Reading No One Writes to the Colonel took longer than I expected, though not because it was a hard read - far from it. The last week has been very busy, so much so that even 69 pages were a challenge. But today, on the tram, I made my way to the end.
A nameless, elderly and long retired Colonel ekes out a pitifully poor existence with his asthmatic wife in Márquez' archetypal Colombian town of Macondo. Promised a pension for his services in the revolutionary war, the Colonel has been waiting for the letter delivering the money for decades, and in the meantime has lost his son to the fascist forces now in control of his country. His son's only legacy is a rooster which shows promise for the cock fighting ring, and which captures the town's imagination.
Márquez has a definite style that, perhaps more so than anything else I've read, strongly evoked a sensory response: I felt an odd rain-on-dust smell in my nostrils as I read the book (and no, it wasn't because I was on the tram). I was impressed by his way with time, which flowed fast and slow without ever seeming to need any explicit timekeeping; the Colonel's life is repetitive on many levels, as he waits for the mail each Friday, and suffers from the flora in his gut each October. A year passes over those 69 pages, but there are no chapters, no breaks. It flows, fast and slow, without jarring.
Perhaps because the older outcast idealist (or even the "old soldier") is something of an archetype, or perhaps because I've watched a couple of good films about revolutionary South America, I found I immediately knew and initially liked the eponymous Colonel. This relationship didn't last until the end of the book, when I turned on him; he pushed through idealism to irredeemable stubborness. There's some satisfying vagueness, too, not least of which concerns the Colonel's son: he's supposed to be dead, but then the illegal uncensored news reports that sometimes arrive are attributed to him.
This is a rich work; there's no doubt the author is the major talent he's reputed to be. And yes, it's steeped in despair, but it also presents starkly the will and the hope and the foolishness that can fend off that despair. I didn't find it a hard read, though the body of it was by far the most enjoyable part; the start took a little time to ease into, and the ending seemed to take sharp turn somewhere more defeatist in the last half a dozen pages. I enjoyed myself, and while he hasn't leapt onto my favourite author list, I'll definitely come back to Márquez and give a full length novel a go.
Before I end, surely the translator, J. S. Berstein, must deserve some credit for the English prose. Having tried to read a different translation of Les Miserablés the second time around, I have some idea of the a difference a good translator makes. And this, I must assume, is very good, because the English version is very good.
Now, being a "scientician", I will be recording some common data about each book, as well as my general observations. And with that, I present...the stats!
Page count: 69
Book's title mentioned on page: 22
Best name encountered: the colonel (most of the characters do not have proper names)
New words: None
Inner Five-year-old score: 0
Fun Wikipedia fact: A restaurant and club in Riga is named Pulkvedim Neviens Neraksta, the title of the Latvian translation.