The New World war

Review: NEWS OF A KIDNAPPING by Gabriel Garca Mrquez, Cape pounds 16.99

When Gabriel Garca Mrquez won the Nobel Prize in l982, his acceptance speech was largely a plea for understanding. Latin Americans, he explained, suffered from a two-fold alienation: the basic one of having to endure a daily reality deformed by brutality, compounded by the way their existence is regarded with incomprehension by the settled societies of the Old World. "Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask very little of the imagination, as our greatest problem has been the inadequacy of a convention or a means by which to render our lives believable. This, my friends, is the crux of our solitude."

Since then, the prodigious expansion of cocaine-trafficking to the United States and the retaliation of administrations since Reagan have rendered "reality" even more unbridled. Colombia, Mrquez's native country, has been driven by terrorists to the brink of what theoreticians know as the "Third World War", when state and rule of law collapse in the face of hostile autonomous powers. These have partly been old-fashioned revolutionary organisations like M-19, who assassinated four presidential candidates in the 1990 election campaign and, in 1985, took over the Supreme Court in Bogot and demanded that President Betancur be put on trial. When the army stormed the building, nine magistrates of the Supreme Court, its president and 85 other civilians were killed in 10 hours of fighting. But, since Colombia signed an extradition treaty with the United States, the hostile autonomous powers have overwhelmingly been the "narco-terrorists" of the drugs cartels.

Under the slogan "We prefer a grave in Colombia to a cell in the United States", Pablo Escobar and his associates - "The Extraditables" - waged a campaign of bombings, assassinations and abductions throughout the 1980s to force the Colombian government to accept their surrender and protect them and their families in specially fortified prisons. Successive justice ministers were attacked, President Luis Carlos Galn was machine-gunned in 1989 and in 1990, 10 prominent journalists were kidnapped for six months. The experiences of these hostages is the subject of Mrquez's latest book. The effect of the work as a whole is, once again, that of a fierce battle to make a "convention" - in this case journalism - capable of rendering Latin American lives believable.

As he says in his preface, Mrquez found this book an "autumnal task, the saddest and most difficult of my life". It took three years to write what is "only one episode in the biblical holocaust that has been consuming Colombia". There is no room to explore the wider issues - the ascension of the Medelln cartel, for instance, from its early days when respectable Colombians attended lavish parties at Escobar's hacienda. Human-rights abuses are so widespread amongst the operations of the Elite Corps, the specialist anti-drugs Colombian police, and, in general, power is so confused between the executive, the military and the police that it is hard for an author to maintain any secure moral footing. And the novelist's instinct to characterise all the people this story affects occasionally restricts their individuality to the folkloric epithet.

But, of course, the literary conflicts of this book reflect the real conflicts in Colombia. The hostages, and even many of the politicians, are always being dehumanised anyway, pawns in a larger game. The civil war is as much a war of information as of armed combat. All sides release a flood of statements and communiques to give them leverage in negotiations; news is not only something that happens to you but also proof of how little you know, how vulnerable you are. When Maruja Pachn, Luis Carlos Galn's sister-in-law, and her assistant Beatriz Villamizar are kidnapped, they are taken to the tiny room where Marina Montoya, the sister of a former government minister, has been held for two months. Most people believed Marina Montoya was dead. Her brother was in no position to give the Extraditables anything and so, the argument went, she must have been killed in revenge. Maruja Pachon and Beatriz Villamizar are, first, the only ones to know Marina Montoya is still alive and then, when a guard announces "We came to take Granny to another house," the only ones not to know that she is dead.

The whole book is haunted by images. A butterfly staying on a courtyard gate all night is a premonition of death. Guards wake up Maruja Pachn by jabbing a submachine gun at her head and then ask her to introduce them to her daughters after she's released. Above all, the image of Marina Montoya "with her hood on backward stumbling blindly toward an imaginary house". Mrquez unforgettably describes the nature of terror and courage in contemporary Colombia.

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished

TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies

Arts and Entertainment
Australia's Eurovision contestant and former Australian Idol winner Guy Sebastian

Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable