Elements from a mythical quest
Vivre Pour la Raconter (Living to Tell the Tale), Gabriel Garcia Marquez, trans. Annie Morvan, Paris: Grasset, 2003. pp604
Of course Annie Morvan's translation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Vivir Para Contarla (Living To Tell the Tale) into French should feature on the list of the 100 most important releases of the year. Not only because the Nobel Laureate's memoirs have thus been made available in a new language, but also because Morvan's project has been executed with obvious respect for the literary genius of a giant, her linguistic dexterity qualifying her for the challenge of a text as fluid as Marquez's.
Marquez veers off the autobiographical beaten track, opting instead to challenge notions of authoritative chronology, flirting, in typical Marquez fashion, with the boundaries of fact as he sways back and forth between truth and fiction. The very title of the book is a popular Latin American saying which simply and succinctly denotes the symbiotic link between life and literature: let it not be said that readers have not been forewarned of this writer's notoriously flimsy demarcation of facts and thoughts. In reference to the Arabian Nights, Marquez says in his memoirs that "I even dared to think that the wonders Scheherazade told of had happened in the daily life of her time and that they stopped happening because of the disbelief and cowardice of succeeding generations."
This first volume of a planned autobiographical trilogy, which closes with the writer's promise to the reader of a literary career about to take off in spectacular fashion, as events stop at 1955, contains all the elements of a heroic mythical quest, including the rise from poverty which saw "povre Gabito", as he was fondly called by his peers, turn into, well, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Marquez acknowledges that his memory often fails him, juxtaposing lucid details of recollected snapshots against a background of temporally impossible events. If this pillar of magical realism has released so many words from the confines of their contexts, then one can only imagine the juggling of ideas that goes on in his own memoirs, which amalgamate characters, locales and descriptions previously known to readers only from his fictional work.
This bildungsroman opens with Marquez's account of how he came upon a story "that the longest and most diligent of lives would never be sufficient for me to finish telling it": an unexpected two-day trip with his mother to sell the family home in his native Columbian town of Aracataca. It was in this sleepy locale, in this house which has now been turned into a museum, that Marquez's grandmother first ploughed the acclaimed 76-year-old author's imagination, sowing it with the seeds of characters and happenings that later were to shape his entire literary career, from Leaf Storm, Marquez's first novella while he was still working as a journalist in 1955, to his most famous work, One Hundred Years of Solitude, and on to his memoirs.
Much of the work's success, in fact, has been derived from meeting the reader's curiosity as to the events that created this "Man of Words", and, indeed, few readers can have been disappointed, since a million copies of this book had been sold in Spanish one week after its publication.
In a kind of gentle criss-crossing of time, Marquez recounts numerous anecdotes from his formative years. "When Grandfather gave me a dictionary, it awakened such a curiosity about words in me that I read it like a novel, in alphabetical order, scarcely understanding it. That was my first contact with what would be the fundamental book for my destiny as a writer," he says. Once again visiting his grandparents' house in Aracataca, a now adult Gabriel Garcia Marquez makes the statement of his life: "I'm going to be a writer ... Nothing but a writer."
As for this book's French translator, she is no novice to Marquez. Annie Morvan is also the translator of the Latin American novelist's Love in the Time of Cholera (1985), the first work to be published after he had received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982. Two years after the original publication of Vivir Para Contarla in 2001 comes Morvan's French translation of yet another Marquezian masterpiece.
Reviewed by Injy El-Kashef