Yes, we were close in a thick way. Thanks very much to his books. It was my late journalism professor Raul Rafael Ingles who lent me his copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude in the late '70s when I was newly graduated. It was from my editor Rosario A. Garcellano that I was able to borrow her copy of Chronicle of a Death Foretold. I remember her miming that scene where the target of assassins walked stoically, trying to stanch the flow of blood from his deadly wound with his hands and to find a place where he could bleed to death with some dignity.
As for the periodic sentences in Autumn of the Patriarch, they intimidated me so, but I'll pick up where I left off one of these days.
But it was Living to Tell the Tale, a secondhand copy of which I bought either at Book Sale or Mt Cloud that made me fully appreciate Gabo (or Tito Gabo, as fictionist Geraldine C. Maayo and I secretly call him).
In it he tells of how his long stint in the burrows of journalism gave him all the materials he needed for his fiction. He was present at civilian uprisings, he covered crime and politics, was at the scene immediately after a massacre, interviewed the mighty and the lowly, reviewed books and film, put out supplements, wrote editorials, filled up space when advertisements were pulled out at the last minute, missed some deadlines, got berated by editors. He experienced all these everyday stuff in the life of a journeyman. In between he learned how to listen to music attentively and to read the masters from Dostoevsky to Faulkner.
I emerged from that book with a realization that all the training a writer needed could be found in old-fashioned journalism.
Here are some of Gabo's words, excerpts from "The Art of Fiction," an interview Peter H. Stone did for The Paris Review.
Do you think the novel can do certain things that journalism can’t?
Nothing. I don’t think there is any difference. The sources are the same, the material is the same, the resources and the language are the same. The Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe is a great novel and Hiroshima is a great work of journalism.
Do the journalist and the novelist have different responsibilities in balancing truth versus the imagination?
In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That’s the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it.
In interviews a few years ago, you seemed to look back on being a journalist with awe at how much faster you were then.
I do find it harder to write now than before, both novels and journalism. When I worked for newspapers, I wasn’t very conscious of every word I wrote, whereas now I am. When I was working for El Espectador in Bogotá, I used to do at least three stories a week, two or three editorial notes every day, and I did movie reviews. Then at night, after everyone had gone home, I would stay behind writing my novels. I liked the noise of the Linotype machines, which sounded like rain. If they stopped, and I was left in silence, I wouldn’t be able to work. Now, the output is comparatively small. On a good working day, working from nine o’clock in the morning to two or three in the afternoon, the most I can write is a short paragraph of four or five lines, which I usually tear up the next day.