Book: No One Writes to the Colonel

If you’ve noticed, I’m been on a bit of a spree. A spree of reading books by Nobel Prize Winning authors that is. It all started with John Steinbeck, followed by this current read by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and after this there will be Pablo Neruda. I didn’t plan this, but picked up their books on a whim or fancy, for very different reasons.

Steinbeck I had heard a lot of and was excited to finally get around to reading his work. Marquez I had never really knew, but I have heard mentions of his books Love in the Time of Cholera and One Hundred Years of Solitude.  Neruda, well Neruda I found recently through the book The Postman.

No One Writes to the Colonel

To be very honest, I picked up this book because it was really short and I’m super behind on my Goodreads Reading Challenge of 100 books. I’m currently 9 books behind schedule and I need to read some novellas to close the gap. Having said that, I wish I could reproduce the entire book here. It’s that good a read. Every sentence is amazing and worth remembering.

This novella tells the story of a Colonel who struggles against poverty. A Colonel who has gone through the war and came out worse for it. A Colonel who has lost his son. A Colonel who waits for the mail every Friday, hoping for his pension. A Colonel who continues to feed his bird, going hungry himself.

We are the orphans of our son.

Speaks of the sorrow the Colonel and his wife has gone through. Sorrow at the hands of the government which he fought for. Sorrow mingled with hope as he continues to feed his dead son’s prize bird.

It doesn’t matter. If you wait for the big things, you can wait for the little ones.

Speaks of the patience the Colonel has endured and throughout the book it is shown that he keeps waiting for a variety of things. It is also a display of his persistence and his continued hope for a better life.

The only thing that comes for sure is death, colonel

Throughout the book the Colonel and his wife are never named, which adds to the pervasive atmosphere of how they are dying from poverty and how insignificant they are to the world around them. The Colonel’s hope may never come to pass, but the only certainty is that he will die one way or another.

“You can’t eat hope,” the woman said.

“You can’t eat it, but it sustains you,” the colonel replied.

This hope that is spoken of is a major theme of the novella and also the trigger point for the Colonel’s growth of character at the end. There’s a constant tension between hoping for his pension to arrive, hoping that his bird will bring in money at the cock-fight and doing all he can to bring that hope to fruition with the fact that nothing will change. It’s a powerful driving force and really propels the story into its climax and ending.

In between all of that, we see the relationship of the Colonel and his wife. An old married couple who have lost their son. A couple that has seen so much and continue to experience so much, and yet…

The colonel acknowledged that forty years of shared living, of shared hunger, of shared suffering, had not been enough for him to know his wife. He felt that something had also grown old in their love.

As I already mentioned, there are so many passages and sentences that strike at the heart of the reader. These are really but a sample, and you have to read the book and experience it for yourself. All it takes is one afternoon, to delve into the world the Marquez has created, to understand that character of the Colonel and to be left wanting more.

Not only do I want to read his other work, I actually would like to re-read this particular book as it feels like it has so much more to give than what I have already received. An amazing piece of work, which I highly recommend.


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