The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In 1955, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, then a struggling young writer working for a Bogota newspaper, was called upon to ghostwrite the story of Luis Alejandro Velasco, a sailor who had recently been tossed overboard from his navy destroyer in choppy seas and, after four days of searching by Colombian authorities, given up for lost. Through astuteness and perseverance, Velasco survived on his raft and finally made it to the Colombian coast, where he was eventually proclaimed a national hero. The ghostwritten story, serialized by the newspaper, recounts how the ship was dangerously overloaded with a contraband cargo--stoves, refrigerators, and televisions--which prevented it from maneuvering to rescue any of eight sailors tossed overboard. These revelations caused a political stir which embarrassed the dictatorship of Rojas Pinilla. Fifteen years after the shipwreck and its political fallout, Garcia Marquez’s Spanish publisher persuaded him to publish the sailor’s narrative with a prefatory chapter detailing the events which surrounded the story’s original publication.

Told with directness and understatement, the tale of survival contrasts ironically with the government’s exploitation of Velasco’s story as a demonstration of Colombians’ heroic national character. “My heroism,” Velasco insists, “consisted of not letting myself die.” The irony is all the more bitter in that, as Garcia Marquez points out in his preface, the notoriety of the serialized story prompted Velasco’s discharge from the navy, whereupon he disappeared into oblivion.

This book, a taut, dramatic narrative which will grip the reader, reveals the vivid, realistic side of an author whose name has most often been connected to fictions of poetic fantasy.