A Clear Message From Colombian Police: Don't Mess With '100 Years Of Solitude' In 2015, a first edition copy of Gabriel García Márquez's classic was stolen from a Bogota book fair. Many cases in that city go unsolved, but local law enforcement went all out to find the book.
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A Clear Message From Colombian Police: Don't Mess With '100 Years Of Solitude'

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A Clear Message From Colombian Police: Don't Mess With '100 Years Of Solitude'

A Clear Message From Colombian Police: Don't Mess With '100 Years Of Solitude'

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Our next guest is going to tell us a story about a stolen book, a sense of national pride and some creative sleuthing. The book in question is a first-edition copy of "100 Hundred Years Of Solitude" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It was stolen from a book fair in Bogota, Colombia. Cases in that city can go unsolved because of lack of resources, but local law enforcement went all out to solve this crime. Daniel Alarcon is the host of the podcast Radio Ambulante and he is here to tell us the story. Welcome.

DANIEL ALARCON, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly. It's good to be here.

MCEVERS: So tell us what happened?

ALARCON: So this story was reported by my colleague Camila Segura, who's the senior editor of Radio Ambulante. She's a Colombian journalist. She lives in Bogota. She studied literature, in fact. And what happened was that they were celebrating Garcia Marquez's life the year after he passed away. They always invite a country to be like a, you know, a special guest at the book fair in Bogota. And that year they invited Macondo, which is the made-up country that Garcia Marquez wrote about in so many novels.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

ALARCON: So as part of the collection - or part of the exhibition about Macondo, they had a collection of first editions that were brought by a bookseller. And, you know, I've been to that book fair, Kelly, like, thousands of people come through there. I was there that year, in fact, though I did not steal the book. And it was just scores and scores of people.

And in the midst of all that chaos, one day one of the booksellers that was in charge of looking over this collection of books saw, well, look at that, the window of this glass case is ajar and there's a book missing. And it was a first edition, signed, of "100 Hundred Years Of Solitude."

MCEVERS: Wow. And so what happened next?

ALARCON: What happened next was surprising. The theft of a book became national news, you know, and people were outraged. And there was just like this kind of visceral feeling that this was some kind of, like, attack on the national pride. And it's kind of unclear, but some booksellers had said someone had come around trying to sell something. There were competing stories, but the story that we heard involved a shootout. It involved, you know, a high-speed chase through downtown Bogota.

MCEVERS: What?

ALARCON: It involved stakeouts and informants and people running away into the neighborhood and disappearing and finding the book in a box kind of on the street.

MCEVERS: So they were being chased and they were running and they were just, like, I'm going to leave this here. That's the story that you heard?

ALARCON: Yeah. And what's interesting is that the case is both open and closed simultaneously in the sense that they have recovered the stolen property, but no one's been arrested for the crime itself.

MCEVERS: Wow. So why are you interested in this story?

ALARCON: Well, I'm interested in any story that complicates our vision of Latin America, and really there's nothing more. When I started writing at the Writers' Workshop in Iowa, my peers - if they had read any Latin American writer, they'd read Garcia Marquez. And, you know, Garcia Marquez is both an iconic figure and, you know, he's not quite as relevant as he used to be. Like, we're reading different books, we're discussing different things. The world that he described is not the world that exists anymore in Latin America. Latin America is much more urban than it was when Garcia Marquez was telling his stories about Macondo, you know?

MCEVERS: Right.

ALARCON: And so I was really interested in this clash. And I think Camila was, too. And the fact that these two worlds collided in front of an audience of hundreds of thousands of millions of people, who you know, followed the news of this stolen book in its recovery was also super attractive to me as a storyteller.

MCEVERS: Daniel Alarcon is the host of NPR's Spanish-language podcast Radio Ambulante. Thank you so much.

ALARCON: Thank you, Kelly.

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