In our Summer 2003 issue, The Paris Review published Silvana Paternostro’s oral biography of Gabriel García Márquez, which she has recently expanded into a book. In celebration of García Márquez’s life, we’re delighted to present the piece online for the first time—this is the fourth of five excerpts. Read the complete text here.
MARÍA LUISA ELÍO: I got a call from Spain about 4 a.m. that Gabo had been awarded the Nobel Prize. I put on a pair of pants and a sweater and left for his house, and there was Mercedes with all the phones off the hook. There was a big sign on the door of their house that said Congratulations. He had these big eyes wide open as if he were hallucinating.
JUANCHO JINETE: Obregon went to visit Gabito in Mexico. The address he had for the house was where rich people live, like Mexican soap stars. The day he went to visit was the day Gabo got the Nobel Prize. So when he got to the address, there were flowers everywhere, and he thought, Oh my! He’s dead!
HECTOR ROJAS HERAZO: When the Nobel came around, Colombia went crazy. Everybody was talking about Gabito. That must’ve changed him. The moment comes that he has to be faithful to the success he has achieved.
NEREO LÓPEZ: We formed a delegation with the director of Colcultura in order to accompany the Nobel Laureate to Sweden. Singers like La Negra Grande and Toto, la Momposina; folk groups, a group from Barranquilla and a group from the Valle Province. There were 150 of us. They had told the vallenato musicians that Swedish girls went ape over Latin American men, so the guys went there ready, willing, and able to screw all the Swedish girls that crossed their paths. On the third day we said, “Hey, we haven’t gotten any calls yet. ” Seeing that the mountain wasn’t coming to Mohammed, we took Mohammed to the mountain, and we went to a striptease joint. What a joke! They were a bunch of nuns, all covered up, flashing an occasional breast. We were lodged onboard a comfortable but inexpensive ship while the guests of honor were put up in a first-class hotel. It was so cold, one of our crowd wanted to leave. He said: “The thing is that I have a problem and I need your help. When I go outside to take a leak I don’t find my penis.” He wondered how on earth he was going to go back to his country, where he had three women to respond to. When I asked him where he went to release himself, he told me that he went on deck. I told him that with four or five inches of snow, it was only natural for his penis to hide. I told him, “For goodness sake, man, what’s the matter with you? There is a bathroom downstairs.” At a restaurant, the woman behind the counter let out a shriek because Escalona was going to drink the vinaigrette, thinking it was some sort of fruit juice: “You’re drinking the salad dressing!” Aracataca had arrived in Stockholm!
GUILLERMO ANGULO: I think Gabo gets annoyed when someone tells him that he’s a great writer. That’s very obvious, and he knows it and no one has to tell him.
ENRIQUE SCOPELL: The Nobel Prize did great damage to Colombian literature. Because now everyone wants to be García Márquez. They say, “Oh no. If García Márquez didn’t say it then it’s not Colombian literature. ” He casts a very big shadow. Like a bonga tree’s.
RAMON ILLÁN BACCA: Critics and journalists worship him. They were a horrific presence upon all of us who were trying to write. But people always are very interested in great authors. What has not been written about Thomas Mann?
EDMUNDO PAZ SOLDÁN: The world of García Márquez has always seemed strange to me. I’ve been able to enjoy it, but from afar. I never considered him a father, more like an uncle— I could visit him but I would want to leave the next day. As a reader, I admire his writing. But as a writer, I have to say the hell with it. It’s not my thing.
ALBERTO FUGUET: To read García Márquez at a certain age can be very harmful, and I would forbid it. It can spoil you forever. García Márquez is a software that you install and then can’t get rid of.
MARÍA LUISA ELÍO: Have you been out on the streets with him? The girls throw themselves at him. It must be annoying. It’s a phenomenon that didn’t happen with Octavio Paz. I’ve been out with Octavio not once but a thousand times, and I haven’t seen people throwing themselves at him to kiss him or ask him whether or not he is Octavio Paz. García Márquez’s phenomenon is very special. He has great charisma.
ELISEO ALBERTO: I was walking with Gabo in Cartagena when we heard someone crying out his name: “Gabo, Gabo, Gabo.” We turned around and saw this young couple. The young woman was waving at him to come over. When we got there, she held Gabo by the arm and said to him, “Gabo, please help me. He doesn’t believe me. Gabo, will you please tell him that I love him.”
ODERAY GAME: When I lived in Madrid he would call me up and say, “I’m coming to Madrid for three days. I know you have friends in the press so do not tell them I’m coming.” After three anonymous days he would tell me, “Hey, I can’t stand being locked up. Let’s go out to a bookstore and see if somebody will ask me to autograph a book.”
JAIME GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ: When he comes to Colombia they don’t let him rest. A few years ago, we were both in our pajamas talking away, and there is the president, who wants to say hello.
Silvana Paternostro is a journalist who has written extensively on Cuba and Central and South America. She is the author of In the Land of God and Man: Confronting Our Sexual Culture and My Colombian War: A Journey Through the Country I Left Behind.