On Gabriel García Márquez’s tour as an accidental propagandist

Joel Whitney in The Baffler:

ScreenHunter_2440 Dec. 13 20.05The road from the capital to Acapulco was riddled with deadly switchbacks. Navigating the sharp turns left him just enough residual focus to daydream about his novel. Gabriel García Márquez was driving his family to its first vacation after long stretches of poverty. Ad work and then films had somewhat stabilized the thirty-seven-year-old Colombian writer’s finances, and some awards had come. But he’d been stalled on a novel, one he had dreamed of writing since his teens. His working title had been The House, conceived as a tribute to life in his family’s ancestral home in the little Caribbean outpost of Aracataca. Suddenly a string of words came: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” It was perfect: a first sentence which entailed the ending, a circular loop.

What happened next is shrouded in myth. The most common version has García Márquez turning around the family’s white 1962 Opel (he’d bought it with prize money from an earlier novel), returning to Mexico City, and canceling all of his hard-won work. He went into debt with his landlord and for a year he secluded himself in his “mafia cave,” as he called his smoke-filled writing studio. The book was highly anticipated; his move to Mexico City had exposed him to the city’s literati and he’d dramatized his writer’s block as the precipice above a great discovery.

The final chapters were still being written when requests came for advance excerpts. One such request came from a Uruguayan critic named Emir Rodríguez Monegal, who was editing a new literary magazine, Mundo Nuevo. But it wasn’t just any literary magazine. Gringo spy money buttressed it, went the rumors. Like much of the Latin American literary world, Rodríguez Monegal heard about the novel nearly a year before it appeared. Latin American intellectuals were still bitterly at odds over the Cuban Revolution, which Mundo Nuevo’s paymasters opposed. However willing García Márquez was to contribute to a magazine that openly sought to publish work from both sides, as this one claimed, he was not interested in doing covert cultural propaganda for the gringos.

And yet . . . as One Hundred Years of Solitude was being published to immediate and universal acclaim—the literary equivalent of Beatlemania, as one critic has written—and as the book’s author had a new empire to manage, between the foreign rights, translations, sales numbers, requests from fans, interviews, film options, and what he would write next, something like a barnacle clung to his newfound success. Newspapers were reporting that much of the cultural world had been ensnared in a CIA scheme to marshal culture for Cold War gain against the Soviets. It must have been an “oh shit” moment equal and opposite to his Acapulco epiphany: Mundo Nuevo was one of those magazines, and he had been stupid enough to say yes. He wrote his editor-friend to protest his evident ensnarement in the scheme. What did it feel like? In a quietly seething letter, he wrote that he felt like a cuckold.

More here.