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“Exile” in Paris— La Boheme

Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza was living in Paris and urged Garcia Marquez to join him. He settled into a cheap hotel in the Latin Quarter and stayed for two years, as his friend introduced him to acquaintances and contacts. At first Garcia Marquez thought this circle and his residence in Paris would help to sell La Hojarasca, but his communist friends in Paris told him the book had “too much myth and poetry about it for their taste,” though they didn’t suggest viable alternatives. By proving unreceptive as first readers, they changed his sense of the field slightly; he told Plinio that he felt guilty because the book didn’t “condemn or expose anything.”38 But instead of sliding into the binary—politics or neo-realist fabulism—Garcia Marquez started a new work, La Mala Hora, that was grounded in Latin American politics but not didactic. This fiction was a vision of his grandfather waiting for his pension from the Thousand Day War in Colombia (1899-1902), as it might be seen through the lens of De Sica’s Umberto D.

Deeply in debt and “living out his own version of La Boheme,” Garcia Marquez met Maria Concepcion Quintana, known as “Tachia.” Although he was engaged back home, they fell in love and lived together. There was no money, she got pregnant, had a miscarriage, and then suddenly “it was over,” as she left him.39 He found himself singing for change in a Latin Quarter night club, and after that sitting on a park bench, having eaten only a chestnut all day.40 He was so thin that his mother, seeing a photo, remarked, “Poor Gabito. He looks like a skeleton.”41 All of this might have supplied his fiction, but Gabo was too exhausted. The Sentimental Education of Latin American writers in Paris would instead be written by Julio Cortazar in Rayuela (Hopscotch, 1963).

Then Apuleyo Mendoza returned from Latin America. Soon they were reviving their communist hopes, visiting Leipzig, home of the Marx- Lenin University, where they planned to befriend communist Colombians. Although Gabo found East Germany “shabby and depressing,” he wrote “subtly balanced accounts of daily life in the East Bloc countries” that were later published in Cromos.42 They went to see the embalmed Stalin, whom Garcia Marquez found interestingly double—a calm-l ooking “Uncle Joe,” yet the killer of millions. Apuleyo Mendoza claimed “in that very moment the first spark of The Autumn of the Patriarch was ignited.”43 Would that novel have been written if Gabo had stayed in Colombia? If Apuleyo Mendoza had not become a friend and sponsor?

Garcia Marquez had other benefactors in Paris, but Apuleyo Mendoza stands out because he believed Gabo was the one who could express the emotional energy of the group. He also believed that a costeno view of Colombia was important and that Gabo was the artist to express it. Their interaction was still anchored in that student moment when class, money, and origin were “unimportant,” but it had matured into first reader status and then something like patronage. Apuleyo Mendoza took Garcia Marquez on trips to Eastern Europe that placed his costeno sensibility in tension with his communist idealism. Was there a new prise de position here? Other Latin American authors were firmly on the Right (Borges) or the Left (Neruda). Could Garcia Marquez blend cinema, folklore, and a politics elsewhere, beyond Left and Right? Apuleyo Mendoza was the kind of gatekeeper who believed, on the basis of a shared past EE, and who continued to support the promising figure of his student days.

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