The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor by Gabriel García Márquez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
When it was published as a magazine series in 1955, the truth of the Caldas' accident ran counter to the official government report, and Gabriel García Márquez left Colombia to preserve his own safety. The official story was that a storm caused the vessel to partially capsize, sweeping six sailors overboard, with five drowning. The truth was that the day was clear, and the boat was overloaded with contraband as gifts to family and perhaps to sell on the Colombian black market, and a strong series of waves knocked the boat out of balance.
Velasco became a folk hero for surviving ten days at sea in an unequipped life raft. The book details each day at sea; the long nights, the sharks circling the boat, the tremendous hunger and thirst, and the internal battle to keep overcoming the urge to let himself die aboard the raft. When he finally sees land, he is so dehydrated and exhausted that it takes hours for him to believe that it isn't another hallucination. He describes his rescue by coastal peasants and his immediate rise to fame in his home country.
I read this book in Spanish and found it absolutely fascinating-- Márquez is able to describe the sameness and boredom of ten days at sea with his storyteller's flourish, and the book never drags. He wrote this before he was a well-known author, and even though it was ghostwritten for the sailor, it has lines of his future greatness within. The vocabulary was typically demanding, and I certainly expanded my knowledge of seafaring terminology in reading this short book.
If you can read it in the original Spanish, it's worth the trouble. I've read some of his short stories and feel like I could take on one of his novels now-- there is nothing like reading a book with the original nuances of language, and Márquez is truly an artist with words.
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