Gabo, as Gabriel Garcia Marquez is often affectionately referred, is like an old friend to all Colombians, to speak ill of Colombia’s Nobel Prize winning author is akin to blasphemy. You are strongly recommended to pick up and plough your way through at least one of his works, if not more, if you are planning a trip to Colombia.
I have chosen Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) as perhaps the most indicative and identifiable of Gabo’s novels above One Hundred Years of Solitude just because the latter really addresses life on the Colombian Caribbean coast, in particular an unnamed city, but which bears too many references to Cartagena to be overlooked. And since a high percentage of visitors come to Cartagena, where better to start?
But, before we delve a little into the tale of love sickness bound together by magic realism let’s just establish in a heartbeat that Gabo’s works are much much more than poetic tomes. The author, born in the town of Aracataca has, in his extensive career as an essayist, journalist and author, touched on many themes prevalent in contemporary Colombia that would serve the visitor well as literary guides to this nation.
If you are planning on travelling from Bogota up to the north coast then you could pick up the historical novel of the General in his Labyrinth (1989) that traces the liberator of northern South America Simon Bolivar’s final voyage along the Magdalena River up to Santa Marta. It is part travelogue part obituary all within the bind of a historical fiction.
And to touch upon a more recent and troubling theme, that is more an extended work of journalism and therefore goes a long way to showing Gabo’s breadth, is News of a Kidnapping (1996). Brutal and unforgiving, this novel is certainly based on true events in the 1980s and early 1990s.
But, back to Love in the Time of Cholera.
Envelop yourself in Fermina Daza’s life, her marriage to Juvenal Urbino and her reflections upon the love held for Florentino Ariza. The love in the novel is a sickness, an aching affliction. But, far be it for me to discuss what can only be established by the reader himself, take this novel as the great novel about Cartagena. Pick it up, take it with you as you stroll the “District of the Viceroys” or as you pause for thought or shade in the Portal de los Dulces, referred to in the novel as the “Arcade of the Scribes”. Allow the seductive prose to guide you through the handsome streets of Cartagena and feel as you too are swept up in the emotion that has taken place here.