novel way to learn
look at the novel and film El Coronel no tiene quien le
escriba (No one Writes to the Colonel)
estamos pudriendo vivos! (We are rotting alive!) is
a mantra of sorts that suffuses El Coronel no tiene quien
le escriba (No one Writes to the Colonel), an exceptionally
fascinating novel written by Gabriel García Márquez,
a Colombian novelist and short-story writer.
Born in 1928 in Aracataca, Colombia, Márquez went
on later to cop the 1982 Nobel Prize for literature. Considered
a scholastic pioneer by his fans and colleagues alike, Márquezs
Cien años de Soledad (100 Years of Solitude) has
earned him international acclaim and evidences his literary
In T&T, sixth form and university students studying
Spanish have been introduced to El Coronel no tiene quien
le escriba. Some have even seen Arturo Ripsteins screen
adaptation which slowly intrigues its audiences as they
view the colonel despairingly going to the dreadfully battered
post-office every day in a desperate bid to find out if
the cheque he has been awaiting for nearly 20 years has
Fully cognizant of the fact that the cheque will perhaps
never come, each day grows increasingly daunting and wretched
for the colonel and his wife. Not only is the family poverty-stricken,
but so too they are grief-stricken since the death of their
only son, Agustín.
The plot is set in a small town, in the late 1940s. In brief,
Márquezs novel is a heart-felt story of a couples
struggle to endure poverty and pain during their golden
In both the film and the novel, the society is portrayed
as a disproportionate fusion of affluence and abject poverty.
Destitution becomes the abyss in which the colonel and his
wife have plummeted.
Both film and novel display a quite vivid, mirror-like reflection
of the devastating poverty that permeates the society. In
Ripsteins cinematic production, dilapidated and rickety
buildings fashion the backdrop of the drama.
Tarnished unpainted pillars and walls lurch under the weight
of the buildings they endeavour to support. Additionally,
potholes and other gaping fissures plague the streets
Márquez aptly and exhaustively describes the malnourished,
lanky colonel. However, Ripsteins version contradicts
this factor. In fact, the character that represents the
colonel is well built.
The film does not corroborate the notion that era
un hombre árido, de huesos sólidos articulados
a tuerca y tornillo (he was a dry man, with solid bones
articulated as if with nuts and bolts). There is no
evidence of protruding bones in the film. Instead, fatty,
sagging skin successfully clothes his bones.
The colonels wardrobe also manifests itself as a marked
distinction between film and novel. In the latter, it is
cited that his trousers were as tight as long underwear,
his shirt terribly stiff and fastened with a copper stud
(los pantalones, casi tan ajustados a las piernas como los
calzoncillos largos, cerrados en los tobillos con lazos
Contrarily, the film depicts the colonel in loose-fitting
trousers with shiny black shoes, another inconsistency between
film and novel, which states that his shoes were old and
muddy. At one glance, the colonel in Ripsteins film
suffers at the hands of natures clock; age, and not
The colonels wife who is named in the film (Lola)
is vibrant, charismatic and strangely vociferous. In the
novel, however, she appears more passive and docile.
What remains characteristically distinct in both presentations,
though, is her acute aversion toward el gallo,
the colonels pet (cock). She ferociously attacks its
ugliness, often tossing it from where it rests.
The film names the cock Taldeo and even assigns a nickname,
Buttercup. Near the end of the film, however, Lolas
intense dislike seems to turn to passionate concern as she
braves the rain to seek medical assistance for the cock.
Ripsteins cinematic representation of El Coronel no
tiene quien le escriba introduces a new character. Agustín,
the colonels son, has a companion named Julia. She
is labelled the town hooker and becomes the
reason for his attendance at the peleas de gallo
(cockfights.) It is at one of these cockfights that Agustín
is killed and thus Julia becomes culpable for his demise.
There are other distinctions that set novel and film apart.
The novel speaks of un abogado negro (a black
lawyer) but which is not manifest in the film since this
character is portrayed by a Caucasian actor.
The novel also illustrates the port as a central meeting
point where the town folk gather every Friday. This is not
so in the film. There is a discernible absence of a crowd
and not even the decrepit boat that approaches the port
brings with it vital human presence.
It goes without saying, then, that there are many distinctions
between the film and the novel El Coronel no Tiene Quien
le escriba. However, the fundamental plot remains the same,
that is, the colonel and his wife struggle to overcome a
life of miserable destitution.
Reference: Gabriel García Márquez, literature.us
El Coronel no Tiene Quien le escriba. http://www.literatura.us/garciamarquez/coronel.html
For more information on the Spanish
As the First Foreign Language (SAFFL)
initiative, please contact the Secretariat
for the Implementation of Spanish (a division of the Ministry
of Trade and Industry) at 624-8329/ 627-9513
Los huesos.............................the bones
Las piernas...............................the legs
El gallo.......................................the cock
La pelea de gallos..................cockfight
Some other Latin American novels you may enjoy:
Como agua para chocolateLaura Esquivel
Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperadaPablo
La casa de los espíritusIsabel Allende
Pedro ParamoJuan Rulfo