During the 1980s, the government of Colombia signed a treaty with the United States allowing for the extradition of Colombian citizens. This caused a great deal of distress among the kingpins of the Medellín drug cartel. Why? Traffickers like Pablo Escobar had spent the decade exporting billions of dollars' worth of cocaine. They weren't likely to be arrested at home, but if extradited and tried in America, they would spend the rest of their lives in prison.
Escobar and his colleagues tried to a cut a deal with the government. Then Escobar decided that a little extralegal pressure--i.e., terrorism--could do no harm. In short order he had 10 prominent Colombians kidnapped; most were journalists, and all had professional or personal ties to the pro-extradition movement. Ultimately two of the hostages were shot. The remaining eight were released in a trickle, as the drug traffickers began to break ranks and surrender. So ended at least one episode in what Gabriel García Márquez calls "the biblical holocaust that has been consuming Colombia for more than twenty years."
García Márquez was originally invited to write about the kidnapping by Maruja Pachon, who spent six months in captivity. As he began to write, however, he realized that her story was inseparable from that of the other nine victims. The result is a meticulous, sobering, and suspenseful book. It is, of course, a work of reportage, which puts a lid on the author's penchant for magic realism. But in the hands of a writer like García Márquez, truth makes fiction look paltry indeed.