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De kolonel krijgt nooit post by Gabriel…

De kolonel krijgt nooit post (original 1961; edition 1984)

by Gabriel García Márquez

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2,218252,917 (3.58)59
Title:De kolonel krijgt nooit post
Authors:Gabriel García Márquez
Info:Amsterdam Meulenhoff 1984
Collections:Your library

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No One Writes to the Colonel: and Other Stories (Perennial Classics) by Gabriel García Márquez (1961)


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English (13)  Spanish (7)  Dutch (2)  Norwegian (1)  Swedish (1)  French (1)  All languages (25)
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Original post at Book Rhapsody.


Unmagical Realism

No One Writes to the Colonel and Other Stories consists of one novella, which is the title story, and eight other ones. These are dense with the seemingly insignificant lives of people living in a South American village. The unnamed villagers, each portrayed separately among the stories, are portrayed as despondent people who could either be hanging on to hope or resigned to utter hopelessness. After every story, the mood seems to get bleaker, but the compassionate writing of one of South America’s best writers makes the reader go until the end.

Readers familiar with the Nobel laureate’s books, particularly One Hundred Years of Solitude, will find this a strange departure from the regular Marquez oeuvre. Elements from the school of magic realism are rarely found and, in fact, only present in one of the stories. Readers who are looking for those must prepare themselves to prevent disappointment, but this collection will not go as far as that.

Cross out magic and you get realism. People and places are depicted as they are seen by the naked eye. In fact, the reader could perspire with the characters as they walk around the town under the sweltering heat of the sun, not to mention the pangs of hunger that they try to ignore and the troubles that tug their hearts.

The postmaster delivered his mail. He put the rest in the bag and closed it again. The doctor got ready to read two personal letters, but before tearing open the envelopes he looked at the colonel. Then he looked at the postmaster.

“Nothing for the colonel?”

The colonel was terrified. The postmaster tossed the bag onto his shoulder, got off the platform, and replied without turning his head:

“No one writes to the colonel.”

Most of the stories deal with people struggling through lives strained by poverty. The characters’ situations are both touching and funny wherein the former is considered with a heavy sigh as the last trace of smirk is gone from the reader’s face. Consider an unlicensed dentist extracting the tooth of another without anesthesia in One of These Days. Consider a man stealing billiard balls for nothing in There Are No Thieves in This Town. Consider a man giving away an ornate bird-cage that’s supposed to bring food to their tables in Balthazar’s Marvelous Afternoon. Consider a priest repetitively saying that he has seen the devil in One Day After Saturday.

There is dark humor bubbling at the surface of each, but as we digest each story, we dissect the characters to a get a taste of the intentions behind the things that they do. In my favorite story here, One of These Days, the patient who gets the painful extraction is a corrupt government official. He intimidates the dentist into taking out the rotten tooth despite the latter’s efforts to hide from him. He does so, but not without vengeance. No anesthesia due to an abscess. He proceeds to pull the tooth out of the official’s mouth with a silent aggression that screams of triumph.

In a book discussion that I attended for this, it was pointed out that the pulling of the rotten tooth is a metaphor for the wiping out of corruption through quiet violence. It could be, and that is the beauty of it. One can interpret the actions of Marquez’s characters in many ways and no one will be incorrect.

And this story is just four pages long.

In the title story, the colonel patiently waits for his pension for a decade and a half. He keeps visiting the post office for any letter from the government only to come back to his wife empty-handed. They have nothing; they even pretend to cook by boiling stones just to the neighbors wouldn’t find out that they do not have anything to eat.

But they do have a rooster. The colonel starves himself and his wife just so the rooster could eat. They wage everything on that rooster; who knows it might bring them a lot of money on an auspicious day in a cockfight. But there are mouths to feed and health problems to treat. What are they going to do? What are they going to eat?

The story was inspired from the writer’s grandfather, a colonel who also never received any pension. It was also boldly published shortly after the civil war in Colombia between the 1940s and 1950s. The political turmoil going on in the country is reflected in this collection; fragments of a corrupt government are depicted on the pages. In the last story, Big Mama’s Funeral, people clean up the garbage off the streets right after Big Mama, an absolute power, was buried. This collection will remind people to keep sweeping away any trash on the streets. ( )
  angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
Un viejo coronel retirado vive esperando el aviso de que le han concedido la pensión a la que tiene derecho por los servicios prestados a la patria. La espera dura ya quince años, y el coronel ha ido todos los viernes al puerto a esperar la llegada de la lancha que trae el correo, y siempre ha vuelto de vacío.
  BibliotecaLardero | Apr 22, 2014 |
The problem I have with short stories are they're short. I'm still warming up to it, dipping my toes into the story then it was finished. I do not get to love them as much as I would love if it was a full length novel. This novella/short story was actually pretty good. It was heartbreaking. Nothing happy about this and I think that was the point, Columbia was an unhappy place back then especially for the poor people because of corruption and censors. This was different from other Marquez stories I've read. None of the magic I was accustomed to but a lot of realism. This is real. This happened somewhere in time. A short masterpiece by Senor Marquez! ( )
  krizia_lazaro | Mar 11, 2014 |
Un clásico de García Marquez. Corto de leer y muy interesante. Si quieren leer un libro acogedor, fácil y corto pero con todo lo que García Marquez significa, este es el indicado.
  juanjaimes99 | Aug 20, 2013 |
I remember when I was first reading Gabriel García Márquez's books many years ago, I was fascinated by how the early novels and novellas built toward 100 Years of Solitude, introducing some of the characters who would later populate the Macondo of his most famous work and developing a portrait of a Columbia burdened by years of wars and uneven, unequal progress. I was looking at my bookshelf the other day, wondering what book to read next, not wanting to bite off something too substantial since I'm in the middle of a rather demanding read (Georges Perec's La vie: mode d'emploi. I went with this short novella about a military man waiting on a pension, a colonel who served under Aureliano Buendía in the wars later documented in 100 Years of Solitude living in poor health and poverty with his wife in a nameless town in Columbia.

