Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Forty Years of Solitude ... or, Waiting for Gabo ; on the Release of Novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez's New Memoir, Colombia Celebrates - and Misses - Its Favorite Son

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Forty Years of Solitude ... or, Waiting for Gabo ; on the Release of Novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez's New Memoir, Colombia Celebrates - and Misses - Its Favorite Son

Article excerpt

The torches lining the brick path into the Virgilio Barco Library clashed with the building's sleek, futuristic decor, so much so that the hundreds of Bogota residents making their way inside could almost have missed the stone-faced police officers standing guard in the shadows.

Almost, but not quite. This is still Colombia, after all, and security was tight last Tuesday evening for the social and cultural ticket of the year: the release party of "Live to Tell," the long- anticipated memoir of Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, known here as Gabo.

All the city's elites turned out - cabinet ministers, business executives, leading national journalists, even the vice-president. Yet, one individual was notably absent: Gabo himself.

Oh, you could see him everywhere. Life-size cutouts of the novelist dotted the main lobby, providing a kitschy backdrop for the suitably statuesque television broadcaster covering the event. A grinning Gabo peered at partygoers from posters on the walls. An elegant photo display offered scenes of the writer's life, including his 1982 Nobel Prize ceremony.

All quite nice - but it just wasn't Gabo.

And so it has been in Colombia for the 40-plus years and counting that Garcia Marquez has lived in New York, Barcelona, Paris, and now Mexico City. Indeed, the world's most famous Colombian spends relatively little time in his native land. Nevertheless, the 75- year-old Gabo remains the nation's undisputed icon, its favorite son, a hero in absentia for a country sorely in need of reasons to feel proud.

"He's the greatest," exulted Harold Velandia, a 32-year-old waiter pouring drinks by the photo display. "He's our Nobel! He makes us look good to the world. Gabo covers up all the bad things that people thinks about Colombia: the violence, the drugs."

Aside from the national pride Gabo's global appeal induces, many Colombians revere him because they see themselves in his novels. "He writes what this country is and what it has been," explained Lucia Perez, a librarian who landed an invitation to the release party when her boss couldn't attend. "He feels the country ... and his books show the world much of what this nation is: our people, our way of living. …

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