Gabriel Garcia Marquez, one of the most renowned writers of 20th-century Hispanic American literature, gifted us with a masterpiece in the form of a short novel in 1961: “No One Writes to the Colonel” (“El coronel no tiene quien le escriba” in Spanish). Despite its apparent simplicity, this novel has captivated readers worldwide and left an indelible mark on contemporary literature.
Garcia Marquez himself admitted that this novel was the simplest of all he had written up to that point. Unlike his more famous works, it lacks the usual fantastical twists and intricate plots. Instead, the story focuses on reflecting the sense of unease that comes from waiting, a theme the author deeply understood.
The Unforgettable Protagonist
The story’s protagonist is an old colonel who desperately awaits the pension that never arrives. This character, with his dignity amidst adversity, has become one of the most endearing in 20th-century Hispanic American literature. As the years pass, the colonel continues to descend to the post office in the port every Friday, clinging to the hope of receiving confirmation of his pension as a veteran of the Thousand Days’ War.
The novel is set in a coastal village in Atlantic Colombia in 1956. The colonel and his wife, who suffers from asthma, struggle to make ends meet without any income. Their only source of hope is a fighting rooster inherited from their deceased son, which they’ve been caring for with the hope of profiting from bets in January. This struggle for survival becomes a central theme of the story.
Hope and Desperation
The tension in the colonel’s life increases as he changes lawyers and writes letters to the government requesting his pension. Meanwhile, food is scarce, and the rooster must be fed with old beans. The wife suggests selling an old family clock to buy food for the rooster, but the colonel finds himself at a crossroads.
Throughout the story, the colonel faces difficult choices that test his dignity and faith in a better future. The struggle between immediate need and long-term hope is manifested in his relationships with other characters, such as Alvaro, the town tailor, and Don Sabas, who offers to buy the rooster.
The Final Dilemma
The novel culminates in a moving scene where the colonel decides not to sell the rooster, despite tempting offers. His wife, desperate due to the lack of food, asks him what they will eat, to which he responds with a single word: “Mierda” (“Shit”). This response, laden with meaning and release, is a powerful commentary on the constant struggle for dignity in the face of adversity.
A Lasting Legacy
“No One Writes to the Colonel” is a work that, despite its apparent simplicity, has left an indelible mark on literature. The story of the colonel, his hopeful waiting and his battle against despair resonates with audiences of all ages and cultures. Garcia Marquez, the author of this literary gem, considered it to be his best work, and its impact endures to this day.