The Tale of a Boy at Sea

Yesterday, I read a unique book that chilled me to the bone. It wasn’t the curious case of an unsolvable mystery, it wasn’t a multi-murder crime thriller, and it wasn’t a sweet romantic proposal story. It was the tale of a young boy stranded at sea for ten days.

It’s not Life of Pi, but I wouldn’t blame you if you had thought so. That book is ever more popular after its movie counterpart. However, the book I just read is “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor,” and the author is Gabriel García Márquez.

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It surprised me too. I had never heard of Márquez writing such a book. But I was curious. It was a small book, just about 100 pages. And yet as I held the book in my hands contemplating whether to buy it, all my sense of reality told me I should opt for an ebook, instead, because it would take far less physical space. I asked a friend to help me decide, and he warned me that Amazon would have the same book, for a lower price.

And so when I was almost convinced I shouldn’t buy the book, I flipped the book over and read the epilogue. That’s when I realised: this was Márquez’s first book. That piqued my interest. Besides, the cover was gripping, and it even had a review from The Times that called the narrative, “A gripping tale of survival.” And at that moment, I took a chance. I lost all sense of common sense and decided to go for it. After all, I had nothing to lose.

I’m glad I made the decision. I know I shouldn’t have gone by just the cover of the book, but this is one of those times when the gut and the cover got it right. It’s a simple story, in the first person point of view. A boy in a ship leaves for Colombia after being in port for six months. He set out homewards, to his family and soil he could call his own. In the middle of the sea, however, disaster strikes and all of his shipmates go down. He holds on to a raft and survives the sea—amidst sharks, hallucinations, hunger, and thirst—for ten days. He then makes it to land and becomes a national hero.

It’s typical and predictable in all aspects. But the best part of it is that the author narrates all the typicality and the commonness of it in such a matter-of-fact way, that you can’t help but keep turning the pages. You’d want to know what’s coming, even though your sixth sense tells you it’s nothing great for the hero.

The story reeks of emotion. You feel for the hero. When he stretches his neck looking for land, you stretch with him. When he plunges his hand into the sea trying to catch some fish, you gasp knowing that the sharks are waiting around the corner. When he wonders how shoes taste like, you’ll find yourself imagining the taste on your tongue. And as he tries to pry out the soles of his shoes, you wish you could pry it with him.

It’s an ordinary story, but it gives you an extraordinary experience. I now know why Gabriel García Márquez got a Nobel prize for literature.

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