As Gabriel Garcia Marquez passed his 80th birthday, I remember thinking to myself there will be a world before Gabriel Garcia Marquez dies, and a world after he dies. And it will not be the same world.
I found out earlier this year that, sadly, it is true.
Most writers can only see the writer inside after falling in love with another writer. My first love was Hermann Hesse. I still remember the hardcover library copy of “Narcissus and Goldmund” that I carried around my high school for weeks, haranguing my friends to read it. “This is the most incredible book in the world! How can you not read it?”
He was the first of many.
All of them were wonderful in their own way. But none were like Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
I remember the first time I saw a paperback copy of “Love in the Time of Cholera”. It was at a sprawling used bookstore in Halifax, positioned by the cash register, propped up and singled out among the stacks. On the cover was a languid reclining nude surrounded by extravagantly blooming flowers. And as I looked at it I felt... something.
My boyfriend at the time pointed to it and said: “Have you read that yet?”
He knew it was only a matter of time. And, as it turns out, he was right.
I don’t remember exactly when I read it, but it wasn’t that day, or even that year. I bought the book, and it accompanied me wherever I moved, but always unread. In truth it was lying around for quite a long while. Years, even.
But it is important not to rush these things. You can’t make yourself read all the must-reads. You should read them, of course, but only at the right time, which always seems to present itself as a mystery.
So on one fine day, the same as any other, or so it seemed, I finally started it.
This is how it begins:
It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.
There are people who say that writers hide behind their words. But if you are around writing long enough, you soon realize that there is nowhere to hide.
So much is apparent even in his first nostalgic line. You can feel both his purpose and his ease. And not just in the eloquent language, but also in the choice of themes. He refers to inevitability. To fate. To love. And not just love, but unrequited love. Big themes, rich themes, but said with simplicity and grace. With the confidence of a master.
So there is a boldness here. But it is a sensual boldness. Instead of a command it reads more like an invitation.
And of course, that is exactly what it is.
Well, I read Marquez’s entire book, needless to say. And I kept reading it. There were a few years where I read a passage from this book, chosen at random, almost every day.
Not that I set out to read it so often. But there always seemed like another good reason to pick it up.
Which reminds me of another passage from this book:
Florentino Ariza, on the other hand, had not stopped thinking of her for a single moment since Fermina Daza had rejected him out of hand after a long and troubled love affair fifty-one years, nine months, and four days ago. He did not have to keep a running tally, drawing a line for each day on the walls of a cell, because not a day had passed that something did not happen to remind him of her.
I did not love this book for the plot, or the characters, the richness of the language, or the vaulting manner of the telling, or any one quality in particular. I could not tell you why I loved it so much, except that I recognize in it a completeness that it is like discovering a new world — but one that you feel like you already knew.
I didn’t enjoy his other books as much. Well, that is not surprising. Once you fall for one book so completely, the others can’t compare. But it doesn’t mean you should stop trying. So every once in a while I pick up another, just to see what will happen. I would not be surprised if, one day, all of I sudden, I see it as though for the first time, and all its horizons open up for me.
But, so far, it was only the one.
It was a cold day in April when the news arrived that Gabriel Garcia Marquez had died. I was sitting on a park bench overlooking a pond of gliding, splashing swans when the alert came over the Washington Post wire.
He had not written a novel in years, but there was always hope. And now what remained of him was what was already on the page.
Well, I won’t say goodbye. Not now, not ever.
For I am reminded of another passage from “Love in the Time of Cholera”:
The Captain looked at Fermina Daza and saw on her eyelashes the first glimmer of wintery frost. Then he looked at Florentino Ariza, his invincible power, his intrepid love, and he was overwhelmed by the belated suspicion that it is life, more than death, that has no limits.
So, fare you well, Maestro.
You are far away now, and oh so near, in the immortal pages of your books.