In April 1996, a group called Dignity for Colombia abducted the brother of a former president and demanded that García Márquez be installed as head of state. The Nobel Laureate begged them to release the hostage, insisting he would be 'the worst president ever'.
The episode is as surreal as anything in his novels. Imagine a terrorist group kidnapping Terry Major-Ball, for example, and requesting that John le Carré take over the British government. Even more ironic, of course, was that García Márquez had just written a book – fact this time, not fiction – entitled News of a Kidnapping. García Márquez describes his latest work as 'an autumnal task, the saddest and most difficult of my life'. News of a Kidnapping is an account of a series of abductions, masterminded by Pablo Escobar, boss of the Medellin cocaine cartel, in the early Nineties. What the author had foreseen as a year's work turned into almost three. He tracked down the survivors, read their diaries, interviewed them ('a heart-rending, unforgettable human experience') and reconstructed their ordeal.
If truth is the first casualty of war, the second is usually a journalist. Escobar chose his hostages shrewdly. Most were middle-aged women who worked in the media, thus ensuring maximum publicity for his cause. Desperate to undermine the government's policy of extraditing drug traffickers to the USA, Escobar resorted