The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor is a rare real non-fictional account of a sailor who was shipwrecked and managed to survive on a raft for 10 days without food. This amazing tale of survival, sea and solitude is weaved by none other than master story teller Gabriel Garcia Marquez, fondly also known as Gabo.
In 1955, when Gabo was a young journalist (and yet to begin his journey as a novelist) a young sailor came to him with his true tale of survival at the sea. Gabo wrote this journalistic account as a series in fourteen parts for Colombian Newspaper El Espectador. The young sailor was already a national hero then and the original account had his name as the author. In 1970, when Gabo became immensely popular this account was published as a book with rightful name of the master weaver of the tale but he rightfully gave away all the copyrights of the book to the sailor.
This small true story of young sailor Velasco does remind one of another tale of sea, struggle and solitude, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. Though circumstances are different but the sea, its amazing creatures and struggle for survival of a solitary man against all odds is same.
Young Velasco, a navy sailor was returning to Colombia from America when his ship with all the contraband cargo could not stand against rough winds and sank. All other seven sailors died. But Velasco was lucky enough to find a raft and he clung to it and his life for 10 days before reaching nearest shore. The account of those ten days is truly amazing.
Each never ending hour, hunger, changing moods of the sea, arrival of sharks at particular hour each day, sea gulls, attempts of eating raw dead sea gull and fish, fight with sharks over dead fish, ultimate solitude of the sailor, his hallucinations and his strong survival instinct to overcome all odds and persist is truly worth reading over and over again. Only Gabo could have done justice to such a heroic tale of survival. There is no need of magical realism touch when the tale itself is so unbelievably true.
It is not surprising that truth about contraband did both sailor and Gabo in. They both antagonized the authorities by spilling navy secrets about illegal import of refrigerator, washing machine etc goods on a ship not meant for carrying cargo. Gabo and Velasco had to leave Columbia. Their honesty and commitment to narrate the events without consciously attempting to be politically or otherwise correct reflects in the book till the very end.
The visual imagery in the book is quite disturbing. Just when the ship starts losing balance and tilts, a sailor overcome by sea sickness bends over the deck and simply vanishes. When all of them are thrown overboard Velasco sees fellow sailors sink while he makes it to the raft. The smuggled refrigerator, washing machines and other goods float and drift away suddenly losing all value. Then the whole account of struggle of sailor against sea, sharks and even his solitude is very insightful.
Humanity and each of us is probably condemned to endure, persist and even exist in spite of all odds and darkness because we are born with strong survival instinct. Maybe even those who kill themselves or others do it to survive, to become part of history and memories. Life is a lonely battle and ironically it is a desperate attempt to cling to life itself till the very end.