Gabriel García Márquez: The Story Of A Shipwrecked Sailor
Originally published as a serial in a Colombian newspaper back in 1955, The Story Of A Shipwrecked Sailor, to my surprise given other Márquez titles, is a piece of non-fiction. It was only attributed to Gabriel García Márquez in 1970 and tells the story of Colombian sailor, Luis Alejandro Velasco, as told to Márquez. While the full title pretty much covers the bulk of the story (The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor Who Drifted on a Liferaft for Ten Days Without Food or Water, Was Proclaimed a National Hero, Kissed by Beauty Queens, Made Rich Through Publicity, and Then Spurned by the Government and Forgotten for All Time) there’s a great deal of action here despite being pretty much restricted to a raft.
Leaving Alabama after eight months of repair work, the Colombian destroyer, Caldas, is heading home. Only a couple of hours from ending their journey a number of sailors are knocked overboard, their ship sailing on innocent of their loss. In the subsequent scramble the narrator Velasco recalls seeing his friends in the water with him as he fought his way to a raft. And then, one by one, they disappeared until he was alone at sea.
The next ten days are Velasco’s account of his time as his hopes of rescue abandon him, as starvation, thirst, and the sun take their toll on his mind and body, leading him to hallucinations. And that’s not all – he hunts for fish and gulls, fights against the sharks that punctually arrive each day, and saves himself when the raft overturns. Twice! It’s amazing how much action you can fit into ten days in such a confined space. But eventually, as the lengthy title states, it all comes to an end when he ends up ashore in the place he least expects: his own Colombia.
As Márquez’s first real work, there’s little of the style that he would become famous for – and, indeed, take the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature – and his journalistic tendencies see him reporting the account from Velasco’s perspective, adding colour where necessary, and bringing life to the page. And, despite it’s basis in fact, there’s something of the myth to it, given perhaps the solitary nature of one man’s fight for survival amidst the unforgiving sea.
The Story Of A Shipwrecked Sailor is a relatively quick read covering the stubborn will to live of one man with a positive outcome. Sprinkled amongst its pages there’s some interesting tidbits of survival and enough action to maintain such a narrative account. There’s also an emotional connection as we wonder what it’s like to be feared dead, what our families and friends must think. And given the current climate of people becoming celebrities for absolutely anything, this book shows that, no matter where these people are in the world, it’s not such a recent phenomenon after all.
August 6, 2007