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Book review of The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor

Gabriel Garcia Márquez is well known for his epic novels One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. His writing is celebrated as being magical realist, resting upon the tremor lines which separate the fantastic from real life. Some of his most impressive works, however, are his shorter stories.


I once stumbled across The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor. It is the story of Luis Alejandro Velasco, a young Columbian man who survived a shipwreck for ten days, deserted alone at sea. Márquez first published this account in 1955 as a series of short stories in a Columbian newspaper El Espectador. Controversy was sparked as they inculpated the Columbian navy for the shipwreck, which sunk due to excessive contraband aboard. In 1970 the stories were published publicly as a book under Márquez’ name.


It is tempting to think of magical realism as wispy and perhaps allegorical. There is, nonetheless, a gritty starkness in the narrative of Márquez, comic at times and convincing. The mind of the survivor is illustrated in rich and grounded language. His narrative supersedes the realm of journalism, as we learn moments of personal decision confronting the survivor in the minutest of forms, but with transcendental implications.


The story of Luis Velasco is so incredible that the images and experiences in this book are quite surreal. It chimes a great deal with the fictional novel The Life of Pi, especially in its posing of a rhetorical, dreamlike self-questioning: did this all really happen; who else was there to bear witness? Indeed, Márquez plays with this realm of the eternally unknowable. For his account is the representation of an experience only one man ever lived.

Review by Natalia Davies

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