Gabriel García Márquez is admired in Europe as the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude and as a Latin American intellectual who speaks for the downtrodden of his continent, but his full story is more complexby Charles Lane / November 20, 1997 / Leave a comment
Published in November 1997 issue of Prospect Magazine
The Falklands war produced its share of sensational stories, but none more so than the one published by Gabriel García Márquez in the Madrid newspaper El Pais on 6th April 1983, a year after the war ended. Based on a purported letter from an unnamed witness, it told of gruesome atrocities perpetrated by the Gurkhas, the British Army’s Nepalese auxiliaries. García Márquez, who had won the Nobel prize for literature the previous year, wrote that the “legendary and ferocious Nepalese decapitators,” wielding “assassins’ scimitars,” beheaded one Argentine prisoner “every seven seconds.” And “because of some strange custom they held up the severed head by the hair and cut off the ears.” The “beasts were so crazed,” García Márquez reported, that “they continued killing the English themselves, until the English had to subdue them with handcuffs.”
There was one problem with this story. Nothing remotely like it had taken place. The one kernel of truth was that the Gurkhas-who carry not scimitars but curved knives called khukris-did appear briefly in the Falklands. They cleared mines after the fighting ended. Confronted later with the facts, García Márquez conceded only that his numbers might be a little off. Too late: Radio Peace and Progress, a Soviet-operated service, had picked up his tale and beamed it to every corner of Latin America, at a time when the continent was still seething over Argentina’s defeat.
For a lesser writer, a mishap such as this might have been a setback. Not for García Márquez. He has a proven genius for the exciting application of imagination to reality. His reputation was secured 30 years ago with One Hundred Years of Solitude, a masterpiece. Throughout the Americas and Europe, the Colombian writer is celebrated as the voice of the downtrodden peoples of Latin America. His new book of reportage, News of a Kidnapping, has been hailed as a literary and historical achievement. In one book, you get the high pleasures of García Márquez’s style and a true story of great importance. “More like a novel than all my novels,” García Márquez told Newsweek last year; and yet, as he declared to a 1996 seminar of Latin American reporters, “every single detail in this book is real.” Call it magical realism journalism.