At twenty-seven, the law school drop-out Gabriel García Márquez was a no-name reporter who wrote “somewhat amateurish short stories” in his spare time. He had worked at several Colombian papers—often relegated to the culture departments due to his literary inclinations—before he landed a steady gig for himself at El Espectador. He could put together a good feature, and his editors there eventually began giving him the more in-depth assignments—the hard-edge stories of politics, scandal, death—including, in 1955, the piece that opened new narrative doors for the young writer: a fourteen-part series on the military corruption and negligence that led eight members of a Colombian naval destroyer to be swept overboard. García Márquez told the story from the perspective of the incident’s sole survivor: a sailor who washed ashore only after spending ten days at sea without food or water.
The series was a sensation, and the account was so damning that the military dictatorship shut down the paper a few months later. But to craft a compelling narrative out of the material at his disposal—one man alone on a life raft for days on end—García Márquez had to “wring the swan’s neck”—strip away all excess—before he could build back up the lucid description and dramatic tension for which he later became known as a novelist. Head over to the Columbia Journalism Review to read how “The Hack” came to discover the ways in which “the novel and journalism are children of the same mother.”
Francis Reynolds is managing editor of Guernica. Read his last recommendation, of Claire Messud’s “Writers, Plain and Simple”, here.