It seems impossible to me that years from now Maqroll the Gaviero won’t be considered among the great mythic characters in literature. Like Don Quixote, like Gatsby and like Hamlet, there is something about Maqroll that stays with you. Once you are introduced to Maqroll you may find yourself wanting to name pets after him or maybe children. You will look for him on crowded waterfronts and you will wish that he would sidle up next to you in a mostly empty bar and begin to regale you with his stories; and there are oh so many stories.
Alvaro Mutis, friend of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, first began writing about this character Maqroll when he was just seventeen. Over the years Maqroll the Gaviero inhabited his poetry and was his faithful, if imaginary, companion. Mutis carried Maqroll with him when he fled Columbia for Mexico, and then in the early ninties, Mutis wrote seven novellas about Maqroll and his band of fellow travelers. These have been collected and published by the New York Review of Books as The Adventures and Misadventures of Maqroll.
For those who have read all of Garcia Marquez and Borges, this book is another, and as yet relatively undiscovered, masterpiece of Latin American literature to delve into.
But who is this Maqroll? He calls himself the “Gaviero,” which means “lookout,” a nod to his seafaring roots. Appropriately, he spends most of his days on tramp steamers, skiffs and barges. There is a pathos in him as there must be in one who lives a life of rootlessness, but he is also a hero. The seven novellas take you, quite literally, around the world from Trieste to Panama City to Los Angeles and many places in between.
In modern liturature there aren't many books of adventure that are allowed to sit at the same table as literary fiction, but this book is cut from a different sort of cloth. There is both excitement and quality here. I should also say: once you have met Maqroll, you will think about him often.