Sunday, November 25, 2012

Poverty, politics, poultry

If you've read at least one novel by Gabriel García Márquez, then you might be in for a surprise if you read No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories. If you're expecting magical realism (e.g., people suddenly ascending into heaven as if it's the most natural thing), then the stories in this collection might disappoint. For in this collection, García Márquez chooses the path of a realist. Compared with his other works, you can probably refer to this short story collection as GGM lite.

I, however, wasn't a bit disappointed when I finished No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories on this fine Sunday morning. I'm one day late though, as the book club discussed this collection yesterday afternoon. And because I didn't even finish the novella No One Writes to the Colonel, I just decided to keep my mouth shut yesterday.

The thing about the novella is that García Márquez drives you smack in the middle of things. You feel the inescapable poverty of the town, the sickening reek of bureaucracy, the uncomfortable humidity of the town, the futile hopefulness of the characters. You know that nothing's going to come out a situation wherein a retired colonel pins his hopes on a rooster. It's the rooster that's supposed to bring in the money, much needed after so many years of not receiving a pension from the government. The colonel and his wife is so poor that she has been reduced to boiling stones in the kitchen, in the hopes of deceiving their neighbors that they have something to eat.

The novella isn't a pleasant read. The story just gets bleaker at every page. But you plod on, because García Márquez's writing is beautiful. Unlike his novels, here the sentences are terse, the dialogue natural, and the sense of place given in detail. And like most shorter works of fiction, the ending makes you ponder. Is there still hope for the colonel and his wife? I believe not.

During the discussion, Marie, the moderator, mentioned something about the iceberg model of short stories. In an iceberg, the part that is visible on the ocean surface is just a very small fraction of the actual size of the iceberg. I fully agree. Short story writers are masters of the tease. They offer you just mere spoonfuls instead of the whole dish. They leave it up to you on how you interpret the story and, ultimately, on how you appreciate it. They make you question. And such is the pleasure of reading short stories.

The other stories in this collection are just as good as the novella. In fact, my favorite in this book isn't the novella itself but an 8-page short story entitled "Tuesday Siesta." My mind can't stop thinking of all the various scenarios that can transpire after the last scene. What happens when folk learn that the mother of the thief whom they've killed has come to their town to visit his son's grave? Such delicious possibilities.

It's quite fascinating how Gabriel García Márquez has assembled a treasure of stories in this collection. I don't read a lot of short stories, but each small gem in No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories is enough to urge me to read some more.

Read this book if:

  1. You'll read anything by Nobel laureates.
  2. You love Latin American fiction.
  3. You like your fiction bite sized.


bennardfajardo said...

GGM is my favorite author and he hasn't disappointed me yet. Although I haven't read No One Writes To The Colonel yet, I am very tempted to do so.:D

Peter S. said...

Hi, bennardfajardo! It's a wonderful short story collection! I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Tina said...

ONe of my favorite authors, and short stories are a format I love, so this one is going onto the 2013 Mt. TBR.

Peter S. said...

It's such an enjoyable read, Tina!