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Fidel and Gabo

Two academics examine the decades-long relationship between Fidel Castro and Gabriel García Márquez.

By Taylor Barnes / September 9, 2009



Poets and politicians, oil and water – none of them mix too smoothly. But Latin America’s most famous Nobel laureate and its longest serving dictator have been more than cordial. Gabriel García Márquez and Fidel Castro each count the other as a close friend.

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“Fidel is the sweetest man I know,” García Márquez told a journalist in 1977. “Ours is an intellectual friendship. It may not be widely known that Fidel is a very cultured man,” the writer told Playboy in a 1983 interview.

But these were not just book-swapping buddies, professors Ángel Esteban and Stéphanie Panichelli attempt to show in Fidel and Gabo, translated into English by Diane Stockwell. The monograph draws on both previously published interviews with García Márquez and original interviews the professors conducted with sources close to the pair.

Esteban and Panichelli frame “Fidel and Gabo” in a recurring muse-like narrative voice. “You will ... listen in on Fidel and Gabo’s first conversations, when love-at- first- sight quickly blossomed into a strong – and by necessity symbiotic – relationship,” they tell us. Unfortunately, most of the 300-plus pages are a laborious blow-by-blow of who met whom when. They describe literary and political scenes and include historical asides that, while interesting, deviate from the relationship between the title characters. A clear accounting of the friendship between the two elusive figures may just be impossible.

Still, the anecdotes it offers are intriguing. For example, García Márquez has sent all of his manuscripts to Castro before his publisher for decades. Castro read “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor” and came to the writer’s hotel room to tell him the speed of a boat in the text was not possible, given its arrival time. After that, García Márquez gave Castro an advanced copy of his “Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” and Castro said its description of a hunting rifle was incorrect. “I don’t publish any books any more that the Commandant hasn’t read first,” García Márquez told Spanish newspaper El País in 1996.

In fact, one book – a work of at least 700 pages on Cubans’ daily lives under the embargo – never even made it to press, possibly because of the commandant’s objections.

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