The colonel has a rooster inherited from his recently-deceased son that may be worth a great deal of money when the cockfights of January begin, but it's only October, and the family's money has run out. For fifteen years, the colonel has been waiting for his military pension, going down to the dock each week to wait for the mail to arrive. Unfortunately, the colonel was not on the winning side of the war, and while the armistice signed by Colonel Buendía may have led his men to believe that they would receive compensation for their years of service to a losing cause, the pensions aren't coming, and may never come. The colonel's got stomach issues, his wife's suffering from asthma, they've sold nearly everything they own (and nobody wants the clock nor the painting on the wall), and still the rooster needs his ration of corn each day if he's going to win in January. The colonel is a proud man, and everyone in town is rooting for him, especially his son's friends. How could he sell the rooster? But what else is he to do?

It's a good book, and I felt the hunger of the colonel and his wife as I lay reading it this morning, telling myself I'd wait until lunch to eat anything even though I was really hungry myself. García Márquez does a great job of conveying the little day-to-day aspects of poverty, the exact ways that clothes fall apart from too much wear and the manners through which people trick themselves and their neighbors into thinking they've got enough to get by on. Setting stones to a boil so that the neighbors will think you've got soup to eat, while the chicken is eating the corn feed that your husband bought instead of food...I also enjoyed the author's handling of the political reasons behind the colonel's plight: the lack of mail for the colonel needed no explanation, everyone in the community knows perfectly well that the colonel is not going to get his pension, and his obstinate insistence on checking the mail was equal parts admirable and pitiful. I don't believe I'd ever really thought about how civil wars end, not in the United States in the 19th century, but in a much smaller country in the first half of the 20th century. I think I had the idea that everyone just went back home and went back to life, or something like that, but here there's no life to go back to, just an interminable wait for a pension promised by the victors who twisted your leader's arm into signing an armistice treaty.

I'm glad I chose this book, because it'd been too long since I read a García Márquez book and enjoyed it. Last year I read Chronicle of a Death Foretold and found myself looking for reasons to hate it (why does everyone have to have such a colorful name in this town, why isn't anyone named José or Juan or Pedro), although looking back on it maybe I was being too harsh. I just went back and read my thoughts on that one. I wasn't quite as negative as I remembered. One thing I mentioned then that is worth remembering now is that García Márquez didn't necessarily take his books as seriously as many of his readers did. He mentions in an interview that 100 Years of Solitude is full of gestures to his closest friends and completely lacking in seriousness, and those who seek to decipher the book's contents run the risk of drawing extremely stupid conclusions. This is a little odd now that I think about it, because when I think about the portraits of Macondo and of Colombia presented in 100 Years of Solitude and other books by García Márquez, they are serious, they're full of war and violence and cyclical political struggles for power between Liberals and Conservatives. But I think what he's trying to say is, the success of his books surprises him, and he didn't necessarily set out to write books that would later be assigned such great significance and moral weight by so many people around the world. This book is serious too: the colonel and his wife are starving, they're sick and wondering whether they'll make it through the winter, and the colonel's military pension has been blocked by the ruling political party. However, it's hard to read its closing line without laughing. The book ends with a single word, a word that expresses the colonel's defiance and refusal to compromise his moral rigidity even in the face of extreme hunger. Re-reading this book, I thought: "Of course! Now I remember, that's how this book ends!" ( )
1 vote msjohns615 | Aug 20, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (25 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
García Márquez, Gabrielprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alin, KarinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bernstein, J. S.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cicogna, EnricoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leiva Wenger, AlejandroForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Puccini, DarioForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stentvång, EvaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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El coronel destapó el tarro del café y comprobó que no había más de una cucharadita.
The colonel took the top off the coffee can and saw that there was only one little spoonful left.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060751576, Paperback)

Written with compassionate realism and wit, the stories in this mesmerizing collection depict the disparities of town and village life in South America, of the frightfully poor and outrageously rich, of memories and illusions, and of lost opportunities and present joys.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:19 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

'The colonel took the top off the coffee can and saw that there was only one little spoonful left' Fridays are different. Every other day of the week, the Colonel and his ailing wife fight a constant battle against poverty and monotony, scraping together the dregs of their savings for the food and medicine that keeps them alive. But on Fridays the postman comes - and that sets a fleeting wave of hope rushing through the General's aging heart. For fifteen years he's watched the mail launch come into harbour, hoping he'll be handed an envelope containing the army pension promised to him all those years ago. Whilst he waits for the cheque, his hopes are pinned on his prize bird and the upcoming cockfighting season. But until then the bird - like the Colonel and his wife - must somehow be fed.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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