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Few readers or scholars understand the process by which Gabriel Garcia Marquez became a literary giant and those intimate with his biography might be rightfully incredulous that he did. It took him seven years to find a publisher for his first novella. He was working in public relations, not having published for several years, when he wrote his breakthrough novel at age forty. He had no sinecure, no grants, no agent, and no translator at that point.1 But he had friends. This book begins by examining that basic sociology: how those old-fashioned gatekeepers guided him to find a singular aesthetics and then helped him to become a foundational figure in modern World Literature.

Let’s start with two law students meeting in a Bogota cafe. Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, the son of wealthy and politically connected parents, was drinking coffee with a friend when a “skinny happy guy, agitated like a baseball batter or a rumba singer” sat down at his table uninvited and ordered himself some red wine. “So, ‘Doctor’ Mendoza,” said this guy, named Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “how is the lyrical prose going?” Apuleyo Mendoza didn’t know that anyone read his writing, and Garcia Marquez struck him as a brash costeno, “one of those students from the Caribbean coast, who passes his life in boarding houses, cantinas, and pawn shops.”2 Mendoza was struck by his energy, and he watched “with a kind of horror” as Garcia Marquez tried to pick up the waitress and then left without paying. “Who was that,” he asked his friend, “some communist?” “No,” said the friend, “that’s a kind of masochist. One day he comes to the university saying he has syphilis, another day that he has tuberculosis. He drinks, he doesn’t show for exams, he wakes up in brothels.”3

Garcia Marquez attracted many friends on the basis of that energy, for the potential that people saw in him. Some were initially taken aback, but most became believers and advocates. Some watched out for him, others helped him to mature aesthetically. This was the start of a relationship that Randall

Collins has identified as the basic interaction ritual of the literary world, the face-to-face meeting that generates an intense emotional energy (IR and EE in Collins’ terms). It was clear that “Gabo” had that EE, so much that it sometimes got in his way and he would require a number of Max Brods. Apuleyo Mendoza became a lifelong friend, guiding and supporting him, and reading many of his manuscripts before publication to ensure that they did not show Gabo’s influences too plainly.4 In this second capacity he was also a “first reader,” a type of gatekeeper addressed below.

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