Daily Archives: September 27, 2016

‘No One Writes to the Colonel’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


1961, 68 p.

This is the second book examined in the online Coursera course I’m following on the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.  I say ‘following’ because I’m reading the books in English and rather slowly translating (sort of) the Spanish video transcripts on the site.  Responding to the forums in Spanish is completely beyond me.

The elderly Colonel lives with his unnamed wife in a small isolated village on a river. Each Friday the Colonel goes to wait on the delivery of mail from the riverboat, waiting for news of the pension he was promised in return for his leadership in the War of the Thousand Days.  He has been waiting fifteen years, and he and his wife are being submerged by a grinding poverty. Too proud to admit their poverty, he scrapes out the rust from the coffee can and adds it to the coffee, and his wife, more practical than he, badgers him to sell the clock, or the rooster.  But the rooster is not just a rooster: it is a fighting cock that belonged to their now-deceased son.

The village is unnamed and there is no specified time, although the filtering through of news of the Suez Canal places it in the late 1950s. The sense of menace builds up quietly as you become aware of the curfew and the  circumscribed communications.  It emerges most  starkly one Friday when the Colonel decided not to wait for the mail, but to go to the cock-fight instead.  There he encounters the man who shot his son.  It is his dignity and sense of hierarchy that emboldens him to disregard the gun pointed at him and to leave untouched.

The story is very much one of waiting and of time stretching out without end- similar to Waiting for Godot. I had been lulled into its somnolent rhythm and was quite surprised by the abrupt ending- an ending that leaves me rather nonplussed, I must admit.