Gabriel Garcia is known for many things, but I associate him most with the way he writes about men in old age. Sure he is most known for One Hundred Years in Solitude and Love at the time of Cholera (both books are must-reads) but for me his other works like Strange Pilgrims (Short story collection), No One Writes to the Colonel and Memories of My Melancholy Whores hold a special place.
No one writes to the Colonel was initially published in 1961 in Spanish and translated in English by J.S. Bernstein. It’s a short story (around 100 pages), and in some editions, you will find it as part of a collection. The version that I have is only the title story. Since Marquez is a famous writer, you can find all his books in your local book stores as well.
The story tells the tale of a glorified Colonel who fought in the Thousand Day’s War for Columbia but now, in his old age, is neglected, living in poverty and waiting for his pension. He and his wife have sold all their property, lost their only son and have nothing left. Though ignored by his own government and army, he is still not only optimistic and hopeful but also hungry and weak. As a man with pride, he distastes his poverty and helplessness but refuses to sell the only possession they have- a rooster.
For me, this book evoked the familiar emotions that I gathered from my conversations with the elderly and their selective memories. In their mind, they all have done something significant – for the society, community, a company or country. They still hold those memories close to their heart and recall the exact conversations that happened. That day they were important- now no one recalls them.
If you are looking for Marquez’s traditional magical realism, then you will be disappointed with this particular short story. However, you can’t help admire the unbreakable spirit of the Colonel, albeit not without feeling sorry for him. The unnamed Colonel And his wife were wonderfully crafted as characters, and you could feel their pain in each passing page even though the writer didn’t point towards it.
In one of the interviews, Marquez mentioned that his grandparents were very significant in his life and were the inspiration for his writing. I wonder if he based the Colonel’s character on his grandfather, who was also a Colonel in the Columbian army. It felt like he wrote about the characters that he knew too well. But that is true about most of his writing. It is a hallmark of his style that everything in his books feels real, no matter how bizarre they are sometimes.
Marquez considers “No One Writes to the Colonel” as his best work and also went on to say that he had to write “One Hundred Years in Solitude” so that people would read, “No One Writes to the Colonel”. There is also speculation that he was inspired by his own state in 1956 when he lost his job and felt like “No one”. I think it is natural to feel like “no one” when you feel neglected and alone. It does not have to do with old age.
Read No One Writes to the Colonel to discover a different aspect of G.G. Marquez’s writing and to appreciate the brilliant translation by Bernstein.
Book Name: No One Writes to the Colonel
Author: Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Book Type: Paperback