Having read with some alarm my book review of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, my wife – who hails from Latin America herself – gave me for Christmas this year a copy of Gabo’s short story “No One Writes to the Colonel”. Her hope, naturally, is that I would find in that short story the magic that I found so lacking in “One Hundred Years”.
This short story by Gabo is much simpler than his longer works. The story follows the life of a retired colonel who is slowly starving to death as he waits in tandem for a check from the government (for his years of service in the military) and for the cock fight that he is sure his prize-winning bird will win.
I found this story charming and sad; and impregnated with the realities I have come to know in many years living all around Latin America. So many people around the region face similar struggles; getting their constipated bureaucratized governments to honor their commitments; fighting to make ends meet after they are too old for others to have use of them; desperately seeking an unlikely providential solution that will lead to prosperity.
Gabo captures the suffering naturally, telling a story about which he knows a great deal. Colombia, Gabo’s birth home, has always been a hard land; a land of pain and desperation. Their almost constant political experimentation with violence is a testament to this.
But there is something else that comes through in this story – for it is a story about hope. And this is something that I also have grown accustomed to in my interactions around the region. I find in the stories of gentle waiting a reflective sense of hope. Though people suffer, going hungry or facing setbacks, they never let their spirit be destroyed. They are never robbed of their sense of humor, of their buoyant anticipation of something great just around the corner, and their resilience to survive such tragedy without cracking.
I won’t tell about the end of the story – that would be unfair. However for those interested in learning more about life in times of poverty; and how the poor in backwater places deal with such transcendental issues, I recommend you read this book. It won’t take you very long.