonymous reporter rather than an international brand name. “I have not reread this story in fifteen years,” he wrote. “It seems worthy of publication, but I have never quite understood the usefulness of publishing it. I find it depressing that the publishers are not so much interested in the merit of the story as in the name of the author, which, much to my sorrow, is also that of a fashionable writer. If it is now published in the form of a book, that is because I agreed without thinking about it very much, and I am not a man to go back on his word.”