Oh, No, Gabito! or, Gabito Visits the Gulag

by Michael Potemra

One of the benefits of the passing of any notable figure is that one learns things about him one did not know. I knew Gabriel García Márquez chiefly as the author of a book I remember as one of the most winsome novels* I ever read, and as the defender of some of the world’s most reprehensible regimes. (For details on the latter point, read the bracing piece on NRO by Armando Valladares.) What I did not know was that he was the hero of a children’s book: My Name Is Gabito, by Monica Brown. I have not read this book, but something of the author’s perspective can perhaps be gleaned from the fact that another of her books for young readers is Pablo Neruda: Poet of the People. This would be the same “poet of the people”​ who wrote:

We must learn from Stalin 
his sincere intensity 
his concrete clarity. . . . 

Stalin is the noon, 
the maturity of man and the peoples. 
Stalinists, Let us bear this title with pride.

In extenuation, though, I offer the fact that she has also written a children’s book about Tito Puente, a worthy project if ever there was one. Bill Murray was right when he predicted, over three decades ago, that Tito Puente’s posthumous reputation would only grow. (For those not fortunate enough to have actually memorized the classic film Stripes: “Tito Puente’s gonna be dead, and you’re gonna say, ‘Oh, I’ve been listening to him for years, and I think he’s fabulous.’”)

* A passage I remember to the present day comes at a tense moment for Colonel Buendía, the rebel leader who had grown up in the tiny village of Macondo:

After sixteen defeats, Colonel Aureliano Buendía left Guajira with two thousand well-armed Indians and the garrison, which was taken by surprise as it slept, abandoned Riohacha. He established his headquarters there and proclaimed total war against the regime. The first message he received from the government was a threat to shoot Colonel Gerineldo Márquez within forty-eight hours if he did not withdraw with his forces to the eastern frontier. Colonel Roque Carnicero, who was his chief of staff then, gave him the telegram with a look of consternation, but he read it with unforeseen joy.

 “How wonderful!” he exclaimed. “We have a telegraph office in Macondo now.”

In the heart of this man of rebellion and violence, it turns out, is concealed the localist small-town boosterism of a George F. Babbitt. I don’t remember the book’s politics – I read it too many years ago — so I don’t vouch for whatever political point the author may have been making; but that was a nicely observed human moment.

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