Graham Greene in six reflections by Gabriel García Márquez


Centro Gabo shares six reflections by Colombian Nobel Prize for Literature winner Gabriel García Márquez on the English novelist Graham Greene. [Here we only share the introduction and one reflection: “Maestro of the Tropics.” For full article, in Spanish, visit Centro Gabo.]

According to his autobiography, Vivir para contarla [Living to Tell the Tale], Gabriel García Márquez read the English novelist Graham Greene for the first time in Bogotá, when he was pursuing Law Studies at the National University of Colombia. Since he had no money back then to buy Greene’s translations, which came from Buenos Aires, he got them through his friends at student cafes. He spent sleepless nights reading them because he needed to return them the next day. It was this way, with a feverish momentum, that Gabo entered the literary universe of the man who wrote The Power and the Glory.

Several years later, when he was already a consecrated writer, García Márquez confessed that Graham Greene was a writer whose books he always bought on each one of his trips. “I usually buy Virginia Woolf and Graham Greene wherever I go,” he told Gente magazine in an October 1982 interview. Perhaps that was his way of saying to himself that he would never have to return the next day the books he read at night.

Of Graham Green, Gabo used to say that he was a Latin American writer because many of his novels were set in Latin America. He even confessed that it was thanks to the English author that he was able to understand the secret to “decipher the tropics,”, something very useful in his writing of El otoño del patriarca [The Autumn of the Patriarch]. For this and other lessons on the narrative profession, García Márquez considered that Greene deserved the Nobel Prize.

The Gabo Center shares with you six reflections of the Colombian writer about Graham Greene, considered by many readers and critics as one of the most outstanding authors of the 20th century:

  1. Maestro of the Tropics

Graham Greene taught me nothing less than to decipher the tropics. One has a hard time separating the essential elements to make a poetic synthesis in an environment that one knows too well, because one knows so much that it is difficult to know where to start, and there is so much to say that, in the end, one knows nothing. That was my problem with the tropics. I had read with great interest Christopher Columbus, Pigafetta, and the chroniclers of the Indies, who had an original vision, and I had read Salgari and Conrad and the Latin American tropicalists of the beginning of the century who wore the lenses of modernism, and many others, and I always found a great distance between their vision and reality. Some made enumerations that, paradoxically, the longer they were, the more limited was their scope. Others, we already know, succumbed to the rhetorical hecatomb. Graham Greene solved that literary problem in a very accurate way: with a few sprinkled elements, but united by a very subtle and very real subjective coherence. With this method, you can reduce the entire enigma of the tropics to the fragrance of a rotten guava. [. . .]

Excerpts translated by Ivette Romero. For full article (in Spanish), see

[Credits: Photo file Gabriel García Márquez, Harry Ransom Center, Editorial Centro Gabo.]


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